As residents of the Village of Islamorada continue their post-Hurricane Irma recovery, the village’s planning department must tackle how to issue permits for non-conforming docks built before 1986. As part of the effort, the staff is also mulling the idea of “registering” those docks.

“The village is trying to allow (residents) to keep these docks, since they have been established so long. We’d like to see these older docks grandfathered in,” said Islamorada Mayor Chris Sante.

The village’s charter lays out the general standards for all docking facilities in Islamorada. As it reads, docks are to be designed to be only T-design and other perpendicular designs, unless they impede navigation of a waterway. When measured across, docks can’t exceed 10 percent of the water body they sit in, and with a moored vessel, lift, or mooring piles cannot block more than 25 percent of the surrounding navigable waters.

All docks must meet a few requirements. First, there must be four feet of water at mean low water level (MLW) where the dock ends. In some cases, a dock can end in less than four feet of water if the depth allows for an average sized vessel to rest adequately.

Manager and Co-Owner of South East Marine Construction, Pete Diaz, says the village’s four foot standard is strong, but believes the issue of replacing pre-1986 docks is complex.

“An issue before was that in some cases for property owners to reach the depth standard, the length of the dock would go beyond what the village allowed. In cases like that, people get what is called a viewing platform. That allows us to install pilings and build a walkway out, but viewing platforms should not be allowed in any way to be used for mooring a vessel,” said Diaz.

The four feet depth rule was enacted throughout the Keys in 1986, when Monroe County first enacted its land development regulations.

Mayor Sante says he previously raised the idea to have the rule changed to three feet. His concern at the time was that docks extending too far out were dangerous.

But what if your dock was built before 1986?

Docks that existed prior to 1986 are considered nonconforming but are still legal. Pre-1986 docks are also exempt from building limitations that order the structure extend out to meet the four foot requirement.

Any docks that existed in the Keys pre-1986 were considered legal wherever they terminated. However, nowadays things have changed. For example, certain parts of Islamorada, namely Lower Matecumbe, ban long docks – anything extending over 100 feet – while other parts of the village require administrative approval for long docks.

So, under what other circumstances might a waiver be granted for a dock that ends in a depth of less than four feet? As of March 13, no docking waivers have been granted, and the complete answer to what constitutes a waiver may be clearer following the Thursday, March 15 council meeting.

“No waivers have been given since Hurricane Irma by village staff other than for fees and walk through permits for emergency repairs on the list of items we handed out about two weeks after the storm,” said Islamorada Village Manager Seth Lawless.

As waiver criteria are still unclear, the charter does delineate some exceptions:

• Property owners that present a bathometric survey showing a seagrass colony or hard bottom community negatively impacted may have the minimum depth requirement waived.

• Pre-1986 docks destroyed by the hurricane may be rebuilt in the same design and location with a few stipulations:

First, the repairs cannot adversely affect storm water runoff, navigation, or disturb the habitat of a threatened or endangered species. Second, the rules requires a landscape setback, otherwise known as a bufferyard, be installed. Finally, any replacement of a non-conforming dock must comply with every requirement set out in the rules to the most practical extent.

What constitutes practical may be one of the issues raised during the upcoming Village Council meeting on Thursday, March 15 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Founders Park Community Center, MM 87 bayside.

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