John Bartus

The Marathon City Council and Marathon City Manager George Garrett recently made news by drafting legislation asking the state of Florida to grant up to 8,000 ROGO building permit allocations to cover the amount of remaining vacant lots in Monroe County. This resolution — more specifically the timing of it — ruffled a few feathers with our state representative and in Monroe County government. 

All Keys governments are facing buildout. Buildout is the end of building permit allocations from the State of Florida under the Area of Critical State Concern designation that restricts local development and growth. After the supply runs out, no more building permits for new residences can be issued. The county operates under the Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO), while the city of Marathon uses the Building Permit Allocation System (BPAS). BPAS and ROGO allocations are essentially the same thing. 

The original timeline for the end of the allocation supply in the Keys was 2023. Monroe County, which possesses a greater number of allocations, reduced the number of permits allocated each year and extended its deadline to 2026. Marathon, however, runs out of permit allocations this summer.

When a property owner is denied the right to build on their lot, this is called a takings case. Government has deprived the owner of the use of their property, and must compensate the owner for “taking” their lot. There are a lot of variables involved, such as whether the lot is actually a buildable lot with no environmental concerns or other issues. But there are a lot of buildable lots that will necessitate compensation for their owners if allocations are not available. Marathon alone is looking at $150 million in potential compensation for takings claims.

The Monroe County Commission discussed the issue and decided not to take any action this year. The city of Marathon, however, is under a time crunch as it runs out of permit allocations very soon — hence, the resolution they passed. The city council held a workshop on this issue this past Monday that was attended by many concerned residents as well as County Administrator Roman Gastesi, County Attorney Bob Shillinger, and four county commissioners (the mayor via Zoom). 

Gastesi made some excellent points, and he and Shillinger discussed with the city council the possibility of the county “loaning” the city up to 50 allocations to get Marathon through its shortage. This will also help all local governments address the issue and possible solutions together for the 2025 legislative cycle. It’s crucial that the county and municipalities present a united front to the state. Here’s why:

The growth restrictions on the Keys were imposed by the state of Florida. Local governments should not have to bear alone the cost of defending takings claims that are the result of a state mandate. Monroe County taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to compensate property owners denied their building rights by the state-imposed rules. The state of Florida needs to open up its checkbook and come to the table as a vested participant in these takings claims.

Out of the 8,000 vacant lots in Monroe County, are all of them buildable? Not likely. The actual number of buildable lots in each jurisdiction is being researched, and those determinations will give everyone a better idea of the potential liability. Any new units created through legislative action will likely require new local ROGO and BPAS rules that will govern their distribution.

While it might seem that the city of Marathon put out a big ask with its 8,000-unit request, it did get our local governments in the same room and talking to each other. A potential short-term stopgap solution is at least on the table, and everyone may have time to take our local case to Tallahassee. This could help save both the environmental and safety concerns as well as the taxpayers of Monroe County. The city council should be commended for sticking up for Marathon taxpayers with their action.

– Catch John live Wednesdays at Brutus Seafood, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, and Sundays at the Skipjack Resort Tiki Bar. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. •

John Bartus
Very few towns or cities could ever claim that their Mayor was a smokin' hot guitar player. The island city of Marathon in the Florida Keys is one of those towns. While politics is a temporary call to service, music is a life sentence. John Bartus, a more-than-four-decade full-time professional musician, singer, and songwriter, continues to raise the bar with his groundbreaking solo acoustic show. It’s easy to catch John on one of his more than 200 shows a year throughout the Keys on his Perpetual Island Tour. His CD releases include After The Storm, Keys Disease 10th Anniversary Remaster, and Live From the Florida Keys Vol. 2. John’s music is available wherever you download or stream your music.