The contractors were notably present at Marathon City Hall for the May 10 city council meeting, eager to get an update on the city’s progress in its negotiations with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). ) to adopt a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and shorten waiting times for permits. The response they heard was largely the same as the previous month: wait for the state.
The new memorandum, which dictates development orders (permits) sent to the DEO for review, became a necessity following the state’s revocation of the previous memorandum of understanding, in place since 2005. On February 25, the DEO announced issued a Notice of Violation regarding a development at the end of 39th Street in Marathon, commonly referred to as the Boatworks Project.
Although the Boatworks project was granted a conditional use permit for the site, the state appealed a revision to the development agreement that allowed former onboard living units to become mountain living units when determining the number of authorized market rate units.
The DEO then argued that the city’s decision to issue building permits for four units of the project during the pending appeal violated the appeals process.
At its March 8 meeting, City Council passed a resolution to replace the old Memorandum of Understanding. The amended memorandum of understanding was sent to the DEO for review and approval, but instead of signing the city-drafted version, the state sent back a new, revised version more than four weeks later on April 8.
Four days later, the city council unanimously adopted the state’s draft memorandum of understanding at its April 12 meeting and sent it back to the state for final approval and promulgation.
In an attempt to streamline the permitting process between the city and state, Marathon’s planning director Brian Shea also suggested improvements to the wording of the new draft memorandum of understanding specifying permit types. which should be returned to the state.
One example: Under the state’s draft memorandum of understanding in April, all subsequent permits for properties receiving a conditional use permit would require state review, including typical repairs to electrical systems. , plumbing and air conditioning throughout the life of the building. The city hoped that future clarifications of the day-to-day operation of the memorandum of understanding could be addressed in later additions or revisions to the approved document, but that the state draft unanimously approved by city council in April would quickly enter. in force.
The DEO declined to sign the board-approved version of the memorandum of understanding, opting instead to return a revised copy on May 5 with further provisions specifying the types of permits that should be sent to the State Department.
“What you have in front of you is something that I think should be signed off this week by WD, no matter how long it took us to get there,” City Manager George Garrett said Tuesday night, while noting that city staff still felt that the new MOU needs to be revised to work effectively for both parties.
“The state is committed to coming here and working with us on this, and we are committed to coming up there to work with them in the near future,” he added.
Putting approval of the latest state-drafted memorandum of understanding on its agenda, the city council voted unanimously to approve the memorandum and send it back to the state for final approval.
If approved, the state would largely seek to review permits for new buildings or expanding the footprint of an existing structure; transfers of ROGO exemptions, building rights and development rights; derogations from the city’s land use planning code; construction of new marinas; permits for incidental use, including swimming pools and tiki huts; construction of marinas; and dredging, among other development orders listed.
According to a table attached to the new draft, lesser permits, including those for electrical and plumbing works, fire alarms and extinguishing systems, fencing, irrigation, sewer connections, solar works , roofing and replacement of doors and windows, among other things, would no longer be heading to the state. According to the same table, renovation or redevelopment permits should still be reviewed.
Until the agreement is signed, however, the extended wait times now result in financial strain for contractors and, in some cases, an inability to address security concerns.
Derrick Lazzara and Charlie Brown are president and vice president, respectively, of the Florida Keys Contractors’ Association. According to the couple, what started as a “mild embarrassment” is now “ridiculous”.
“It’s starting to affect employees, because jobs are supposed to happen,” Lazzara said.
Brown added that while he wasn’t yet aware of any contractors laying off employees due to the slow permitting process, it’s “a possibility that will come quickly.”
While new construction is also affected, Lazzara and Brown specifically cited several contractors’ concerns about extended timelines for routine service repairs and minor projects in existing structures, adding compliments for a permitting process that moved “much easier” under building manager Noe Martinez before the MOU was revoked.
“If I turned in a repair permit and marked ’emergency’, I usually got it back within 24 to 48 hours, sometimes even the same day,” Brown said.
Currently, urgent repairs from air conditioning units to unsafe electric bridges and meters could require a waiting period of more than two months.
Under the previous MOU, permits issued by the city but not sent to the state would have a 30-day appeal period before the project could receive a final inspection. However, complications with previously issued permits were rare and most contractors started work immediately after they were issued.
“There’s always a little something that says you have 30 days, but most people here don’t even know that exists,” Brown said.
However, the new versions of the MOU specifically state that “no planning ordinance issued by the city shall take effect or be implemented by any developer prior to the expiration of the city’s applicable appeal period. “. For permits sent to the state, the same rule applies until the state’s 45-day review period expires, until the state waives its right to appeal. or any call in progress is ended.
Combined with extended review periods, the inability to move forward with projects authorized for up to 75 days has tempted several companies to forego the process altogether.
“There are a lot of people out there who think the same thing,” an entrepreneur who declined to be named told Keys Weekly. “Why bother asking for a permit just to get out of business while I wait?”
Lazzara and Brown credited Garrett for his willingness to stay in touch throughout the MOU revisions. However, with nearly three months since the original agreement was revoked, the contractors are looking for more than an explanation for the city’s ongoing dialogue with WD. And even with questions about the circumstances that led to the Notice of Violation and subsequent termination of the MOU, their goal is to move forward.
“It’s not about being frustrated with the city or how we got here,” Brown said. “It’s a frustration not to move forward. … We are still stuck in this purgatory.
“We’re starting to ask ourselves, what’s the problem? Lazzara said. “Why is this dragging on so long? … Now you are playing with people’s livelihoods and businesses. Employees are at risk, everything. It’s just not worth it.