The contractors were notably in attendance at the Marathon City Hall for the May 10 city council meeting, and are eager to update 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memorandum, which dictates development orders (permits) sent to the DEO for review, became a necessity after the state rescinded the earlier MOU, in effect since 2005. On February 25, the DEO issued a development infringement notice at the end of 39th Street in Marathon, known as Project Boatworks .
Although the Boatworks project received a conditional use permit for the site, the state challenged a review of the development agreement that allowed former living units to become upland condominiums when determining the number of market price units allowed.
The DEO then claimed that the city’s decision to issue building permits for four units on the project during the pending appeal violated the appeal process.
At its March 8 meeting, the city council adopted a resolution to replace the old MOU. The revised MOU was sent to the DEO for review and approval, but instead of signing the city-drafted version, the state sent another revised version more than four weeks later on April 8.
Four days later, the city council unanimously adopted a draft Memorandum of Understanding for the state at its April 12 meeting and returned it to the state for final approval and activation.
With the goal of simplifying the permit process between city and state, Marathon Planning Director Brian Shea also proposed language improvements in a new draft memorandum of understanding outlining the types of permits that must be submitted 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 will require review by the state, including typical repairs to electrical, plumbing, and air-conditioning systems for the life of the building. The city had hoped that future clarifications of the day-to-day workings of the MOU would be addressed in subsequent additions or revisions to the approved document, but a draft of the mandate unanimously approved by the city council in April will go into effect quickly.
The DEO refused to sign the council-approved version of the MOU, opting instead to send a revised version on May 5 with other provisions outlining the types of permits that should be sent to the State Department.
“What you have is something that I think should be signed this week by the DEO, no matter how long it took us to get to that point,” City Manager George Garrett said Tuesday night, noting that city employees still believe the new MOU needs To a final review to function effectively for both parties.
“The state has committed itself to coming down here and working with us on this issue, and we are committed to going up there to work with them in the near future,” he added.
Putting the approval of the state’s latest draft memorandum of understanding on its approval schedule, the city council voted unanimously to approve the memorandum and send it back to the state for final approval.
If approved, the state will largely seek to review permits for new buildings or expand the footprint of an existing structure; Transfers of ROGO exemptions, construction rights, and development rights; Variations of the city land development law; construction of new berths; Permits to use accessories including swimming pools and tiki huts; Marina construction and dredging, among other listed development orders.
According to the schedule attached to the new project, less critical permits, including permits for electrical and plumbing work, fire alarms and suppression systems, fencing, irrigation, sewer connections, solar works, roofing, window and door replacement, among others. He no longer makes his way to the state. According to the same schedule, permits to renew or redesign still need to be reviewed.
Until the agreement is signed, extended waiting times are now causing financial stress on contractors and, in some cases, an inability to respond to safety concerns.
Derek Lazarra and Charlie Brown are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Florida Keys Contractors Association. According to the husband, what initially started as a “mild nuisance” has now become “ridiculous.”
“It’s starting to affect employees, because jobs are supposed to happen,” Lazarra said.
Brown added that while he is not yet aware of any contractors who have laid off employees due to the slow permitting process, it “is likely to get here quickly.”
Although new buildings were also affected, Lazara and Brown specifically noted the concerns of many contractors about extended schedules for routine service repairs and small projects within existing structures, adding tributes to the permitting process that was moving “smootherly” under builder Noe Martinez before construction was completed. Cancellation of the memorandum of understanding.
“If I turn over the repair permit and mark it as ’emergency,’ I usually return it between 24 and 48 hours, sometimes the same day,” Brown said.
As of now, time-sensitive repairs from air conditioning units to unsafe surfaces and electricity meters can begin with a waiting period of over 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 receives final examination. However, complications with licenses already issued were rare, and most contractors would start work as soon as they were issued.
“There’s always a little something saying you have 30 days, but most people here don’t even know it’s there,” Brown said.
However, new drafts of the MoU specifically state that “no development order issued by the City will be in effect or acted upon by any developer until the expiry of the applicable City appeal period.” For permits sent to the state, the same rule applies until the state’s 45-day review period expires, the state waives its right to appeal, or any ongoing appeal ends.
Combined with extended review periods, the inability to move forward on projects allowed for up to 75 days has tempted many companies to abandon the process altogether.
“There are a lot of people thinking the same thing,” one contractor, who declined to be named, told Keys Weekly. “Why bother getting a permit just to get out of work waiting?”
Lazara and Brown credited Garrett with wanting to stay in touch throughout the MOU revisions. However, with nearly three months since the original agreement was scrapped, the contractors are looking for more than explanation for the city’s ongoing dialogue with the DEO. Even with questions about the circumstances that led to the notice of breach and the subsequent termination of the MOU, their focus is on moving forward.
“It’s not about being frustrated with the city or how we got here,” Brown said. “It is a frustration not to move forward. … We are still stuck in this purgatory.”
“We started wondering, what’s the problem?” Lazar said. “Why does this last so long?…Now you are actually messing with people’s livelihood and business. Employees are in danger, everything. It’s not worth it.”