At least for the next six months, Middle Keys residents can still meet their neighbors, catch up on local gossip and bag their fresh fruits and vegetables at the ECMC Incredible Fruit Stand.
City manager Roger Hernstadt said he placed the discussion item on the council’s agenda during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night to open the floor to the public.
But the public remained quiet on the issue.
Just prior to the meeting, Fruit Stand founder Peter Pittman produced documentation for proper insurance coverage. According to Hernstadt’s, a brief scan of the documentation proved the policy would provide enough coverage to allow the city to issue a temporary permit.
Councilman Pete Worthington, a longtime vocal advocate for the produce stand, said he felt the city should help out in whatever way they can.
“They’ve been doing this as a service and to support a local non-profit,” Worthington applauded, “And they’ve been accident free.”
Vice mayor Dick Ramsay moved, based on staff recommendations and compliance with the risk management department, to continue the issuance of a temporary permit with a review after six months.
Mayor Ginger Snead asked city attorney John Herin whether or not the city would be subject to a possible lawsuit even with proper insurance to operate.
Herin told the council that the insurance policy obtained by the Pittmans would not prevent against a suit but that the insurance policy should cover any potential litigation costs associated should a suit be filed.
“FDOT just wants to see a permit has been issued by the city,” Herin noted.
In other business:
• Councilman Mike Cinque proposed taking roughly half the property at 104th Street and US 1 and platting it into a subdivision with 10 to 12 lots.
“If the council see fit to move forward, the city could partner with Habitat and it could possible be a very good medium density neighborhood,” Cinque proposed.
But Middle Keys Habitat for Humanity President Bruce Ferraro’s requests were met with mixed reviews from the council.
Ferraro said his organization appealed to the Monroe County Land Authority months ago to help HFH acquire buildable land in the Middle Keys on which to construct new homes for qualified families. He continued that though his organization has financial wherewithal to build two to three new homes in the next year, they have no property on which to place the homes, and the land authority – a county entity dedicated to purchasing land for conservation and affordable housing – had instructed they would not be spending any further monies on affordable housing within the county.
“We’ve built 18 houses in the past 17 years and put them back into the affordable housing inventory, and we need the council’s support on this motion,” Ferraro requested.
Worthington contended that the proposed plan looked to consume more than half of the vacant property.
“I’m hoping that’s not another Public Works building along the highway that would look exactly like the airport hangers across the street,” Worthington suggested. “I’ll support Habitat for Humanity and Bruce on trying to get this accomplished, but the numbers don’t add up for me.”
Ramsay said though a previous development agreement between the city and Ed Swift fell through due to what he suspected were higher priced units, he supported the initiative.
“They’re willing to move forward almost immediately,” Ramsay commended. “In this neighborhood, it’s the right neighborhood for these homes and this concept.”
Snead admitted she’d never supported the previous development agreement, but Swift had pledged to construct 20 residences on the property.
“We’re not in crisis mode, we have other options right now and I want to see a complete site plan for this property that will best suit all of our residents’ needs,” she motioned.
She also suggested the council direct staff to coordinate with the land authority to explore other options.
• Staff was directed back to the drawing board on yet another long-discussed topic – proposed changes to the city’s vacation rental ordinance.
Contentious points still include right of way parking, maximum occupancy hours, the number of violations before an owner’s license is terminated and ambiguous language that several owners have expressed would make some violations difficult for the city to enforce.
Brian Schmitt argued that substantive changes to the ordinance had been made as late as last Friday and were not available to owners and property managers in a timely manner. He also contended that the enormous economic impact compared with the number of vacation rental complaints is substantial.
“A lot of people’s lives depend on vacation rentals,” Schmitt pointed out.
On behalf of the owners his real estate company represents, he cautioned adopting an ordinance that was not yet fully developed.
Snead suggested that since council and staff had been working to tweak the ordinance changes for over a year, four more weeks of clarifying the language and properly noticing homeowners and property managers would constitute some due diligence on the city’s part.
“If you still have substantive changes on this ordinance, I don’t think we should be voting on this,” Snead told Planning Director George Garrett.
• Recent renovations at the skate park in the city park exceeded by $6,000 the $10,000 cap established by the city, and coordinators requested through Councilman Cinque the money they spent out of pocket be reimbursed by the city.
Councilman Ramsay seconded Cinque’s motion for reimbursement and commended the ECMC for recruiting volunteers and the final product.
“If the city took this project on, and we didn’t have enough volunteers, it would have cost twice that,” Ramsay offered. “But I am upset we were not notified the project was going over [the cap]. I’m going to support this, but I think we need better communication in the future.”
Councilman Rich Keating echoed Ramsay’s sentiments.
“A deal’s a deal, and this could have been handled better,” Keating chided, adding that organizers should have come to the council and requested more money before spending money out of pocket and expecting reimbursement.
Snead asked where the money for reimbursement would be found in the continuously “nit-picked budget,” to which Finance Director Peter Rosasco said the project would qualify under capital infrastructure funding.
“In our own rules, if this were a city staff person, they would be personally liable,” Rosasco cautioned.
The Stanley Switlik Student Council got a first-hand civics lesson from Mayor Snead prior to their opening of the meeting. After she attended a meeting at the school coordinated by Mrs. Beth Pinkus, Snead invited the students to attend a Marathon City Council meeting at the Marathon Government Center.