Village Library Project Letter

The following letter was published in The Islander News on April 23, 2015:

New Library: Good Idea in the Wrong Place?

The plans for demolition of our current library building and the replacing of it with a so-called “21st century library” with a two-story structure, multi-purpose rooms, an underground garage for some 70 cars, and a roof-top “event area,” for yet to be defined activities, creates more questions than it answers. On first impression, the concept of a “new” library sounds exciting, especially if it would benefit our Community School and those who use the Community Center.

The 21st century library movement hopes to create new “collaborative learning” centers for student and adults who, as we know, have smart phones with super computers with online access to 100,000 works through the Gutenberg Project, 30 million digitized books through the Google library project, and even free online lectures from the likes of Yale and other universities. Such new libraries are being built at schools and in some communities from Massachusetts to Texas. The Westlake library in Texas, for example, attempts to combine the concept of an Apple Genius Bar and a Starbucks, not exactly what is in your current traditional library.

As a former teacher, I have to agree that the idea may have some merit in a school or campus setting. Unfortunately, that is not the project proposed by former Mayor Caplan. The proposed new structure would be far from our Community School on busy Crandon Boulevard at the most congested traffic intersection in Key Biscayne. This is hardly the logical place to be adding underground parking for some 70 cars and a mini-community center with “multi-purpose” rooms. It would be a library in name only. With the exception of the books, most of the things proposed currently go on in our Community School and at the Community Center. It is ironic that at the very moment the Village is in litigation with Miami-Dade over the traffic nightmare that would be created by the proposed Boat Show infrastructure on Virginia Key, Frank Caplan is proposing his very own local mini “library” traffic congestion at Key Colony.

The current library was actually the original Key Colony sales office that was donated by Key Colony developer, Fritz Scharenberg, and deeded to Dade County in 1979 with very specific conditions and understandings. Scharenberg wanted to make sure that the structure would remain essentially unchanged as a quiet library and green buffer between Crandon and Key Colony. Scharenberg made the donation after the Matheson Estate turned down the idea of a Key Biscayne Branch Library on Calusa Park land since it “would violate the restrictions contained in the covenants of Dade County and would be contrary to the intent of the grantors [my emphasis].” They stipulated that the land he used for “public park purposes only.” The Scharenberg warranty deed likewise stated in part:

It is the intention of the Grantor that the property being conveyed hereby shall be used solely [my emphasis] for the operation by Grantee of a branch library on Key Biscayne…In the event the Grantee ceases to use such property as a public library, the Grantee by the acceptance and recordation of this Deed gives and grants to the Grantor the option to repurchase the existing structure and other improvements at the original purchase price…less depreciation.”

You would have thought that reading the deed would have given pause to former Mayor Caplan and Dade County. But apparently this is not the case given the recent announcement that essentially ignores the conditions of the deed directly, and the property rights of Key Colony residents indirectly. When Scharenberg sold units at Key Colony, the donated sales office was a done deal and investors were told about the library and that it would never be used for anything else, not for a Starbucks, a Genius Bar, or a multi-purpose senior center, or for anything else. This was part and parcel of the sales disclosure communicated to buyers. In 1979, a library was a place where people contemplated and read, and the librarian politely asked people to keep their voices down. After all, such a library was to be a good neighbor to the largest residential complex on Key Biscayne. Peaceful enjoyment of their units was to be protected.

The proposed project would be a slap in the face to buyers at Key Colony who took both Mr. Scharenberg and the County at their word. In investment parlance, this change could be considered a fraudulent misrepresentation of what buyers expected when they bought. That was not Mr. Scharenberg’s intention and he was very careful to include very specific protections for the residents of Key Colony, protections and intentions our Village Council and Miami-Dade are now contemplating reneging on.

While I applaud Mayor Caplan for negotiating with Miami-Dade for the acquisition of needed maintenance areas outside the Village, these negotiations should not be tied to violating the expectations and property rights of Key Colony residents through a new “library” deal at the current location. The new library concept may have merits, but at a different location and in combination with other existing facilities such as our Community School and the Community Center.

Which raises an important final point. While there are various interesting ideas being proposed by different members of our Council, I have yet to see a comprehensive architectural master plan of how best to implement these ideas, including on how to best utilize the existing library location if a new library were built elsewhere. Could it be a passive “pocket park” with no building, or the Key Biscayne Historical Society Museum, and a tourist information center run by the Chamber of Commerce? Without a comprehensive master plan by a competent architectural firm, our Village may end up with what we refer to in Spanish as “un arroz con mango” i.e. unrelated piecemeal projects rather than a well-integrated development that will enhance our entire community for years to come without violating property rights.

Antonio Camejo

President Key Colony HOA