The storied Tavernier Hotel at mile marker 91.8, around since the early 1930s when it was used as a movie theater, has closed its doors for good to overnight visitors. But the owner of the pink and green building hopes to revamp it into something the Florida Keys seems to be in desperate need of — affordable housing. Tavernier Hotel Holdings LLC filed paperwork with Monroe County earlier this year to change how the building operates through a minor conditional use request. That request was set to go before the county’s Development Review Committee for approval or disapproval Tuesday, Aug. 30. The outcome of that meeting was unknown by press time.
“The hospitality sector in the Keys is quickly modernizing, providing more services and offering a higher quality room,” the May 27 application submitted to the county reads. “The limitations of the existing buildings, due to their historic status, increasingly place this location at a disadvantage in the hospitality market.” Because the two-story hotel and connecting buildings have been designated as historic structures by the county’s Historic Preservation Commission, major alterations to their exterior or a complete raze are prohibited. Mayté Santamaria, planning and environmental resources senior director with the county, said that doesn’t prevent interior changes in most cases.
The 18-room hotel building sits on oceanside property fronting U.S. 1 and is connected to the Café Moka coffee shop and one residential unit. According to submitted floor plans this month, the owner is looking to create six affordable housing units and accompanying rooms in a dormitory-style layout. Aside from the half-dozen upstairs units, the plans call for a library space, computer room, lounge, multiple study rooms and excess storage on the ground floor. The work would include tearing down some wall space to rearrange floor areas as well as adding new passageways. The coffee shop and current residential unit, with improvements, would remain.
Original plans called for the downstairs to be mainly commercial retail space. Over the past three months though, new plans were submitted showing only accessory rooms for the affordable housing units. The application did not specify the reason behind the change. Jorge Cepero, Prime Hospitality Group agent representing Tavernier Holdings LLC, did not return multiple messages seeking comment by press time.
The old hotel building dates back to when Tavernier was a thriving fishing camp. It has gone through a handful of owners over the years, but always offered low-cost nightly rates compared to much of its competition in the Upper Keys. Minor conditional use requests do not require public hearings after the Development Review Committee, unless an item is challenged, in which case it would go before the Monroe County Planning Commission. County staff is recommending approval of the Tavernier Hotel request, with a few small conditions. The developer would also have to obtain a building permit. The application can be viewed at fl-monroecounty.civicplus.com/ index.aspx by clicking on the “Development Review Committee Meeting” link.