Planning commission upholds setback variance


Update 9:06 a.m. 08/24/18: Only five setback variances were approved in the last 12 months. The other two occurred in 2017.


All three Marathon Planning Commissioners present rejected an appeal on a variance for a home site in Little Venice on Monday, Aug. 20. Jennifer Powell and seven other neighbors objected to a larger-than-allowed plan for a home on 3rd Avenue Ocean.

“Our appeal was not against stilt homes or improvements in our neighborhood. Our point is that a variance should NOT be granted for the sole purpose of building a bigger house,” said Powell, adding that the group has not decided yet whether it will appeal the planning board’s decision to the city council.

The planning board could only rule on whether or not the city planning department had acted within its authority, which staff assured the commission it had. According to municipal law, the city can grant a variance up to 25 percent for a variety of situations including setbacks.

In essence, the board ruling will allow Andrew George and his partners of Florida Keys Homes to build three single-family homes on three contiguous lots. Currently, there is one large home that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The variance will allow the builder to construct an extra 192 square feet for each canal home, and about 100 square feet for the dry lot home. It would reduce the setback from 10 feet at the canal side of the home to 7.5 feet and the rear setback from 10 feet to 7.5 feet.

The smallest home would be 1,150 to 1,250 square feet and the two canal-front homes would be between 1,200 and 1,250 square feet. George said the engineering isn’t complete, but it will definitely be a custom concrete home.

“Everything I build is concrete,” he said. “This house is not going anywhere.”

In the past 12 months, the City of Marathon has received 14 administrative variance applications. Seven setbacks and two long docks were approved. One setback at a trailer park was denied, and four are still under consideration.

In a lengthy presentation, George emphasized his connection to the neighborhood, including homeownership as well as performing work in the area.

“The (existing structure) has more than 50 percent damage. If we get the variance, we can build a small three-bedroom, two-bath house. It’s not going to be huge,” George said. He added that if he had to conform to the setbacks, he would be forced to build a larger house with more bedrooms that is three stories high in order to recoup his costs.

In the neighborhood known for its small lots and narrow streets, this was alarming to the audience in attendance.

“Should we grant the variance? Can we, or should we?” asked neighbor Keith Bockenstette. “This is development just for profit and the threat that if we can’t build this, we’re going to build that. It needs to stay what we have now — small, usable space. Keep things affordable for guys like me. … it’s important for me to be here … people to fix your boats, wipe your tables clean.”

Realtor Sam Williams spoke in favor of the project.

“I want to remind everyone that the existing home was gutted by a natural disaster. Something has to be done with it. The people involved with this project live and work in this subdivision. It’s very important for us to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood.”

Commissioners Jeff Daniels, Pam Dobson and Lynn Landry voted yes. One commissioner, Randy Lewis, has moved away and has yet to be replaced. Newly appointed member Mike Leonard was not present. Although, the property in question currently belongs to Landry’s aunt by marriage, Marathon Planning Director George Garrett said it is lawful for Landry to cast a vote.

In other news:

  • The planning commission approved a conditional use for Boat Works Investments on the gulfside of Marathon from 39th to 41st Streets. It would include 52 affordable units, 20 market rate units, and keep the existing 32 marina slips. The proposal was put forth by Keys Affordable Development, the same group that built the 51 affordable units on 73rd Street and 26 units at Caya Place in Marathon.
  • It also approved 25 RV spaces to be developed on Dodge Lake behind the airport so long as the proper setbacks were observed.
  • It also approved a conditional use permit for 8501 Overseas Highway for a retail commercial and supply yard “with outdoor storage of pilings and decking materials” for Keys Deck and Dock Supply.
  • It also began the process of accepting the 300 affordable housing units gifted by Tallahassee. The process of changing the land use and development regulations may take up to one year.

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