a drawing of a plan for a resort

After a presentation on a possible county charter and a vote to remove the structure at Marathon’s controversial Kmart bus stop, the remainder of the Marathon City Council’s evening on Jan. 9 zeroed in on development projects and zoning changes around the island.

Hotel ordinance tabled, draws criticism

Following strong concerns from councilmen Kenny Matlock and Jeff Smith, an ordinance that would expand redevelopment rights for hotel and motel units was once again tabled for future discussion.

Ordinance 2023-15, originally reviewed by the council in August 2023, contains increased provisions for affordable housing, requiring redeveloped hotel rooms to pair with on- or off-site employee housing with living space equal to 25%, versus the previously-required 20%, of the space in the redeveloped units.

However, where previous redevelopment of hotel and motel rooms was restricted to new units of up to three bedrooms, the text of the ordinance as proposed Tuesday night would allow a single-bedroom unit to redevelop as a four-, five- or six-bedroom unit, in exchange for a reduction of total units on the site – 90% of the previous total for two-bedroom units, or 85%, 80%, 75% and 70% for three-, four-, five- or six-bedroom units, respectively.

Though council opinions varied on what the final number should be, redeveloped units would likely have a maximum size between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet, as discussed that evening.

“At this point (these units) are like 24-hour vacation rentals,” said Matlock. “You’re basically renting a house.”

He pointed to plans currently in place for the Florida Keys Resort, a “150-key luxury boutique hotel” set for development on the Florida Keys Country Club property on Sombrero Boulevard, adding that he questioned whether the proposed change was aimed at specifically assisting that project, rather than “cleaning up” city ordinances, as it was originally framed.

As proposed Tuesday, the provisions for redeveloping five- and six-bedroom units would only apply “within the (Parks and Recreation) Zoning District.” Within the city, the Florida Keys Resort property is one of only two Parks and Recreation-zoned areas with transient building rights, and the only one set for development of a hotel. The other is Curry Hammock State Park, with sites for tents and RVs.

“They’re going to have a project there no matter what,” Matlock admitted. “(But) why would we take the reins off of this and set a precedent for other hotels and motels in town? … My question is, what does the town gain in redoing this ordinance?”

Smith said that while the redevelopment provisions have been used sparingly in the past, “my concern is what would happen as these (transient units) are moved off of older hotels, ported somewhere else, and all of a sudden we have six bedrooms?”

Councilman Luis Gonzalez agreed that “there need to be a whole lot of changes that need to be made, and there needs to be a lot more light,” and the council unanimously tabled the ordinance for the second time, seeking further discussion on the percentage reductions, a tentative cap on redeveloped bedrooms at four, and a potential cap on the square footage of each redeveloped unit.

In other news:

  • With a third amendment to the development agreement for Marlin Bay Yacht Club, a portion of the marina will be opened for public use. The reconfigured site plan includes 92 dwelling units, some of which will be elevated to allow for parking underneath the structures, along with 99 wet slips. Speaking on behalf of the yacht club, attorney Bart Smith said the reconfigured site plan would allow more open parking areas to service the marina, while still maintaining two parking spaces per residential unit and one parking space per two wet slips. With direction from the council, long-term leases and vacation rentals of boats within the marina will be prohibited.
  • Unanimously approved in its second hearing, Ordinance 2023-23 allows law enforcement officers to issue a trespass warning at the time of a first violation for consumption of alcohol or smoking at the city’s public parks and beaches. At the request of the Sheriff’s Office and approval of the council, the ordinance will include an appeal process for violations. 
  • In a 4-1 vote, with Smith as the lone “no,” the council denied a request to alter the zoning of a property at the north end of 105th Street Ocean from Residential Medium to Mixed Use in order to create an outdoor storage and parking area. Though recommended for approval by city staff, the conversion was recommended for denial 4-0 by Marathon’s planning commission. Public commenters from the neighborhood opposed the change, citing concerns of traffic and congestion along with child and animal safety in the neighborhood. Matlock and Gonzalez immediately spoke against the proposal, offering similar traffic and community character concerns, while Smith said community character concerns worried him less than traffic issues as there are existing adjacent commercial properties. 
  • Ordinance 2024-03, unanimously approved, modifies the city’s Existing Building Recertification (EBR) process by expanding the pool of engineers qualified to perform inspections under the ordinance. Under the text of the original ordinance, inspection of existing buildings for recertification purposes could be performed by “licensed, qualified professionals who have submitted written proof, accepted by the Building Official, of experience in the recertification of multiple story buildings.” With the new change, inspections are now open to be performed by “licensed, qualified professional engineers.” Building Official Gerard Roussin confirmed that the city still maintains criteria for structural and electrical engineers involved in the mandated inspections, but that the ordinance change would allow local engineers heavily familiar with particular buildings to perform their recertifications.

“We have multiple EBRs out there (that) have not done the reports yet, and the number one issue you hear is, ‘I can’t get anyone on the EBR list to return a call right now,’” Roussin said. “My number one concern is that I want to make sure we are not lowering our standards for what’s required. It’s based on life safety.”

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.