The Marathon City Council gave Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys $150,000 toward the construction of 11 affordable housing units. The money was the difference the organization needed to make up in the $950,000 purchase price of the Anchor Inn from the current owner IMBY Inc.
That $150,000 is in addition to the $800,000 coming from the Monroe County Land Authority. (The initial county grant was for $650,000; in a subsequent meeting the county agreed to increase the amount to $800,000.) The $950,000 buys the land and the affordable allocations.
The city appropriated the money from its affordable housing fund.
City Councilman Mark Senmartin suggested the city pay only $110,000, equating the amount to what it would offer 11 first-time home buyers with down-payment assistance.
“It gets you close to your goal,” Senmartin told Christine Todd-Young, executive director at the Habitat chapter in the Middle Keys.
“It’s a mere four percent of the entire project. I don’t think that four percent is a large ask,” said Todd-Young, adding that the cost to just build the project, in addition to land and building rights, is expected to be $3.2 million, or $290,000 per unit.
Councilman John Bartus spoke in support. “You don’t come to the city for money often. And one of the goals of this city is to encourage home ownership wherever we can.” The resolution was passed unanimously.
In other news:
• Councilman Dan Zieg brought up sign ordinance enforcement, emphasizing sandwich board signs, pennants and flags on the Overseas Highway’s right of way. Growth Management Director Doug Lewis said that many of the signs are “right on the edge” of the prohibited zone, and also added that the signs have proliferated — more than doubling to 140 — in the past year. Council directed staff to involve the Marathon Chamber of Commerce and schedule workshops in March.
• City staff told council that a public forum for suggestions for the former Quay property, now a city park, would be scheduled for February. Bartus inquired whether the studies regarding cost comparisons of building, permit and impact fees is complete, and when that workshop could be scheduled. Lewis told the council that the studies findings would be reviewed soon.
• Utilities director Carlos Solis updated the council on plans to fix parts of 106 nonfunctioning streetlights along Sombrero Beach Road. The deadline for the bids is late next week. Solis said the work itself — repairing saltwater intrusion damage to the junction boxes — would take about 45 days.
• Mayor Steve Cook floated the idea of reducing the speed on Grassy Key to 45 mph. Other councilmen chimed in with ideas ranging from warning signs for southbound traffic approaching Kyle Avenue (an almost blind corner), cutting back vegetation, adding acceleration lanes, and removing the turning lane at Guava Avenue and extending the center “suicide lane” that allows for multi-direction turning. Solis told the council that the water utility will begin work there soon, and the speed limit will drop during construction, providing an effective trial.
• Staff will bring back proposed amendments to the city’s food truck ordinance and schedule workshops. Senmartin suggested removing the limitations on hours a food truck can operate, as well as language that says the vehicle must be removed from view when it is closed. He also said he doesn’t agree with the cap of seven licenses, but said he would leave that alone if the council agreed to a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy to keep businessmen from buying and selling the licenses as a commodity. Councilman Luis Gonzalez disagreed, pointing out that he knows businessmen who want the license only to operate during special events.
• Senmartin broached the subject of city policy and employees with medical marijuana cards. Council and staff acknowledged it’s an evolving part of employment law and agreed to keep abreast of how other municipalities are handling the issue.
• Chief John Johnson said he is looking into solutions that would provide automatic, better and faster address and route mapping in first responder vehicles, similar to what the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office uses.
• Serenity Cove, located on the former Longhorn Lodge property across from The Boat House on the east end of Marathon, now has two conditional use agreements approved by the City of Marathon. The land has been vacant for about 15 years and the rights for the hotel rooms transferred to the Marriott Courtyard. It was previously approved for 17 market-rate homes. On Jan. 14, the council approved the construction of 42 workforce housing units in a single building, three stories over parking. Both plans call for retail space on the highway. The developer, Prime Group, said the project could start immediately if and when it is allocated some of the 300 building rights currently being challenged by administrative appeal in Tallahassee. Planning Director George Garrett said he doesn’t expect an opinion to be issued until this summer. The developer’s representative also said it has built similar affordable housing in the Upper Keys, where it owns another resort, and has had trouble finding qualified applicants for the “low, low” end of the affordable housing rentals.
• The council agreed to extend developer agreement and conditional use plans for the property known as “Jo Jo’s” on Grassy Key for four years. The original plans for 14 market-rate homes, a marina store and gas station were approved five years ago. Staff will bring back a package that includes what constitutes “substantial progress.” Councilmen Senmartin and Zieg expressed frustration at “endless agreements” of stalled projects.
• City of Marathon attorney David Migut voluntarily resigned at the Jan. 14 meeting. His severance package includes a lump sum payment of 20 weeks of base salary and 7.5 weeks of accrued vacation and sick time, as per his original employment contract. He bid the city farewell and wished the council well. He and his family plan to relocate to St. Augustine.