On June 16, the City of Marathon’s Planning Commission met to consider a proposal to build 66 two-bedroom rental units on Coco Plum and six single-family homes. Dubbed “Seaview Commons II,” it would be located across the street from another approved project for 64 affordable housing units called Seaview Commons that was approved in August 2018.

Both projects were brought forward by Marathon developer and Broker Brian Schmitt. And both projects face heavy opposition from Coco Plum residents. The planning council voted 3-0 to approve the project (Mike Leonard and Mike Cinque were absent), acknowledging some citizen’s ire.

“This is not a fun position to be in. But I am an employer in this town and I know the importance of having affordable housing,” said board member Matt Sexton of the Grassy Flats Resort. “I understand the uncertainties, but we can find a way to make this work for everybody by addressing safety and traffic concerns.”

“We need affordable housing in this community and this is a very good development in a place that can make it work,” said board member Lynn Landry.

The first project is located on the Oceanside of Coco Plum at “the curve,” a bend in Coco Plum Drive. The second project is located across the street. Residents opposing the newest project were largely concerned with traffic safety.

Coco Plum resident Donald Swatik said he empathizes with the need for affordable housing.

“I understand and know the need. But I am concerned about ingress and egress on Coco Plum Drive. And Seaview 1 hasn’t been built yet,” he said, regarding traffic impact from both developments.

Dolly Sadowski said she’s concerned about the width of Coco Plum Drive as well as the condition of the bridge. Linda Berrigan said she’s not protesting the development, but said she wants to see “specific improvements to the infrastructure.”

City staff told the planning council that the development complied with all the land use regulations and comp plan including density measurements and traffic studies.

The first project features 64 rental units in seven buildings on Avenue D. Schmitt said proposed 45% of the rents would be less than $1,000, and the rest for about $1,382.

The second project consists of six buildings with eight apartments each, and two buildings with six apartments each, six single-family homes on the waterfront and a leasing office. The rents for the second project are divided equally into low income, median income, moderate income and middle income. Schmitt said that means renters could earn anywhere from $24,000 to $75,000 per household.

“We needed to do that because essential professionals — firefighters, teachers, law enforcement — would be locked out,” he said. “This project is not just affordable housing, it’s prioritized for essential personnel. This is the group we need to have living here in an emergency.”

Schmitt is referring to a bill that passed the Florida Legislature in 2019 that allows affordable housing availability to be prioritized for essential personnel. Schmitt provided letters of support from the local hospital, chamber and regional FWC captain saying such accommodations were needed. Sheriff Rick Ramsay also lent his support: “We can’t dispute the need. I wish there was an alternate location, and I hear the opposition, but there’s little vacant land where we can do something like this.”

The projects still require the necessary building permits, some of which may come from the 300 awarded to the city by former Gov. Rick Scott. Schmitt said he’s hopeful that the projects will qualify for Florida Housing Finance Corporation loans. 

The first Coco Plum project was approved by the Marathon City Council in August of 2018 with a 4-1 vote (Councilman Dan Zieg dissenting). The council will vote on the second project at an upcoming meeting.

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.