Monroe County’s Fire Rescue should see some of its staffing shortages alleviated with the addition of 27 new firefighter EMTs and paramedics. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

The April 20 meeting of the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners in Marathon saw what some expected to be a brief agenda point morph into a much larger conversation about property rights and land use.

The bulk of the meeting’s morning session was dominated by a discussion of various possible accessory uses for vacant shoreline parcels from which development rights have been removed. Such uses may include docking facilities; vehicle and trailer parking; water and electrical utilities; storage structures like sheds and garages; pools; gardens; homeowners’ parks; play structures and sitting areas; or accessory workshops, bedrooms or habitable spaces.

Under the current Land Development Code, most accessory structures may be placed on vacant lots sharing an entire property line with a principal structure such as the owner’s home (contiguous lots). However, docking facilities may also be placed on lots or parcels across the street from, or corner-to-corner with, residences (adjacent lots).

Discussion revolved around the use of vacant lots owned by residents living further down the street or on dry lots in nearby neighborhoods. The vacant lots would be used primarily for dockage, parking and storage.

“We don’t want to create situations under people’s noses who don’t own that property, but they’re next door and it detracts from their quality of life,” said Monroe County mayor David Rice. “I have far less concern about how far away a person’s home may be than what activity takes place on that property.”

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Cates suggested that accessory uses be allowed on vacant parcels within the neighborhood of a resident’s primary home, while allowing for requests for variances on a case-by-case basis. 

Commissioner Holly Raschein similarly advocated a “relatively narrow” approach to initial accessory use permissions, to be broadened later as needed. “I don’t know that (a distance requirement) is unreasonable,” she said. “It is kind of a slippery slope, and I think we need to be diligent on what happens.”

The board eventually thanked and directed the county’s senior director of planning and environmental resources, Emily Schemper, to pursue a draft of changes to the Land Development Code allowing for docking facilities as well as active parking, electric and water utilities, and non-habitable storage spaces to be used for this purpose. 

Under the proposed draft, the vacant lot must be located on the same island as the primary residence, clearing of habitat would not be permitted, and accessory use would only be allowed on land that is less environmentally sensitive than the lot of the primary residence. All components of the proposed draft will be subject to further discussion and change as well as eventual public hearings.

In other news:

  • The board directed county attorney Bob Shillinger to pursue an update to the county’s Nonconsensual Private Towing Services Ordinance, increasing the rates paid to towing companies for services for the first time since 2006.
  • The county was presented with a plaque to commemorate its Class 3 status in the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System. Under this status, residents of unincorporated Monroe County enjoy a 35% discount on flood insurance premiums.
  • The Monroe County Fire Rescue celebrated a badge pinning and oath presentation for 27 new firefighter EMTs and firefighter paramedics.
  • The board unanimously voted to observe the Juneteenth federal holiday, established in 2021, for county employees. Citing the costs to taxpayers of adding holidays, Rice suggested that the county should move to observe only established federal holidays in future union contracts.