15 more affordable units approved – Council ‘sets’ rents, too - A close up of a map - Urban design
The council approved a project on Aviation Boulevard that includes 14 affordable housing units plus amenities such as a pool, commercial space for a local construction company and an outdoor storage yard. CONTRIBUTED

For the first time, the Marathon City Council weighed in with a condition for proposed affordable housing units in the city limits. As a condition of the conditional use agreement, the council instructed the developer what to charge every month.

“I move to approve with the condition that four of the units be at 140% of the annual median income, and the other 10 units at 120% or lower,” said Councilman Mark Senmartin.

The proposed project joins two others on the “curve” of Aviation Boulevard on the west end of the airport near U.S.1. The GEM homes project is for nine affordable and six market rate homes and there are also plans to redevelop the Coconut Cay. Projects in this area have routinely faced scrutiny due to traffic concerns, now waylaid by the state Department of Transportation’s agreement to begin modifying the intersection beginning in August. 

The newest project, the one approved on June 11 by the council, calls for four quadruplexes in three stand-alone configurations, plus two units above office space for Coral Construction. The site includes amenities such as a pool, parking and outdoor storage for the local firm on a parcel zoned mixed use.

In the past, the council has inquired about proposed rental rates, or suggested them, but never required it before approving a project. Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey told the council that the hearing for the conditional use was its only opportunity to address rents.

“Current rules say this could be the only time to discuss rents, and I understand it’s difficult to know what (category of) affordable is needed most,” Lindsey said, “but this is the last time you hear the project.”

The number of affordable housing building rights available to the City of Marathon is dwindling as 2023 nears, when the state will no longer issue building rights for new developments in the Keys. And, many of the building rights for the “extra” 300 awarded by then-Gov. Rick Scott after Hurricane Irma, currently being challenged in Tallahassee, are also spoken for. It’s natural then, that the city’s leadership is considering what type or mix of affordable housing is needed; i.e., how many need affordable housing and what they are willing/able to pay. 

Many residents of Marathon have noted that $2,200 a month for units designated as affordable is not affordable. To put that in perspective using the recently approved project above, income limits for a Marathon household of four earning $114,750 can — according to HUD income limits — pay a monthly rent of $2,869 and the unit would still qualify for an affordable designation in the 120% category. 

On the other side of the coin, developers need incentives to build affordable housing in the first place. The project needs to be profitable. The costs associated with building affordable housing vary wildly depending on size, design, finishings and location.

“I see the value in having a project that serves mixed income levels,” said Councilman Luis Gonzalez, who supported Senmartin’s solution. “But that’s at the discretion of the developer. If it’s not profitable, the developer won’t do it.”

Coral Construction’s George Steinmetz said he is grateful to the council for approving the project. “It should be doable from a financial standpoint,” he said.

Steinmetz will apply to the City of Marathon for the affordable housing building rights from the 300, but it was not a part of the conditional use agreement considered on June 11. 

In other news:

• The council approved the plans for a new location for Captain Pips watersports at 1470 Overseas Highway. The project calls for commercial space, waterfront access and six market rate units, plus one affordable unit. 

• The council re-approved the vacation rental registration fees without a rate hike.

• Councilman Dan Zieg proposed reverting to a code board, instead of a special magistrate, to hear code violations. Council asked staff to bring back data for comparison.

• The council approved a 60-day extension for Holiday Inn Express to finish applying for permits and begin construction on 27 additional rooms. The hotel recently changed ownership.

• The council approved changes to the city’s code regarding civil penalties for the possession of marijuana for amounts under 20 grams. Law enforcement officers have the discretion to issue a ticket, or make an arrest. Tickets can range in cost from $105 to $500 and the new code outlines procedures for paying the civil fine at city hall, or contesting it by requesting a court hearing. Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Don Hiller said deputies in Marathon have only issued one ticket for marijuana possession, and that was just last week. The law has been on the books since 2016, but these amendments outline procedure.  

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