Friday, February 11, 2005

Truman Waterfront Workshop

[Here it is. I know you've all been waiting for this with bated breath. I feel relieved that it's done.]


The City's consultants on the Truman Waterfront project, DMJM Harris conducted a workshop with the Key West City Commission last night at Old City Hall, and as I mentioned earlier today several of us from Bahama Village attended to hear the latest version of the consultant's plan.

I've written in the past about this project, but to review it briefly: the U.S. Navy, through the DoD's Base Realignment and Conversion (BRAC) program, released 33 acres of land on the waterfront and conveyed it to the City of Key West with certain stipulations as to its use, including reservation of areas of the property (such as docking facilities) for dual-use by the Navy and the City. The property transferred was once taken (seized, some might say) by the Navy in the dim past, in the 1940's as I recall, from land that was once a part of what is now called Bahama Village. (It was known by various other names then -- as Darktown by some, Key West Downtown by others.) The residents of this area were mainly the descendants of the Bahamian settlers of African-American descent. In a time, not so long ago, when racial segregation was still prevalent in Florida as it was throughout the South, there were separate black schools, a black theater, and many other establishments that catered primarily to African-American residents and visitors. The Village lost many houses and other buildings to the Navy base.

The project has a long history. The BRAC process that led to the decision to declare the property surplus to Navy needs concluded in 1995. The property at that time consisted of 50 acres, but later decisions by the Navy reduced that to 33 acres. The official conveyance to the City finally took place in 2002. The Navy retained ownership of the Outer Mole, the large pier that defines the outer seaside edge of the property, but allows for its use by the City for cruise ship dockings. A security post will limit public access to the Outer Mole, and cruise ship passengers will be transported to and from the ships by HTA Conch Trains who will be cleared through the security checkpoint for that purpose.

DMJM Harris has done a good job of planning the conversion to City use. We attended two previous public planning sessions at which information was given and community input taken. In its latest iteration of the plan, many details have been filled in.

My own reaction to the current plan focuses on three elements: traffic, parking, and the choices made for primary entrances and exits, and I made a brief statement to the Commission about these (comments from the public were limited to three minutes. I came in just under the wire.)

Traffic
The traffic projections in the consultants' plan show that upon full build-out -- maximum completion of everything permitted by codes and ordinances -- the number of additional vehicles traveling on Bahama Village streets would be almost 2,500 per day (24 hours). Of these, 2,463 would enter by Truman Avenue (1,724), and the rest by Olivia, Petronia, and Geraldine Sts. Commissioner Carmen Turner stated flatly to the consultants that those numbers were not going to fly, that the "burden" of traffic was not going to fall less than equally between the residents of Bahama Village and Truman Annex. Southard St., which was for many years a public way from Thomas St. into the Navy waterfront, somehow got conveyed to Pritam Singh when he bought the Navy property that is now Truman Annex. It is now controlled by the Truman Annex Master Property Owners Association (TAMPOA) and its constituent tenants' associations. After Commissioner Turner's statement, the attorney for TAMPOA put the Commissioners on notice that the tenants associations intended to strictly interpret and vigorously enforce the so-called "TAMPOA Agreement" between the City and TAMPOA, regarding the use of Southard St., now considered to be privately owned by TAMPOA. I haven't found a copy of the agreement as yet, but hope to soon.

Parking
There are 398 parking spaces shown in the consultants' plan, all of them grade level parking, no garage or other multi-level structures. My immediate reaction on seeing that is that it is too many parking space by at least twice. There may be -- no, is -- a need for parking on the park itself, but 400 is way too many. The NOAA building might need a couple of dozen. The residential buildings can number no more than 86. Businesses might need another couple of dozen. All the rest are superfluous. There must be a greater emphasis given to pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation.

To make matters worse, the Commissioners seem to believe that there isn't enough parking, talking about the potential for garage(s) on the park. No way, Joe, no way.

Entrances
Finally, the plan now projects that all entrances to the park will be over Bahama Village streets only, and primarily over Truman Avenue. This is a direct result of the TAMPOA agreement, which restricts ingress via Southard Street to owners in Truman Annex, government vehicles -- and the Conch Tour Trains and Trolleys! It's my view that the primary entrance belongs at the end of Petronia St., not Truman Ave. The Truman route would bring vehicular traffic between the two public housing complexes on Truman between Emma St. and Fort St., a place where very young children play in unfenced yards. Petronia, on the other hand, is the "Main St." of Bahama Village, location of many businesses that would benefit from much increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and even from public transportation (with a Caribbean flair?) that might run continuously from Duval St. and from public parking facilities.

The next steps are a draft revision to the City's Master Plan reflecting the changes proposed in the workshop, followed by formal acceptance by the Commission after further public hearings. The time frames here are long. It could be as long as five years before the waterfront begins to look the park it is envisioned to be, and longer still before full build-out is realized. At the present time, there are very few identified sources of funding for any of the projects in the park, and millions of dollars will be needed. It is part of the planning process to identify sources of that money. The temptation to City Planners could be to commercialize some of the park in one way or another, to grant concessions for example, or to overuse the park for special events in which event sponsors pay large rental fees to the City. Caution and good judgment will be required. I sincerely hope that the City is up to it.

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