Rules for building inspections in Marathon, enacted in August 2021 after Miami’s tragic Surfside condo collapse, took center stage at the Marathon City Council meeting on Oct. 12. Originally providing a framework for inspection and recertification every 10 years of nearly all buildings 17 years old or more, with the exception of single-family homes and duplexes, the ordinance was designed to prevent previously unforeseen events like the condo collapse due to structural integrity faults or other unsafe conditions. 

Councilman Dan Zieg proposed an amendment to the ordinance, suggesting that the words “two stories or higher” be added, along with an exemption for single-story buildings from the recertification process. 

“We came forward with the idea of multi-story buildings,” he said. “In the agenda, it was printed that way, but when the final form of (the ordinance) came out, the words ‘multi-story buildings’ were left out.”

Zieg’s amendment met strong opposition from Vice Mayor Mark Senmartin. 

“Whether the building is one story or two doesn’t factor into the safety measures that we’re talking about,” he said. Senmartin anecdotally spoke of single-story commercial buildings in which tenants were forced to string up netting to prevent concrete chunks from falling out of a crumbling roof. 

He argued that many property owners, or their commercial tenants, likely would not repair their properties or report safety concerns proactively unless the ordinance forced them to do so. 

“There is no reason to change this, other than pressure from someone who doesn’t want their building to be certified. Whatever that is, it does not trump the public’s safety. We are not going to sit around and wait for a building to fall on somebody before we decide we made a mistake.”

Subsequent discussions called into question the city’s ability to inspect and cite single-story buildings if the amendment were to be passed and the city received a specific complaint. Building Official Noe Martinez informed the council that while the current regulatory framework may allow him to inspect buildings upon receipt of a safety complaint, the ability to do so has not been recently exercised. 

“I’m unsure how far I can take it,” he said, adding that he agreed with Senmartin’s assessment of dangerous buildings. “The way the ordinance reads right now, everything over 2,000 square feet is going to get a notice. I stand for that.”

Both Zieg and City Attorney Steve Williams recommended that the council table the issue until their next meeting for further discussion. Williams, however, cautioned the council about the liability implications of the inspections. 

“To some degree, Surfside can say, ‘We cannot foresee this, because no building has ever fallen down like this before,’” said Williams. “Whoever happens to be the second municipality for that to happen to, they are going to have no such defense. It’s going to be a bankrupt situation for the next town to have this to occur.”

In other news:

  • In an effort to combat illegal cab companies and individuals using their personal vehicles as illicit cabs, Zieg and representatives from Marathon taxi companies asked the city council to resume its efforts in performing background checks on local drivers and safety checks on taxi vehicles. The council agreed that current regulations have not been strongly enforced in the past eight years and pledged to resume checks with local legal taxi companies. City staff were instructed to speak with local companies in order to re-develop a certification process.
  • The council continued its discussion of fees to use and park at the three boat ramps controlled by the city, as well as a parking fee to be applied at Sombrero Beach. Approached with Public Works Director Carlos Solis’ preliminary plan of a $20 in-and-out fee and $20 parking fee for visitors, a $100 annual unlimited access pass for residents, and estimated annual usage numbers of all three ramps and the beach, potential revenue could be $1,149,310. Solis did note that there are still significant challenges in restricting access to the Harbor Drive and 33rd Street ramps while keeping the areas functional. He also noted that further discussions must take place regarding the status of Key Colony Beach residents. Mayor Luis Gonzalez instructed Solis to continue researching the costs of implementing the program to compare against the potential revenue.
  • Pending DOT and Florida Keys Electric Co-op approval, the council unanimously voted to approve a zoning change and site plan for property directly opposite the intersection of 107th Street and U.S.1 for development of a storage facility and residential homes.
  • The council unanimously, and emphatically, voted to approve an ordinance amending a portion of the building code requiring property owners to rebuild following substantial damage or improvement. Previously, the ordinance required property owners to demolish and rebuild if cumulative damage or improvement to a structure exceeded 50% of the structure’s market value over a three-year period. The new ordinance shortens this period to one year before the cumulative damage counter resets.
  • In a 3-1 vote, with Senmartin opposed, the council voted to approve an ordinance limiting the access of mobile vendors on the portion of Sombrero Beach Road immediately adjacent to Sombrero Beach.
  • Four of the five City Council members were present for the meeting. Councilman Steven Cook was absent.

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Hailing from Rhode Island, the Ocean State, Alex has always spent as much of his life as possible in and around the water. A dolphin trainer by profession, he still spends most of his free time diving, spearfishing, and JetSkiing. Once it gets too dark for those things, he can usually be found at the Marathon Community Theater, where he spends most nights still trying to figure out what the heck he is doing.