On March 27, the Marathon City Council rolled up its sleeves and went to work. The issue of permit fees, raised last month to a flat 3 percent of new construction cost, was renegotiated. Staff and council members pulled out pencils and calculators and adjusted the fee to 1 percent for new construction, and then set parameters for average construction costs per square foot — $200 for site-built homes and $125 for mobile or manufactured homes.
When the city changed the rules two weeks ago, the cost of new construction was provided by the permit seeker. But worries about inequality — whether purposely underestimating the cost of construction to pay a lower fee, or the widely disparate square footage costs of an upscale versus a modest home — prompted the change.
The new method of using square footage makes fees easier to calculate and permits are issued more quickly. City Manager Chuck Lindsey said it wasn’t the city’s intent to increase fees.
“Our intent is to make the process better, get permits out the door faster, be more efficient and not to raise prices,” said Lindsey.
He noted that in researching permit fees for other municipalities, city staff found wide disparities between, say, Islamorada and Homestead, and that Marathon’s fees were “very low.” He also said the building department is supposed to be revenue-neutral and self-supporting. “With the daunting task of paying for the cost of Hurricane Irma, there is a need for an increase. To be honest, what that increase should be, I don’t know.”
Councilman Dan Zieg said, “We do need the increase but it needs to be moderate. We need to be sensitive to our families.”
Councilman Mark Senmartin, the only “no” vote on the permit fee ordinance passed two weeks ago, said even now the fee percentages are still arbitrary and urged staff to continue to do research. Councilman Steve Cook expressed support for the new system.
“If I were a resident looking at constructing a new home, I would at least know what I was looking at in terms of permit fees. I wouldn’t have to worry about how much the permit fees would be for my electric, sewer and plumbing,” Cook said about the new square footage calculation versus the old method.
Mayor Michelle Coldiron asked the council to consider using the affordable housing funds to pay for new construction permit fees for owner-occupied residences, or those that are deeded affordable. She said the need is there after Hurricane Irma destroyed more than 400 homes in Marathon, but the benefit should only be offered to those who meet the income criteria. Marathon Finance Director Jennifer Johnson said there is approximately $450,000 in the fund right now — derived from impact fees when developers transfer hotel room building rights — but some of the money is already obligated to first-time home buyers under the city’s program to provide down payments to qualified residents.
The permit fee changes are effectively immediately and the council said it would make them retroactive (to the March 13 amendment) at the next meeting when the new resolution is ratified.
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Two, four, six, eight … Those are the numbers that have been bandied about regarding how long a mobile food vendor, or food truck, might operate in one location before moving on. On March 27, the council decided on eight hours.
The Marathon Planning Commission met on March 19 and issued its recommendations to the council — that a food truck might stay in place six hours before it would be required to move 1,500 feet to another location.
“What I’m really concerned about is this 1,500-foot rule,” said Cook. “It might have been a horrible joke. Just send (the food truck) to another lot. Whether they move 20 feet or 1,500 feet, it shouldn’t matter.” Cook was referencing the controversial law, since struck down, that required that liquor stores in Marathon be located more than 1,500 feet apart.
In addition, food trucks will be able to operate from dusk to dawn. Also truly mobile vendors like ice cream trucks may stay in the right of way for up to 15 minutes. Council said it would determine licensing fees, and cap the number of licenses, in the near future.
Both the permit fee schedule and food truck decisions were unanimous.