Florida Keys Braces for Building Boom as State Considers Easing Growth Limits

Florida Keys Development Limits Could be Eased, Raising Environmental Concerns

Drafted on: Dec 25, 2023

The state is considering easing strict long-standing limits on development in the Florida Keys, a move that could fuel the biggest building boom in the ecologically fragile island chain in nearly a half-century. It could – at least potentially-open the door to as many as 8,000 new homes and businesses in one of Florida’s most famous tourist destinations. Monroe County’s construction industry and economy would thrive, according to reports.

However, it would likely have adverse environmental effects, intensifying the impact on declining coral reefs, fish populations, and sea grass beds. The area is already experiencing increasing tidal flooding due to global warming and is undertaking projects to make infrastructure more resilient. Despite this, the Florida Department of Commerce is planning to amend what rank as the most restrictive growth rules in the state, citing an already growing Keys population and an updated analysis that would allow emergency managers additional time to order hurricane evacuations. Residents and tourist are often stuck in a chain of tropical storms or hurricanes.

Many landowners who have long been denied building permits will likely support easing building rules. However, some longtime residents and environmental groups have voiced concerns about the potential adverse impacts. Environmental attorney Richard Grosso even questioned the proposals in an interview with the Miami Herald. He believes that with the rise in severe tropical storms, any relaxation of the construction norms would only increase the evacuation risks in the Keys. Critics also argue that the new building boom would further strain the Keys’ already stressed critical infrastructure, including wastewater and water supply systems.

The proposal would mark a significant shift from the region’s strategy 50 years ago, when it prohibited high-rises and set stringent growth rules. However, the continuously growing population and demand for new housing is putting pressure on the existing regulations. Nearly 10,000 more people have taken up residence in the Keys since the last census in 2010, contributing to the need for changes in the state’s growth policy. While the state understands the implications of their plan, they are mulling possible adjustments to the hurricane evacuation policies. This development is sure to be a major talking point at the Monroe County Commission meeting where a vote on a recommendation to pass on to the Legislature is scheduled.

Moreover, the county faces a looming liability issue if no building permits are issued after 2023, as required by the current rules. Refusing landowners building permits could result in a series of “takings” lawsuits from landowners seeking compensation for the value of their properties. However, mitigating this risk may not be as simple as it seems, leaving the county perplexed over a possible middle ground solution.

With a new constitutional amendment in the works, residents are bracing for major changes in the region. They now face crucial decisions over balancing public safety, environmental concerns, and property rights, all of which will have significant political and legal implications.


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