A billion-dollar workforce housing bill moving swiftly through the Florida Legislature “could put our residents in jeopardy,” says Key Biscayne’s mayor Joe Rasco, who said increasing the island’s density would imperil hurricane evacuation and further stress the environment. But the bill, which would override local zoning laws, is on a fast track for passage.
The bill’s prime sponsor is first-term State Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who represents Key Biscayne and much of coastal Miami. Its provisions would allow decisions about workforce housing projects to be made by Miami-Dade County, not the Village. But even the County’s powers would be limited.
The bill, dubbed the “Live Local Act,” SB 102, passed the Florida Senate last week and is now pending before the Florida House of Representatives.
It features a series of tax exemptions and incentives to entice developers to build affordable housing, spending $1.5 billion over 10 years. The bill also bans municipalities from enacting rent control measures, further curbing “home rule” powers. SB 102 has broad bipartisan support and passed the Senate unanimously.
“A municipality must authorize multi-family and mixed-use residential as allowable uses in any area zoned for commercial, industrial, or mixed use” if the development meets affordable housing criteria, the bill states. Village Attorney Chad Friedman said the bill would effectively override Key Biscayne’s charter provisions.
Zoning fears dominated public comments at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting. About 16 speakers urged officials to limit future development and many speakers leveled criticism of the nonbinding 2040 Vision plan. The planning document is a policy “wish list” that does not make any changes to Village code nor authorize any projects.
But council members viewed SB 102 as a potential mortal threat.
“The worst thing about it, it comes from the top on down,” said Council Member Ed London, referring to the fact the measure is a Republican leadership priority, saying that Calatayud was simply “given the job” of advancing it.
Calatayud did not respond to messages for comment Wednesday.
In a last-ditch measure, Rasco, in a letter March 8 to Calatayud and State Rep. Vicki Lopez, urged lawmakers to create a carve-out for Key Biscayne in the same manner as has been done for communities in the Florida Keys.
But Lopez said Wednesday the Village’s request is a long shot because the measure has already passed the Senate. The carve out for the Florida Keys only applies to Monroe County and a change to another law would be needed, she said.
“I wholeheartedly understand the concerns of Key Biscayne with one way in and one way out of the island,” Lopez said. But she said it is likely too late in the legislative process for a change to be made this year.
As for the Vision Plan, the council is likely to take the matter up later in the year, possibly May. Although the Strategic Vision Plan Board made several significant changes to the document at its final meeting in October, village staff did not post the revisions until a few days ago.
Former mayoral candidate Fausto Gomez repeated his criticism of the document, asserting that one page — Page 47 — had wording that mentioned increased square footage and height. “If that’s not density, I don’t know what is,” he said.
But Council Member Brett Moss, an architect, said Gomez was misreading the document and taking a sentence out of context.
“There is no increase in density in this document,” Moss said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.