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Florida Keys Rebuilding Project in Limbo

August 12, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Legal staff and planners in Monroe County in the Florida Keys say the county can stay out of bickering among shareholders of a Key Largo RV park, while approval for the park’s redevelopment could be revoked next week.

Christine Hurley, director of the county’s Growth Management Department, recommended to county commissioners this month that they terminate the development agreement approved in August 2006 with Key Largo Ocean Resort (KLOR) because several key provisions have not been met, according to The Florida Keys Reporter.

Debate has gone on for years over how the 285-unit park, which has been demolished, will be rebuilt. If it is rebuilt, it will be one of the largest redevelopment projects in the Keys. Monroe County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the issue Aug. 17 in Key Largo.

Bob Shillinger, chief assistant county attorney, said in an interview last week that rebuilding on the 22-acre oceanfront property at mile marker 94.8 could begin almost immediately based on a site plan that was part of the development agreement. The county planning commission approved that plan in 2006.

But that plan was submitted by the park’s board of directors, which was recalled in 2009, and infighting among the cooperative’s almost 300 shareholders has delayed any significant progress.

KLOR submitted a new site plan after the new board took control in 2010, but the board had attorney Kent Robbins of Miami Beach withdraw the plan this summer. It had not yet been approved by the planning commission.

Robbins said both the designer of the new site plan, Orestes Lopez-Recio, who is also a KLOR board member, and the designer of the approved site plan, Eduardo Calil, overlooked a possible land issue. Some of the site’s waterfront and ocean bottom might have been deeded to the state in the 1960s, he said.

Robbins wrote an Aug. 2 letter to county Mayor Heather Carruthers asking to extend the development agreement two years, and allow three more years for KLOR to apply for necessary building permits. He said the extra time was needed to resolve potential title issues with the waterfront and ocean bottom land.

But Shillinger and Hurley said that issue and how to redevelop KLOR are now internal matters that don’t require input from the county.

“We’re trying our best not to wade into that dispute,” Shillinger said.

Shillinger said that the original intent of the development agreement was to bring KLOR into compliance in phases, because the county thought residents would be living in the RV park as homes were removed and rebuilt. But because so-called life-safety issues were not being resolved, Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia told residents to vacate the park.

Park directors then had the entire park razed. That, said Shillinger, is when the county could have washed its hands of the matter. He said there is nothing left of the park but rubble, so nothing poses a threat to people living there.

“The safety issues are gone, and the reason for doing things in phases was because of safety. It’s now incumbent on them to resolve any internal issues,” Shillinger said.

He said even though Robbins withdrew the revised site plan, the board could soon begin to redevelop the property with modular homes based on Calil’s plan. Hurley said the board would still need to apply to the county for building permits.

The new site plan makes common areas out of the park’s original waterfront lots. That has prompted threats of legal action by owners whose homes were on the waterfront, including Calil, whose plan kept the homes on the waterfront sites.

When Lopez-Recio discovered that the state Internal Improvement Trust Fund may actually own that land, Robbins said this proved that no shareholder’s lot should have access to the waterfront.

However, Terry Wilkinson, with the Bureau of Survey and Mapping of the Division of State Lands, wrote in a July 28 letter that the land in question was filled more than 35 years ago and is likely no longer considered state-owned.

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