Following the swearing-in of councilmen Trevor Wofsey and Luis Gonzalez, discussion of a building inspection ordinance, as well as a push from city attorney Steve Williams to revise Marathon’s sign ordinance, took precedence at the Nov. 9 meeting of the Marathon City Council.
Continuing his sentiments from the previous meeting, councilman Dr. Dan Zieg urged the council to restrict its newly-enacted building inspection ordinances to affect only older multi-story commercial buildings. Zieg’s remarks were met by questions from Gonzalez regarding Marathon’s alignment with the state’s plans for legislation in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse.
“I wish I had heard more,” said city attorney Steve Williams. “I don’t know why they’re silent on it, but I would rather have something in the books that we have been proactive in trying to address the issue than waiting to see what Tallahassee does when they could, in theory, do nothing.”
With dissent among council members regarding the necessity of certifying single-story buildings, the discussion turned to whether vacation rentals fell under a commercial or residential classification and were subject to the new ordinance.
“Residential single-family units have never been part of the ordinance,” said building official Noe Martinez. “With vacation rentals, if you ask planning, it’s one thing. If you ask building, it’s another.” Martinez also indicated that he was still interested in inspecting “three or four” of the largest commercial single-story buildings in town. “A lot of people visit them. I’ve been in a couple of them, and that electrical room is not acceptable.”
Williams urged action on the part of the council, adding that the subject of single-story buildings could always be revisited in the future once the recertification of multi-story buildings was further along. The council unanimously voted to alter the ordinance to include only multi-story buildings for the time being.
Williams also strongly advised the council to alter Marathon’s sign ordinance, a code he described as “patently unconstitutional since 2015.” “We probably have more signs than anyone ever intended to have on one parcel of land,” said Williams, displaying images of “sign pollution” at intersections and businesses around Marathon.
Pointing to the 2015 Supreme Court case Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, in which a small Arizona town’s sign code was deemed unconstitutional due to its content-based restrictions on church signs that infringed upon freedom of speech rights, Williams informed the council that Marathon’s sign code currently contains 16 unconstitutional content-based restrictions and will “end up at the Supreme Court in no time flat if we do it wrong.” He offered a simplification of the case, stating that, “If you have to read a sign to determine whether it’s legal or not, your sign code is unconstitutional.”
Williams simultaneously offered an array of solutions, suggesting the city could simply copy Monroe County’s sign code, passed two years ago. “I don’t think I’m spilling any secrets. I was the attorney who handled it then,” said Williams. “The good news is, I was allowed to walk out of the building with their sign code.”
The council unanimously chose to move forward with adapting Monroe County’s sign code for Marathon’s use. “It seems silly to recreate the wheel. It also seems silly to create a problem throughout the county,” said councilman Steve Cook. “I’m not always about homogenizing and being like the county, but there are some things that make sense. Ours is unconstitutional.”
“A municipality on the west coast of Florida just learned that to the tune of six zeros in penalties,” said Williams.
“And you just told everybody about it,” said Cook, drawing laughter from the crowd. “So let’s change it now.”
In other news:
- Congratulations to new Marathon Mayor (and newly married man) John Bartus.
- A question of changing the city’s charter to alter term lengths and limits for City Council members was raised by Zieg. Pointing to the 2021 election that saw less than 30% voter turnout with a $35,000 known expense to the city, Zieg suggested that returning to single four-year terms would allow the city to re-synchronize with state and national elections, the last of which saw a turnout north of 60%. “I’d like to see more people voice their wishes by voting, and I think this is something we should really consider,” said Zieg. Bartus and Gonzalez voiced their support, but indicated they would still like to allow council members to serve two consecutive terms. After short discussion, the council elected to move forward with exploring the necessary change to the city’s charter.
- The council unanimously voted to pursue expansion of the baseball diamonds at Marathon Community Park, allowing for competitive play among more age groups.
- Gonzalez announced that Round 2 of Landry Sayer Clean Up Day is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 12 at 8 a.m., beginning at Coco Plum Beach. MCSO and the Marathon Fire Department have both pledged their support to Sayer’s repeated cleanup efforts.
- Though the pair were not born in the Keys, Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron honored Hammer and Susan Runyon as Honorary Conchs. “As everyone in this audience knows, they have done so many tremendous things for the City of Marathon and the County of Monroe,” said Coldiron
- At its second public hearing, the council unanimously voted to enact ordinance 2021-24, shortening the cumulative damage clock for rebuilding requirements following significant damage to a structure.