A special virtual meeting of Islamorada Village Council is set for Wednesday, Aug. 12 to consider the second reading of a proposed ordinance for a swim zone off White Marlin Beach in Lower Matecumbe in Islamorada. With the meeting a day away, a new survey put out by concerned homeowners shows 100-plus residents against the proposed 300-foot no-motor, swim-only area off the private beach.

The ordinance’s first reading passed unanimously during a June 18 meeting, but the second reading was placed on hold after not all members of the public were able to speak on the subject at the July 16 meeting.  About 15 people were able to speak when the ordinance came up for consideration, but a Zoom capacity limit of about 100 people prevented others from joining in to speak. That led council members to call a special meeting that’s set for Wednesday, Aug. 12. 

Since the last meeting, another survey was conducted to gauge homeowners’ thoughts on the proposed swim zone. The survey, led by Rick Hoskins and concerned residents, saw responses from 138 homeowners. Of that number, 109 were against the proposed 300-foot swim zone.  Twenty-nine voted in favor. 

Two surveys were previously conducted by the Port Antigua Property Owners’ Association. The first one, in September 2019, asked if homeowners would support approaching the village to create a no-motor zone at the beach. Ninety-one said “yes” to the idea, while 99 responded “no.” The second, conducted last April, polled residents to see if they’d support having the entire sandbar off Port Antigua designated as a swim area, with no anchor or vessels from shore to 300 feet out. Sixty-seven responded with “yes,” while 100 said “no.” They were also asked if they’d support another option of a no anchor/no vessel, swim area buffer covering the sandbar, but only allowing paddleboards and kayaks from the waterline to the sandbar. A total of 119 respondents said “yes” while 55 said “no.”

According to Hoskins, many homeowners didn’t know the current proposed barrier would bar all paddleboards, kayaks, or canoes, unless inflatable. Hoskins said the Port Antigua Property Owners’ Association board has relied on its own surveys. He said the results are drastically different than the recent one concerned residents sent out. 

David Webb, president of the Port Antigua Homeowners Association, said last month that the majority of the residents declared that maintaining the status quo at the sandbar is no longer acceptable. He said the proposal addresses the issues that are “offensive to Port Antigua residents.”

“I urge you to move forward with this,” he said. 

The Weekly reached out to Webb on Aug. 11 and is awaiting further comment. 

Village Attorney Roget Bryan said last month that the ordinance isn’t proposed to regulate any of the upland beach area along any portions of the swim area. Bryan said it’s purely regulating the navigable waters, waterward from the mean high water line. Per chapter 327 of Florida Statutes, Bryan said the village has the authority to create certain boating-restricted areas, for the purposes of vessel safety. 

“This is being designated as a public swim area, not a public bathing beach,” he said. “There is indeed a southern, or landward boundary from the area, and it is the mean high water line. That’s where it starts and goes waterward.”

Attorney Paul Savage spoke to council members on behalf of 29 local homeowners adjacent to the proposed swim zone, 27 in the Port Antigua community and two in the White Marlin Beach community. Savage said everyone understands the issue out on the water to be a serious problem. The proposal, however, isn’t the correct regulatory tool, as it’ll create a public beach and draw more people and more trespassers. 

“He (the village attorney) says it’s clearly marked that there’s an upland boundary when in fact it’s not,” he said. “It doesn’t say anything in the text that it’s an upland boundary. There’s a ragged, undefined edge along the beach which basically makes this a public beach. The village is formally and officially saying in its code and in its map that this is going to be a public beach.”

Off White Marlin Beach, issues of increased boat traffic, loud noise, trashing and trespassing onto private property have been going on for years. During a February meeting of council, Port Antigua resident David Petkovich played a 4-minute clip with pictures of numerous boats on the sandbar and trashing from all the activity. Video during the clip showed disorderly people trespassing onto private property — and even becoming physical with property owners.

“When you watch this, if I told you that I had 20 people coming onto my yard in one day at a time, you may not believe this,” he said.

With the intense amount of criminal activity that regularly spills over onto the land, and extreme safety issues in the nearshore waters here, Petkovich said he and other homeowners affected feel that “no other municipality would allow this, and neither should ours.” 

“Council has to let everyone be heard, regardless of whether they live in the adversely affected area or not — that is our process and I appreciate it,” he said “But we have major quality of life issues here, which are destroying our homes and our ability to use them. I believe that should take precedence over whether or not second and third homeowners have to walk a couple blocks to their private neighborhood beach, rather than pulling their boat around and anchoring at 300 feet, instead of 250 feet, which is where most of them anchor now.”

Hoskins said he’s hopeful that village council members will hear the concerns and realize that the Port Antigua board “does not appear to speak for the majority of the homeowners.” Hoskins said homeowners have proposed changes to the Port Antigua board and village council. Their ideas include creating a 150-foot swim zone, enforcing existing noise ordinances with sheriff’s deputies and beach patrol, hiring private security guards to reduce trespassing and creating a beach ambassador program to have homeowners educate visiting boaters. 

Rick Gonzalez’s family has owned a home within the community since he was young. Having grown up on the beach, he said the current proposal will hurt the community. 

“The times where it’s the busiest are during the summer months and major holidays,” he said. “Why close off the entire beach because of an issue that’s happening 5-10% of the time? Is there a problem there? Yes, no one will deny it. We want to work something out. We have a proposal.”

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.