Is traffic congestion really worse than last year? Is it related to increased online vacation rentals that are not paying applicable taxes? Can more tourists really be accommodated in Monroe County? Last Stand had the following letter published with our suggestion to better manage tourism impacts in the Florida Keys.
Let’s face reality: the Florida Keys are past the tipping point. The weight of our tourism economy is squeezing the quality of life for residents.
Monroe County is not like the rest of the state. Where else in Florida do 75% of tourists arrive in personal and rental vehicles, driving down an accident prone mostly single lane 120 mile road? Where else in Florida do the county’s annual visitors equal 65 times the number of permanent residents? The impacts of traffic congestion and shortage of workforce housing are direct results of growing tourism beyond the capacity of infrastructure and the environment to sustain it. We are victims of the wildly successful marketing efforts that attract nearly 5 million visitors per year.
Last Stand does not agree with the Citizen’s suggestion to repeal transient rental regulation to be like the rest of the state. Any change in regulating transient rentals here would guarantee loss of local control given existing state pre-emption power. While the precise impact of this regulation on permanent rental housing supply is difficult to measure, allowing any more homes to become short-term tourist lodging, especially in dense Old Town Key West neighborhoods, is a prescription for sleepless nights for full-time residents.
We need to change the mindset about more growth in the Florida Keys. Expanding the capacity of US 1 or increasing the number of rooms used for transient rentals is not sustainable when there are not enough places for the workforce to live.
Instead of more growth, all of Monroe County needs to focus on sustaining and improving the quality of life for residents and visitors. Perhaps part of the bed tax used to attract visitors can be repurposed to help reduce traffic congestion or the number of illegal transient rentals. Let’s start by reigning in excess demand for tourists by better use of the Tourist Development Council budget. The Board of County Commissioners decides what the TDC does with bed tax funds. It’s time for increased oversight, accountability and some creative solutions to restore the balance between tourism impacts and the quality of life for residents.