Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Downstairs Enclosures, Again

When we bought our home on Ramrod Key, my wife and I had no qualms about the purchase owing to the absence of issues. We had no downstairs enclosures, no questionable lot lines, no unexplained buildings on the lot. Indeed our house is so small, 770 square feet it fits in the lot with tons of room to spare. The focus in the Lower Keys has always been to create the largest possible home on a landmass that doesn't have much build-able land in the first place. Thus one finds tall, fat homes squeezed into lots that end up not offering comfortable offsets. I like my offsets.Perhaps it was that we moved ashore from a sailboat, but our home seemed, and still seems spacious enough for two even if my wife would like a second toilet and a larger closet... But we have no downstairs enclosures at our home and I like it that way. The theory is that open space underneath the house prevents damage from floods to the stilt homes in the Keys. This is a typical manufactured home raised on stilts and designed to allow residents to avoid the effects of flooding. Over the years the height has increased. When my home was built in 1987 it was designed to meet a code requirement putting it about 8 feet (2.5 meters) above the floodplain. My neighbors with newer homes have to build their homes a good deal taller to meet new regulations but enclosures downstairs are strictly regulated for all. Serfs Not Citizens is the brainchild of a wealthy Lower Keys resident who wants to spend his "blessings" forcing the Feds to change their rules. The idea is to somehow force the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bow to the will of Serfs Not Citizens and allow people to build legal residential enclosures under their stilt homes. This magnanimous gesture would allow poor people to live in the Keys, the theory goes. However recent population loss of officially nine percent has persuaded Serfs Not Citizens to quote this statistic in recent newspaper ads, as being caused by the enclosure rule which seems odd as the organizations also accuses the Feds of not enforcing the rule and thus turning a blind eye to the creation of illegal enclosures. Enclosed spaces under homes are supposed to be not for living thus toilets and kitchens are not allowed but storage and garages are. This is not good enough apparently and the drive to allow ground level living is attempting to strong arm county commissioner George Nugent, long the voice of common sense on the Board of County Commissioners (and he's a Republican at that!). He says FEMA has already been approached and show no interest at all in making changes. Nothing deterred the drive to make changes on behalf of the impoverished citizens of the Keys continues apace and the Commissioners are slated to discuss this quixotic effort once again tomorrow.The legal storage enclosure also has a flow through grate to relieve pressure should flooding fill the downstairs space.

I have seen this same attitude, deliberate blindness to the likelihood of natural disasters, elsewhere. When I lived in California and forest fires had burned down homes or mudslides had wiped away sub-divisions, the former home owners would ALWAYS be quoted as saying, bedraggled but defiant, that they would rebuild. Why? I would ask myself. And here we are in the same position with a slight variant. The Feds provide subsidized Flood Insurance to allow us to have mortgages in this slightly absurd recreational market in the Keys. This isn't a place where farms will be maintained or factories will be rebuilt. Some of us eke out a living serving visitors in hotels and bars and the rest of us make a decent living working for government agencies. The rest live on private incomes ("Blessings" for those that think Lazarus was the rich man). By defying the Feds, flood insurance will be canceled and mortgages will be unsustainable, thus only blessed persons will be able to buy and live here. End of story.

In an effort to democratize the demands against the Federal Emergency Management Agency the story goes that the enclosure law prevents the poor from finding affordable homes in the Keys. Enclosures help buyers pay their mortgages and allow people to rent modest apartments in the most expensive housing market in the State (most expensive comparing wages to costs. Palm Beach prices will make even a Keys resident's eyes water). That may be true but curiously there is no drive to limit Trailer Park conversions and downstairs enclosures carry a certain level of risk to the structural integrity of the homes involved. In it's copious newspaper advertising Serfs Not Citizens claims the recent 9 percent drop in population in the Keys is due to the enclosure restrictions, which does not take into account the fact that other ads also berate FEMA for not enforcing the law consistently. I suggest the lack of living wage jobs has forced people out, not the absence of potential garage conversion apartments. On top of that, increasing the population of the Keys will increase hurricane evacuation times and like them or not those times are used to limit growth on lots not yet built. So lets have more garage conversions and fewer new homes. Very Marxist I'm sure.

But wait, there's more. Those of us that have lived through the inevitable hurricane story know perfectly well there will be disasters and when they come people will line up with their hands held out expecting the Feds to make it right, and bitching horribly when it takes too long. Already our socialized housing insurance in Florida, called Citizens, is grossly underfunded to face major hurricane damage but here in the Keys, land of the Comfortable Fantasy, there is a component that is ready to take on the Feds and demand they act in a totally unbusinesslike way and give us something for nothing. I stand on the sidelines and marvel.

Waterfront Walk

They named the islands as souvenirs, after a fashion, of the men who worked on bringing the railroad to Key West in 1912.
I ducked off the Overseas Highway and parked the Maxima (the "kennel") in the dirt:One is never far from salt water around here.

The southern half of Ohio Key was donated to the National Wildlife Refuge supposedly to allow the northern half to be developed. So far the trailer park is still there but this sign has sprouted on this side of the road:

Some strange person thought a leafless bush was a good place to put a sponge. Someone else came by and thought it a good idea to take a picture of it:From where I was one could look back at the causeway that is Highway One: That's the road heading north toward the Seven Mile Bridge: Artistic junque:
It looked rather lonely to be a bird on this particular stretch of beach:
Naturally Cheyenne found something disgusting.
Fishing floats as Christmas decorations:
We were not alone. I think this guy came under the bridge from the trailer park.
We said good morning like humans, they sniffed each other's butts like dogs (for that is what they were) and no permanent friendship was forged:
Happily Cheyenne found nothing of interest in the blue blobs washed up on the beach. We call them Portuguese Men O'War:
I am told these jellyfish are actually colonies of creatures traveling together inside the bubble, which acts like a sail.

The interior of the island is a pond of what I think is salt water owing to Cheyenne's lack of interest in it. She usually likes to drink fresh water especially if it is of dubious purity. I carry a bottle of clean drinking water for her which she will only drink lacking anything worse.The pond is surrounded by thick vegetation, just the thing for a busy dog to sprawl in:And here is another man of war (the blue thing, not the pink things, for those would be my feet):
The best time to walk the Keys' abbreviated beaches is at low tide. We hit a low, low tide. If you want long sandy beaches you need to go to Ft Myers Beach. Around here it's rocks and seaweed and shallow water.
Okay everybody: what is the blue thing?
In the background the old Flagler bridge foundations, as solid as ever and now used to support what is essentially a fishing pier:
These aren't proper beaches I know, not like those vast spacious stretches of sand on the mainland of Florida. But I like them just the same, these rocky island beaches.