Friday, May 14, 2010

Port Pine Heights

I read comments on Key west in TripAdvisor and from time to time find myself astonished by the one sided and peculiarly parochial comments to be found there. Far be it from me to criticize visitors to these islands, but when I read that the Keys are overrun by tourists I laugh up my sleeve at the silly experts. Silly billy Duval walkers. Mind you, if you choose to go off Highway One and cruise Key Deer Boulevard on Big Pine Key you won't find much refreshment.Like so many developments from decades ago the planners grasp fell rather short of their reach and as result there is plenty of open space around here which could be classified as "dead ground" were you planning a military assault on the unsuspecting snowbirds in their stilt homes.
Which dead ground makes a Labrador happy, at least for a while on a hot morning. Port Pine Heights (heights? really?) was first claimed and platted in 1914 by one Silas Knowles who owned some land and apparently planned big things for this chunk of open space. However the development of the scrub land didn't start to get underway until 1951, a time when the Depression was a memory, World War Two was won and it was time for people to win their place in the sun. The development of cheap and available air conditioning didn't hurt. these are not homes built to be enjoyed without all modern conveniences.Cape Coral in southwest Florida has the same over developed layout, and I find these vast open spaces between homes rather attractive. It makes Port Pine Heights seem like a misanthrope's refuge. It probably isn't really but it sure looks that way and makes me rather envious of the lack of neighbors.
Then there are those valiant souls who tried and failed:
Welcome indeed, and this is a neighborhood watch zone. Superb eyesight must be a requirement for all residents.And naturally those developers left behind a magnificent gate to nowhere. I love these incongruities. What were they thinking?
Things in the keys changed substantially with two innovations around here. Locally a Key Deer refuge was instituted pitting people versus animals and creating a certain amount of animosity. The refuge also had the effect of slowing development. Then in 1975 Tallahassee put the Keys under direct control designating the entire county as an area of Critical Concern, which had the effect of making the issuing of building permits a slow and arduous process.When you drive the Keys and see what a total lack of planning has led to, neon, signage and ugly crass commercialization you have to figure it all came a bit too late, but there it is. Now we live in an era when the critical concern designation is holding up big plans for more overarching development there are plans to remove the designation and make the Keys open for a free-for-all once again. There are some barriers firmly in place thanks to the Feds.I rather liked the white band painted around this West Indian Almond Tree. It reminds me of the roadside plane trees lining the routes in France. Perhaps we should rename this the Freedom Tree?
Granted this is now officially low season and the winter residents have all scurried off to their oases of cool green pleasure Up North but even in winter you won't see a stream of tourists coming out here to inspect the back country. And that, I hope, is the charm that will remain.
Canals have been dredged into the rock for the development but that sort of behavior was stopped a long time ago and what you have is what you get and no more. Around here the canals have a delightfully rural aspect to them:
In Keys parlance a home not on a canal is a "dry" lot, one that has access to a canal is a "wet" lot. It has nothing to do with susceptibility to flooding (though proximity to a canal may have this as a side effect!).
Many homes have seawalls which require upkeep. Mangroves are now protected as they nurture fish nurseries and quell waves and preserve land. In the bad old days they slashed and burned and poured cement.
I rather liked the rural nature of this home built floating dock.
This kind of home is known as CBS (concrete block structure) which lacks stilts to keep it above the putative flood plain. This home is built up on a heap of dirt that has a similar effect. Classic Florida architecture from the 1960s development boom.There are some homes with open water views, and they command premium prices, higher than wet lots.
Key Deer Boulevard is five miles long from the traffic light at Highway One, and here is the northernmost point of this piece of Big Pine Key. Actually there is a trail up there but that will be for another day. If Cheyenne is lucky we will return at a cooler time of day...If I have described Port Pine Heights as lacking in amenity I have done them an injustice:The true value is this:And as off the beaten track as it is around here there is no one to see exactly what goes on out of sight. To an external observer I looked like any other Monroe county tagged vehicle. The truth is otherwise.

There again, who cares? These people have other things on their minds. Like how to use all the open space around their homes. These are luxury sized lots:
Some people value their motorcycles and put them on pedestals as it were.
Poignant I suppose, though this is a 30mph neighborhood so one is left wondering what happened.And surrounding this cluster of well spaced homes is the precious refuge. Whatever you feel about deer eating ornamental shrubbery, the refuge means this lot will never get developed.
And that has to be a good thing. We don't want everyone finding out about these destinations. Else they'll want to start building bars and markets and attractions and who knows what. Then where will I walk Cheyenne in peace and quiet?