The Marathon City Council recognizes members of the championship-winning Marathon FC squad. The team took first place in the 2023 adult Florida Keys Soccer League on April 9. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

A presentation on insurance inequalities and discussion of minutia surrounding transferable building rights (TBRs) occupied the most time in an otherwise light agenda for the Marathon City Council at its May 9 meeting.

Board chair Mel Montagne of Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), who has been making his rounds throughout the Keys to educate government and business leaders on the status of insurance inequities in Monroe County, addressed the council to illustrate what he called “the most challenging property insurance market that I’ve ever seen in the 35-plus years I’ve been doing this.”

Montagne addressed the growing threat of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, an entity that was originally designed to be an insurer of last resort but has since grown to have “no discernible competition” throughout the Keys. Since 2003, Monroe County policies have provided more than $850 million in gross profits to the corporation. 

With continuously increasing premiums, and static coverage limits, Citizens now requires all policyholders to carry flood insurance in addition to windstorm insurance, forcing some Keys residents to go underinsured or uninsured. In addition, state legislation now requires policyholders to switch to other insurers if they receive a premium offer within 20% of their current Citizens premium.

Montagne urged the audience to continue advocating against a current glide path that will see insurance rates increase by up to 15% per year by 2026, and demand transparency in Risk Rating 2.0, FEMA’s new pricing methodology used to calculate premiums. According to Montagne, the new system has resulted in reduced participation in National Flood Insurance Programs, fails to account for mitigation efforts by homeowners, and fails to allow for proper application of Community Rating System (CRS)-dependent premium discounts.

With seemingly little support from the Florida legislature, Montagne said FIRM is considering a class-action suit against Citizens and would welcome attempts to create a proprietary insurance vehicle in Monroe County.

Building Rights Transfers Get Updated Parameters

Tuesday’s meeting saw the first public hearing for four ordinances that further modify guidelines governing the transfer of building rights within the city.

Ordinances 2023-06 and 2023-07 provide for changes to language in Marathon’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations allowing a TBR to be transferred only to another site deemed “less environmentally sensitive” than the sending site, as determined by a city biologist. New language allows for a transfer to a property that is equally sensitive, but not more.

Other changes strike language requiring TBRs to be sent only from lower-density sites to others of equal or higher allowable density, as defined by Marathon’s comprehensive plan.

“We’re (now) relying entirely on the Land Development Regulation (LDR) section saying that as long as the receiver site meets density according to our code, and is developable, (the TBR) can be transferred to that site,” Planning Director Brian Shea told the council. The changes to the comprehensive plan should help reduce potential takings cases by preventing building rights on overly-dense properties from becoming “stuck” on the same or similarly dense properties after redevelopment.

The council unanimously approved both ordinances. Additional language requested by councilman Jeff Smith allows the city’s planning director to extend, in writing, the period of time a TBR may be “banked” with the city beyond the currently outlined limit of two years.

Finally, ordinances 2023-08 and 2023-09, also unanimously approved by the council, dealt with changes to language regarding established live-aboard dwelling units in Marathon’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations. Changes to both clarify that while established live-aboard units may be transferred from one marina site to another, a live-aboard unit may never be used to transfer building rights onto an upland portion of the same, or another, property. 

The edits should further resolve a previously gray area that became the center of a highly-publicized lawsuit between the city of Marathon, BoatWorks Investments and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in which previously existing live-aboard rights in a marina were slated to be used to construct site-built homes on the upland portion of the same property.

In Other News

  • The council recognized Marathon’s Guidance/Care Center in honor of its 50th anniversary on May 14. Incorporated in 1973, in conjunction with its Key West location, the nonprofit is dedicated to providing comprehensive community-based behavioral health care for children, youth and adults. Its services are integrated into schools, jails, juvenile detention facilities and assisted living facilities.
  • The council also recognized the members of Marathon FC, the 2023 champions of the adult Florida Keys Soccer League. Amassing a season record of 13 wins, 2 draws and only 1 loss, the team led the league with a +22 goal differential en route to a championship win over Revolution to claim their first-ever title on April 9 in Key West.
  • Playground equipment that has recently seen corrosive damage at Sombrero Beach is scheduled for replacement, according to Parks and Recreation Director Paul Davis. In consultation with Play By Design, the firm behind the newly-completed Rotary Park, the new equipment will use materials similar to those at Rotary Park that can better withstand the humidity and salinity of a beachfront environment. Davis said he will also explore the cost of placing a shade structure over portions of Rotary Park.
  • At its final reading, the council unanimously voted to approve ordinance 2023-05 governing the use of electric bicycles and similar electric motorized vehicles. Among other items, the ordinance requires the vehicles to use bicycle or multi-use pathways when available, instead of sidewalks or roads; requires them to yield to pedestrians and manual bicycles while giving an audible signal before passing; limits speeds to 15 mph; and requires the use of front and rear lights from 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after sunrise. Initial penalties are set at $15.
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.