The Marathon Council has found itself in the proverbial catch-22 situation. If it approves the replatting of four large lots into 32 properties, the council risks the ire of residents in the Sombrero Beach neighborhood and possibly a lawsuit. If it turns the landowner’s proposal down, there’s also a potential for costly litigation.

All parties were present on Tuesday to debate the issue, including two lengthy turns at the podium for attorneys Ralph Brooks and Frank Greenman, who both oppose the redrawing of property lines. All parties were present … except one. The City of Marathon’s main attorney, Lynn Dannheisser, has announced her impending resignation from the Gray Robinson law firm and was not present at the meeting. Her colleague Valerie Haber said more research on the issues brought forward by Brooks and Greenman is necessary before she can give the council legal advice.

“It was an opportunity for the applicant and the community to share their feelings,” said Mayor Chris Bull of the meeting. “We had a quasi-judicial hearing and heard from more than 15 speakers. But our city attorneys are reviewing the information presented and will come back to us in a few weeks and, ultimately, we’ll have a vote.”

Residents spoke about concerns for the canal behind the property, special native plants and animals, increased traffic and bike path safety.

“What this applicant has tried to do is do an end run around the city’s comprehensive plan and land use regulations. Fifty units should come as a major development,” said Brooks.

The city’s planning staff and planning commission have approved the project now before the council for its consideration. Although the applicant has specifically calculated the lot sizes to accomodate 18 duplexes and 14 single family homes, no applications for development have been submitted, nor are they necessary if the lots are sold one-by-one to private parties. The four lots that cover 10 acres are currently zoned residential high and could be subdivided to allow for as many as 59 market rate units or 185 affordable units, according to Planning Director George Garrett.

“Unfortunately, the city’s attorney resigned on the very day the project was before the city council,” said Josh Mothner, an agent for REER Unlimited that is under contract to purchase the property. “If the attorney had been there, I’m confident she would have advised the council that the project was fully compliant and legally sufficient. But she wasn’t there, so the council acted responsibly and deferred the vote.”

At the podium, Greenman told the council it was violating its own laws. Specifically, a state Department of Transportation law cited in the city’s comprehensive plan that states there must be 245 feet between driveways on a road with a speed limit of 35 mph or lower.

“You pass it, you’re going to get sued. And like every lawsuit in the last three or four years, you’re going to lose that too,” Greenman said. “I am for a safer, smaller project that benefits the people of Marathon and gives the developer a reasonable return on investment and profit.”

Marathon councilman Bill Kelly said he hopes for a better compromise between the developer and neighbors.

“I think the real issue is driveways. That’s what I came away with,” Kelly said. “But I can’t make a decision until I hear from our attorney.”

The property is owned by Ken Cianchette of Key Colony Beach. REER Unlimited is under contract to purchase the property, but the deal has not been finalized.

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