Plaintiffs contend city did not follow its own law

The City of Marathon has been slapped with two civil lawsuits over its decision in January to allow four lots to be replatted into 32 on Sombrero Beach Road. The lawsuits were filed on Feb. 26 and the plaintiffs are Derek Martin-Vegue and Wanda Brock.

“As long as I’ve lived in Marathon, I’ve never known of a project that is so universally disliked as this one is,” said Martin-Vegue. “We have over 700 people that have signed a petition that they don’t want this project as it is proposed.  It’s unfortunate that the city council has turned their back on them when they had an opportunity to make it right.  We had no choice but to seek relief through the courts.”

The appeal contends that the City of Marathon did not follow its own land development regulations or comprehensive plan in granting the approval. Perhaps the strongest contention is that the replatting should have required a conditional use permit.

Ralph Brooks is the plaintiff’s attorney of record, but Marathon lawyer Frank Greenman lives in the neighborhood and has knowledge about the lawsuit. Greenman said the city ignored the part of Monroe County code that requires a conditional use permit if the re-plat is of sufficient scope that its impact may negatively affect the neighborhood. He also faults the traffic survey that reportedly only addressed traffic on U.S.1, and not the “feeder” road — Sombrero Beach Road. He also said Marathon’s laws are based on those adopted by Monroe County from the state Department of Transportation and that those require 275 feet between driveways and the current project could have an average of a little more than 80 feet between driveways.

The second suit concerns the vegetative survey and the clustering of development, Greenman said.

“We’re not totally against it. We just want to make it smaller; it’s too big,” said Greenman.

Marathon’s council, Dirk Smits of Vernis & Bowling, has received and read both civil cases. He said he’ll present an analysis to the city council at the first opportunity.

“Initially, I was waiting to hear whether the League of Cities would finance the city’s litigation costs but we heard [Wednesday] that it would not,” Smits said, adding that the city’s former legal counsel Gray Robinson, still tasked with finalizing previous court cases, will not be involved in the case either.

The property is owned by Ken Cianchette of Key Colony Beach. REER Unlimited is under contract to purchase the property, but the deal has not been finalized.

It’s reported that REER has filed a motion to intervene, meaning it has signaled to the court that it has “standing” or an interest in the outcome. It’s unknown whether they will partner with the City of Marathon to defend the case or share costs.

At its Feb. 24 meeting, the Marathon City Council passed a new law that requires a conditional use permit for the replatting of any three contiguous lots; no doubt in response to the Sombrero Beach Road controversy.

“The city followed every law and all of the advice from staff and several attorneys that were involved,” Vice Mayor Mark Senmartin said of the lawsuit. “I believe that we made a decision that was in the best interest of the town. I can’t say anything more specific, however, because of the ongoing litigation.”

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