At the Sept. 10 meeting of the Marathon City Council, a wide range of topics came up for the council’s consideration — the possibility of paid parking at Sombrero Beach, an update on the bike path on Aviation Boulevard, and a one-time donation of $25,000 for the renovation of the Guidance Care Clinic in the Middle Keys.
PARKING AT SOMBRERO
Councilman Dan Zieg led a discussion about the possibility of installing parking meters at Sombrero Beach. He said he envisioned the kind where drivers pay at an electronic kiosk and the parking slip goes on the dashboard.
“It could generate a good deal of revenue,” he said.
Staff was instructed to converse with Key West to troubleshoot, as well as learn about that city’s success.
However, the plan to collect parking fees at the beach flouts what is commonly accepted to be true about the “Switlik Quit Claim.” The Switlik family donated the Sombrero Beach property to Monroe County in the 1970s, before Marathon incorporated. Since Marathon incorporated, it has restricted for-profit operations at the beach — repeating claims of long-term residents who recall the family intended it to be a recreation space that is free to everyone. Those are false memories.
The Weekly recently requested and obtained a copy of the Switlik deeds. Nowhere is there a clause that restricts for-profit operations. There is also no known supporting documentation from the Switlik family or the county that supports the “no business or profit” scenario.
In 2016, the City of Marathon did pass a resolution that acknowledged there were no deed restrictions attached, but “other documentation indicates the intent was to deed the property for recreational purposes only.” The 2016 resolution “prohibits commercial events on Sombrero Beach. The city does allow for exceptions, but only by supermajority vote, and only if explicit conditions are satisfied by the applicant.”
The claim, however, has been used to stop applications for businesses that would operate beach concessions (renting beach chairs, etc.), although ice cream trucks and kayak tour companies regularly visit the beach without a problem. In other instances, the city has made exceptions for events for organizations both for profit (the dragon boat races) and nonprofit (KAIR’s beach run).
GUIDANCE CARE CLINIC
City Councilman Dan Zieg added the Guidance Care Clinic donation to the agenda at the start of the meeting.
“I’m asking for the city to consider giving $25,000 for the project,” Zieg said. “The county has pledged $200,000 for the project and Ocean Reef has said it would give $50,000.”
Zieg also told the council he found the dollars in the budget — available because the city’s contribution to the bus that runs between Marathon and Key West has decreased.
Although the discussion was tabled on Sept. 10, it was brought up again at the city budget meeting (see story, at right) on Sept. 12 and passed with no supporting documents.
“There are no fund solicitation letters that I know of, but it has been discussed at the county budget level and I know the Ocean Reef group sent $50,000,” said Zieg in an email. “I believe Commissioner David Rice has donated some and in times when he and I visit socially I had mentioned that I would take it before City Manager Chuck (Lindsey) and then (Lindsey) suggested I bring it up at the council meeting.”
During the regular council meeting, before the budget decision, Councilman Mark Senmartin said he wasn’t in favor of the donation.
“It’s a noble idea. But this is the county’s operation and they have more money than we do. This is money we could have put toward the splash park. I say no,” Senmartin said.
The Guidance Care Center is a nonprofit that has operated in the Middle Keys since the 1970s. It operates on contracts with the Department of Children and Family, Florida Department of Corrections, Monroe County, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Monroe County School District. It also is a Medicare and Medicaid provider and provides care to clients with no insurance on a sliding scale.
In the past, local nonprofits have been invited to apply for grants from the City of Marathon — up to $90,000 some years. The practice stopped after Hurricane Irma when the council agreed the city was running out of funds, and that the organizations were being served by storm-related grants from other entities.
AVIATION BIKE PATH
Work to replace the aging and narrow bike path on Aviation Boulevard with modern construction began on Sept. 9. Right now, workers are clearing the path and laying conduit for future lighting needs. According to Public Works Director Carlos Solis, the project will be mostly complete in about 250 days.