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13-Year Moratorium on New Hotel Builds Extended in Florida Keys -
Could Remain in Place Until 90% Occupancy Rate is Achieved

By Ryan McCarthy, Florida Keys Keynoter, MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 30, 2010--No new hotel or motel units will be built in unincorporated Monroe County for at least another 18 months.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved yet another extension to a moratorium that's been in place more than 13 years. The newest proposed expiration date is Dec. 31, 2011.

The commission shot down a proposed amendment to the land-use plan in July 2009, when it last extended the moratorium. It would have extended the moratorium until the Keys achieve a 90 percent annual occupancy rate.

Commissioners balked at the 90 percent number, saying it will never be achieved in the Keys. A motion by Commissioner Heather Carruthers to make the number 82 percent over a three-year period was also voted down at the time.

"I don't think that's physically possible based on the ways statistics are reported. You might have one month where it exceeds 90 percent," Growth Management Director Christine Hurley said.

Hurley said the county has gathered extensive data in an attempt to find an occupancy rate that could trigger new units. She said the county will poll lodging organizations up and down the Keys beginning this fall.

"That's what we need to understand from the industry. None of us are hoteliers. We need to understand when a market is saturated," she said.

Hurley said preliminary figures from Keith & Schnars, the Fort Lauderdale-based planning firm hired to update the county's land-use plan, indicate an increase in tourism.

"We're going to see evidence the trend of people visiting the Keys are up, so you may want to look at allocations for transient units" down the road, Hurley said.

According to county documents, the self-imposed moratorium was created when Monroe's ability to issue building permits was limited by being designated an Area of Critical State Concern. Granting new transient unit when need doesn't exist takes away from a limited number of residential rate-of-growth ordinance building permit allocations available each year.

From Tuesday's agenda item: "Since the ROGO's inception, there has been an abundance of market-rate applications and it has been competitive within the permit allocation system between those applications for those limited allocations. Occupancy data provided by the Tourist Development Council indicates that there is not an urgent need to expand the available amount of transient residential units in Monroe County."

The three-member commission -- Mario Di Gennaro and George Neugent were absent -- approved the latest extension unanimously and without discussion.


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