Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 changes Key West

It was all change in Key West in 2015. The biggest story of 2015 (officially, according to a Florida wide poll) was Florida gay weddings - the very first of which were conducted right here in Key West. Just after midnight on January 7 2015 (as soon as it had become legal in Florida) on the steps of the county courthouse in Key West. Watched by a good sized crowd who wanted to be part of history being made.

Keeping with gay, later in the year on 29 May 2015 a "gay" (i.e. rainbow) crosswalk was installed (painted on the road) in the gay block (Petronia Street) of Duval Street. I think this is a most excellent idea and as I believe they are permanent, I look forward to seeing them when I visit later in the year. They gained lots of international media coverage.

Now to the major themes running throughout the whole of 2015 in Key West. According to my radar, in order of strength of signal, I would say they were:

1. Key West is going to the dogs. Typified by talk like: "Woe is me, Key West is getting busier, very noticeably this year, especially with all the tour buses arriving for the day. Key West isn't what it was, the homeless have taken over..." etc etc
2.  Tree commission is out of control and literally killing Key West's natural heritage
3. More new building development hits Key West. In particular inappropriate construction approved in Old Town.




Key West is going to the dogs

Here's an example, from the Citizen's Voice section of the local newspaper, to illustrate ALL THREE points above:


“I hoped I would never say thisbut the island I loved is gone. While HARC approves a gaudy shopping center on Eaton Street as a ‘family compound’ for an out-of-town bazillionaire, City leaders look at tiny modules to warehouse workers. All over town beautiful exotic flowering trees are removed and replaced with cheap Sabal palms to fulfill an obsession with native trees. A quick trip to the store now takes 30 minutes to drive a couple miles with traffic to rival the mainland and a massive dump called Walmart is coming to town. Goodbye, Key West. I’m glad I got to know you before your soul died.” 
Citizen's Voice August 4, 2015 


and another...

“What is happening to Key West? Duval Street is turning into an outlet mall street. The restaurants are a bunch of chains. I started coming to Key West 35 years ago and I think there are better islands to have fun and spend my hard earned buck!”

Citizen's Voice Jan 23 2016


A third typical example: 

Where did all the tour buses come from, how many are here each day and are they reimbursing the city in an appropriate manner for the resources their passengers need? And it is abundantly clear that the elaborate warnings that cruise ships would start to bypass our port
if we did not widen the channel have not been borne out. Those passengers throng our streets nearly every day.
What can be done to alter this trajectory into an historic town of expensive hotels and restaurants where eventually high-end tourists will not want to come because of the congestion and tawdry offerings of our downtown area? In short, how do we head off becoming “over”?

jan 7: Citizen comment

Tree commission out of control

The argument here is strong, in my view. There does not seem to be enough oversight on the tree commission. It's a critical decision because it takes generations for these trees to grow yet only minutes to approve a decision to chop them down.

This matter is  close to my heart having written a lot in this blog about how wonderful Key West's trees and flowers are.



If you don't know, the case is this: the Royal Poinciana is a large, beautiful tree with amazing red flowers. But when the flowers fade and drop they cause a heck of a mess and smell. A small price to pay, I would have said, to have such an amazing tree on your property. They are protected but property owners can apply to the Tree Commission to have them cut down. This is not a small isolated, incident: shockingly, in the year to June 2015, 32 have been destroyed.

It's not just Royal Poinciana's:


“We saw in the paper that yet another 20 hardwood trees are up for removal at the July Tree Commission meeting. Twenty new requests! This month’s highlights include the huge mahogany tree on Julia Street just off the corner of Duval. The city seems to have just figured out it is in the right of way, right where it’s been for 80 years. Also the huge mahogany at La Te Da. I guess the new owners need more sun by the pool. Oh, some clever tree service will find a termite or a weak branch to give the commission an excuse to approve them all. Does anyone care what’s happening in this town to our beautiful trees?” 



And another, from the Citizen's Voice, early jan 2016


“I want to thank the tree commission for once again approving a new landscaping project dominated by the cheapest, most common trees around. Yes, head over to the Winn Dixie center and enjoy the Sabal Palms for as far as the eye can see. The parking lot looks like a strip mall in North Florida. I really don’t understand why in a town that relies on fooling tourists into thinking this is some tropical paradise, we continue to systematically remove exotic trees and replace them with anywhere Southeast USA Sabal Palms. Enough with the cheap natives already!” 

And another March 12 2016:


“Well, today another huge shade tree is being cut down in my Upper Duval neighborhood. It’s always the same story, a house sells, it’s converted to a vacation rental, and shade trees that have been there 60 years suddenly need to be removed so vacationers can have sunny yards. Not only are vacation homes destroying our housing stock, but they are destroying our tree canopy as well while the Tree Commission rubber stamps 98 percent of requests. Enjoy the banyans and poincianas while you can. In a few years they
will be rarer than an affordable rental.”

My favorite:


“Leave the trees alone.”

Voice, 7 may 2016 

This is a big issue, Key West - sort it out before there are no trees but lots of tree-free houses and apartments.



Other news

In terms of a large scale development project that will leave a massive impression, on 17 December 2015, the Truman Waterfront development kicked off with the groundbreaking ceremony.

This is a project 15 years in the planning which will cost $19m and transform the Truman Waterfront. In 2015, Jimmy Buffett suggested performing space should be added to the plans. There were concerns that the homeless would (ab)use the restroom facilities, and debates as to whether it needed a water feature.

To be honest, I would have preferred them to leave it exactly as it was as I walk down there and it's lovely and quiet. Not for long.

Personally

On a personal note, I liked the TGI Fridays in Key West and so its a shame it's closed.

Joe Walsh, who owns 6 other restaurants in Old Town including Mangoes, closed TGI Friday's - the Key West outpost of this franchised chain. Now closed, it was in the Overseas Market on North Roosevelt Boulevard. It was apparently over a disagreement on how to spend the advertising budget.

BurgerFi and Johnny Rockets - both burger restaurants - closed on Duval Street.



Let's see what changes to our beautiful island are in store during 2016.






Links:

If you like change, here's some more!


2014 Key West changes


2013 Key West changes

2012 Key West changes