ISLAMORADA -- The proposed 36-unit rental community on the village-owned WetNet property has moved a big step closer to become a reality.
On June 8, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation awarded $9 million in affordable housing tax credits for the project to Wisconsin-based developer Gorman Company, which the Village Council tapped last year to develop the site.
Gorman, which already has a 99-year lease of the property in place with the village, had keyed its financing strategy for the housing community upon the award of the tax credits.
"The financing is now in place for us," Gorman's Florida-area President Hana Eskra said last week. "We're very happy about it. We're very excited."
Eskra said Gorman's next step will be to move ahead with permitting in hopes of starting construction by late fall or early winter.
"It just depends on the approvals," Eskra said. She added that construction itself will take approximately one year.
The 4-acre WetNet site, located at mile marker 81.5, oceanside, has sat vacant since the village acquired it in 2006, specifically for the development of affordable housing. Gorman plans to build 18 duplexes there. All 36 units would have three bedrooms and would be approximately 1,500 square feet. Monthly rent for most would be in the $1,000 range.
Gorman's site plan is taken directly from a 2009 legal settlement the village entered into with wealthy WetNet neighbors, who had sued in an effort to shape development at the property. Among the litigants were Michael Swerdlow, a developer of shopping malls and large residential communities, and frozen food magnate Bob Rich of Rich Products.
The use of that plan, however, won't necessarily be enough to satisfy the former litigants.
Twice last year Swerdlow publicly expressed his concern about the WetNet becoming a rental community, rather than one featuring home ownership. On the first of those occasions, last July, he sent an attorney from the Miami firm of Shubin Bass to a Village Council meeting to state his position.
In an interview last week, Swerdlow didn't say whether he'd fight the WetNet development. But he made it clear that Gorman's use of the site plan he commissioned could be its own bone of contention.
"We spent a lot of money planning that site and they have not indicated to me whether they are going to repay us," he said. "Generally, if I use somebody's work I pay for it."
Under its lease with the village, Gorman is to pay $200,000 upon completing its construction financing arrangements. In addition, the company will pay the village another $300,000 spread over 20 years. Should the WetNet neighbors or any other party sue the village to block the project, Gorman will pay up the town's legal fees up to $150,000.