Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bahama Conch Village

The Bahama Conch Community Land Trust set off on a path last night that will determine whether or not the 10-year old community organization can reach a new level in its effort to preserve, protect and defend the historic Bahama Village neighborhood of Key West. Bahama Village became a target for development in the early years of this decade because of its strategic location at the nascent Truman Waterfront Park, and because families with a long heritage in the neighborhood are succumbing to the lure of money and the siren song of the mainland, bigger houses, better-paying jobs and a more affluent life than here, in this tropical paradise.

The Key West City Commission last night approved in second reading the holding of a referendum that will allow the City to negotiate the long-term lease of 6.6 acres of the Truman Waterfront for the development of what is known as Bahama Conch Village (on page 6) by the land trust. In 2002, the BCCLT received a grant from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation to produce a conceptual plan for an extension of Bahama Village back onto land that was taken from the City of Key West by the United States government before or during World War II. Parts of the acreage of the Navy Base were sold off to a private developer in the mid-1970s and became what is known today as Truman Annex. In 2000 the Navy withdrew 17 acres of what was supposed to be a 50-acre parcel in order to accommodate the headquarters of Joint Interagency Task Force South and some Navy housing located at the real Southernmost point of the United States. The remaining 33 acres became city property in 2002 as a no-cost economic development conveyance. The terms of the conveyance included restrictions on how the land can be used. It also requires a demonstration of the economic benefit to the community at large, and specifically to the residents of Bahama Village. The memorandum of understanding for the conveyance also speaks of cultural preservation and the restoration of the land to the community from which it was taken.

The citywide referendum will be held either at a November run-off municipal election, should one be required, or at the first election to be held thereafter. Here is the language of the referendum question as approved by the Commission last night:
Shall the Naval Properties Local Redevelopment Authority of the City of Key West ("LRA") be authorized to lease real property of approximately 6.6 acres at the Truman Waterfront to the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust for a period of 99 years at the rate of one dollar per year, the final terms of which must be apporved by the LRA, for uses including approximately 60-70 affordable housing units, a cultural arts center, small business retail spaces, and a youth development and/or convention center?

The BCCLT Board of Directors has assembled a team of experienced development consultants who will help Executive Director Norma Jean Sawyer-Atanda to secure funding for the project and select the needed development partners to carry the project through to completion over the next two years. If approved by voters, development will go forward in an open process with the advice and support of the entire community of Key West. Conceptual plans developed by the Center for Urban Development and Education (CURE) of Florida Atlantic University are the basis for the development.

This blog and BCCLT's own web site will be among the means by which the development team will keep the rest of the community aware and involved in what is taking place. Anyone desiring more information may contact Executive Director Sawyer-Atanda at, or by calling the offices of the CLT at (305) 294-0884.