Is Santa coming to Marathon?

Yes, Virginia, he is, on Dec. 22

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It’s a hot-button topic for a cold season: the annual tradition of the firefighters circumnavigating Marathon with Santa to greet the kids on or about Christmas Eve. On Dec. 11, it took nearly an hour to settle the matter, kind of, to everyone’s satisfaction, sort of.

Topics covered: the joy of the season; children’s shining faces; whether to do the route on Dec. 22 or Dec. 24; whether to do the route on Dec. 22 and add a “no stops zip” through the neighborhood behind the airport on Dec. 24; using volunteers versus using paid city employee firefighters; who can drive the “trucks;” the status of the volunteers’ “old truck” (not good); the “milk and cookie” stops; the heart-melting things Santa hears from kids; if one neighborhood is receiving preferential treatment over another; when Islamorada’s sleigh and sound system is available for loan; Facebook; and, finally, compromise.

Because the council doesn’t direct day-to-day operations, it suggested to City Manager Chuck Lindsey that the fire department carry forward with the plan that is already in place: Do the whole route on Saturday, Dec. 22. And, next year, come up with a solution to provide that service on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, Chief John Johnson said he would solicit some volunteers for a quick get-together on Christmas Eve in the Winn-Dixie parking lot.

“I am going to ask some of the guys if they want to please help us,” Johnson said, “but I am not going to force them. If you force them, you’re not doing what this all about.”

In other news:

  • Mayor John Bartus led a discussion regarding the city’s building department and permitting delays. He urged staff to “do what they can, legally, to interpret liberally on the side of the taxpayer and the resident.” Councilman Steve Cook urged staff to hold the line, saying customer complaints are part of the natural circumstance this many months after a major storm. Councilman Mark Senmartin spoke about the city’s website as it relates to permits. “A man told me he had been waiting eight months for a permit. We checked the website and the permit had been waiting for him to pick up since June. He didn’t know. His contractor didn’t know,” Senmartin said. Growth Management Director Doug Lewis outlined upcoming improvements: new software, resuming regular business hours, hiring more personnel and possibly contracting employees for the short term. As to customer service, Lewis said: “We look at the code as protecting all citizens. We’re not looking at individuals and ‘is this a good deal for this one person.’ Are we damaging our rating with insurance companies? Are we putting ourselves in harms way? We have to weigh things back and forth. It’s a hard line to take.”
  • The GEMS project — nine affordable units and six-market rate homes — on Aviation Boulevard passed the second reading of the conditional use and development agreement. The council approved the project, in part, because of the state’s agreement to fix the intersection at the corner of U.S.1 and Aviation Boulevard.
  • The Sapodilla project, right around the corner, faced many objections from the council and neighbors. It calls for 23 transient RV spots to be built on a spit of land located at the “bend” on the west end of Aviation, essentially a recreational vehicle resort. The planning commission had recommended the conditional use and development agreement forward to the council, plus a variance.

The project ultimately passed the first hearing, but not without added stipulations from council and a slide presentation from a neighbor alleging code violations. According to staff, all of the code violations have been rectified to their knowledge, and some after-the-fact permits have been issued.

“My concern is that the owner of the property isn’t responsible for what he has now,” said Betty Goodlow, who lives across the canal from the proposed project. “What is he going to do in the future?”

In addition to doubling the density (adding more landscape materials) of the reduced buffer, the council called for a mechanical obstruction (a wall) between the development and the neighbors across the canal. The council stipulated that RVs exiting the development must travel east to the intersection of 107th and U.S.1, rather than the Aviation and U.S.1 intersection. It called for the prohibition of generators. Plans to build a bathhouse in a recycled container trailer must be fully engineered.

Before the second hearing of the project, city staff will make courtesy inquiries to settle the debate about the owner of a portion of the property. Old maps show Monroe County owns a “rectangle” that encompasses the airport and also the bend of Aviation Boulevard. Current appraisal maps show it is owned by Sapodilla Holdings.

  • Lindsey’s contract renewal was approved. It follows the same format as the city attorney’s and doesn’t call for an increase in pay, but grants more vacation days.

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