July 09--Islamorada property owner Bert Vorstman has a plan that could benefit the Islamorada tax base and the environment. But his idea is on indefinite hold because of unnecessary push-back he received last year from Islamorada Planning Department staff and the Village Council.
Vorstman owns an 8-acre oceanfront lot at mile marker 83 on the Old Highway. His vision is to turn the overgrown property, now a makeshift homeless camp, into a state-of-the-art, environmentally themed resort -- the Islamorada Eco-lodge.
As it's currently zoned, Vorstman could build a big house there. But without a text amendment to the building code, he can't build the 70-unit Eco-Lodge. Vorstman said he wants "something that's going to benefit me, the community and the environment" rather than simply constructing a grand home for him and his family.
The truth is, a project of this magnitude could employ well over 100 people and attract that highly desirable visitor base that Islamorada covets and caters to -- people willing to fork over between $500 and $600 per night. The economic benefits would likely trickle down to restaurants, charter boats, attractions and retail businesses. Plus, there's tax revenue that's associated with the project.
The project could establish Islamorada as a premiere eco-tourism destination. That distinction carries a ton of weight in the travel industry.
The issue was before the Village Council last summer and is up for discussion again at the July 10 council meeting. Vorstman and his development partner, EDSA of Fort Lauderdale, were unable to convince the council to approve a text amendment last year. This would have been the first step in a series of local and state regulatory hurdles through which Vorstman and EDSA would have to wade before ground could be broken.
The stumbling block is the perceived threat to native plant life if the resort is green-lighted. Vorstman and EDSA contend they would restore hardwood hammock and wetlands, replant native species and build the hotel units in clusters throughout the property, which also contains mangroves and a sandy beach.
The Village Council should reconsider its opposition.
Sure, there's something to be said about the village remaining as quaint and pristine as possible. After all, that's the inherent allure that attracts visitors here today.
But we're talking about an eco-friendly project here, not big-box retailers or a car dealership. We stand to potentially put a piece of unused, overgrown property to better use than it's serving now while funneling more dollars into Islamorada's coffers.
Let's not let the right kind of progress be cast aside. Be selective if you like Islamorada, but don't ignore a great opportunity that offers strong financial, tourism and ecological benefits to the community.
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