Officials in Monroe County, Fla., which includes the Florida Keys, are considering an initiative that could bar developers from clearing away RV parks to build new hotel and motel rooms, according to keysnews.com.
A moratorium on the practice, proposed by county Commissioner Murray Nelson last Wednesday (March 19), could protect the Keys’ ubiquitous RV parks, which some say have become an important source of affordable housing.
Recently, concern over the loss of housing in RV and trailer parks to development has spread across the Keys as park residents in Key Largo and Marathon face eviction for possible redevelopment into resort space and condominiums. A proposal to halt such transfers will be drafted by county growth officials, but could take at least a month to wind its way through the county Planning Commission and back to commissioners for a vote.
“We have nowhere to go,” said David Vargas, a resident of Florida Keys RV Park in Key Largo. “We may be forced to leave the area and leave our jobs behind. We need help.”
Vargas and other residents of the 139-space facility will be forced to leave once the property is sold by Spottswood, Spottswood and Spottswood of Key West. The building rights will go to Northstar, a company planning to build an upscale resort on another property around Mile Marker 100.
It is illegal to use RVs as permanent housing, but the practice may be widespread because of the high cost of real estate and a countywide housing shortage.
For developers like Northstar, the RV units easily translate into more hotel space and are a way to avoid waiting in line for the few building credits released each year through the county’s Rate of Growth Ordinance.
“Projects in the pipeline should be afforded the right to move ahead,” Northstar agent Donald Craig said.
Craig said the county law that allows RVs to be removed for hotel space was designed to allow redevelopment of lodging, but also to clear out RV parks because they are a danger during hurricanes. Allowing the RVs to remain permanent housing could put residents at risk during a storm because the vehicles are not required to be tied down or be safe in high winds, Craig said.
But Nelson said the county must stop the clearing of parks such as Florida Keys RV Park, which sits in his district. “What we have here is an RV park which has been allowed over time to become affordable housing,” Nelson said.
The county may also consider allowing building rights from the parks to be used for affordable housing elsewhere, but even then residents could still be in a tight pinch, Nelson said.
“There is no additional land to build affordable housing in the Upper Keys and there is very little in the Lower Keys, and that is going to get us into the hammocks again,” he said, referring to the environmentally sensitive areas with native hardwood trees, which the county is trying to preserve.
Commissioner George Neugent said the RV parks could provide needed building rights to use for affordable housing. However, blocking developers who want to build resorts could raise legal issues.
“It is going to be very difficult to deal with, especially in respect to property rights,” Neugent said.
County Attorney Richard Collins said developers would be subject to any new laws passed by the county, but the county could still be challenged over ongoing projects.
“It would seem to me we would have some legal issues if we step into the middle of a process that has been going on for a long time,” Collins said.