November 18, 2017
ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen
The green space next to the Steamplant Condominiums at center, is a proposed site for an affordable housing project.
ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen The green space next to the Steamplant Condominiums at center, is a proposed site for an affordable housing project.
A new housing proposal making its way through island inboxes envisions the construction of 480 brand new, hurricane-hardened apartments — 240 studios and 240 one-bedroom units — on 8 acres along Trumbo Road, where the Monroe County School Board currently maintains school buses and its administrative offices.
School district officials have talked for decades about vacating their waterfront headquarters and using the property for something more relevant such as workforce housing.
But Key West philanthropist — and former superintendent — John Padget grew tired of the talking.
“All I’ve read for years is the refrain about how badly we need housing in the Keys,” Padget said on Thursday. “I was superintendent 14 years ago and started working on options for this Trumbo Road property with Ed Swift. Now, here we are 14 years later, and absolutely nothing has happened with this taxpayer-owned land resource. Nothing.”
Padget Associates hired an architect to design a preliminary proposal for housing in the area. The resulting vision includes 480 units, each with its own front porch. It also includes hurricane-resistant construction that would enable residents to shelter in place in the event of a storm. Padget’s plan includes the abandonment and closure of Trumbo Road, which would be turned into a waterfront community park area. 
The new development would be called The Porches and would be a place residents are proud to call home, Padget said, emphasizing that the new buildings would not exceed the height of the existing Steam Plant condominiums, which would be The Porches’ closest neighbor. If all goes well, Padget said, the same development model and building style could be used eventually to redevelop the adjacent Porter Place housing projects off Eaton Street.
He emailed his short and to-the-point proposal to three people: Key West Mayor Craig Cates, City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley and Schools Supertintendent Mark Porter.
“The only neighbors who would be likely to object would be those at the Steam Plant condominiums, and frankly, no one gave a small group of millionaires veto power over their neighbors,” said Padget. “I couldn’t care less about a half-dozen millionaires.”
“I think we can build something more attractive than school bus parking and give everyone a front porch,” he said. “But it’s going to take commitment on the part of the government agencies involved.”
The project would require variances, or waivers, which grant exemptions to existing building requirements.

I believe the vacant parcel right in front of the Steamplant condos in the photo is owned by the city. I am pretty sure the school district owns more land just to the right of what's seen in the photo, on which even more such rental housing could be built. I say the school district and city should partner with the local housing authority and let it build and manage the new rental housing, since the housing authority does that all over Key West and the school district and the city are not set up for, nor in the business of, nor competent to build and/or manage rental housing.
“We need the land to be free forever,” Padget. “We need a height waiver, a parking waiver and ROGO units, or building permits. The point of this exercise is to find out if this community is prepared to grant the four waivers needed to move forward, or if they’re going to keep talking about this problem, not acting on it. This is the last big piece of viable land on which to do this.
“I have no next step,” he continued. “All next steps have to be taken by the people whose business this is. But they know where to find me. If someone wants to write to me and says they’ll cooperate to move forward, then we’ll invest the time in next steps.”
According to Padget’s proposal, The Porches neighborhood would serve households of one and two people, with rents starting at $1,286 for someone earning up to $51,450 a year. The highest proposed rent would be $2,208 for a couple earning up to $88,320 a year.
“That land belongs to the taxpayers and if government officials are not willing or able to make a decision on this, then I’m not going to keep spending my time on it.”

Thank you for taking this initiative, John. I hope you don't have to hold your breath for more than a couple of days before hearing, "I'm going for it," from each of the 5 school board members and the city mayor and the 6  city commissioners. Do you also have a plan for the school district turning Marathon Manor into similar affordable rental housing?
mmiles@keysnews.com