Key Colony, state close to deal on building permits

A crowd of about 15 people listens at the meeting at Key Colony Beach City Hall Monday.
A crowd of about 15 people listens at the meeting at Key Colony Beach City Hall Monday.

The Key Colony Beach City Commission approved an agreement with the state Department of Economic Opportunity Monday that it says will avoid creation of a state-mandated rate-of-growth ordinance.

"This solves all of our [memo of understanding] issues and gives us the ability to cancel any time, and [DEO], too. This is a win-win," Ellis told an audience of about 15.

"This is strictly our ability to issue permits without having to go through the rigmarole that the county and city of Marathon have to go through."

Actually, DOE hasn't approved it yet. The agency still needs to sign off on it. Agency officials didn't return calls for comment.

But it says a state rule "does hereby exempt categories of Key Colony Beach development order DEO review..." except in certain instances.

Unlike unincorporated Monroe County, Marathon, Key West, Islamorada and Layton, Key Colony Beach does not operate under a state-mandated ROGO, under which the state decides how many building permits can be issued per year.

The city was one of the first municipalities in the Keys to build a central sewer system, purchase land set aside for recreation and protect endangered species like the burrowing owl. Instead, Key Colony annually reported the number of residential building permits issued in the city to the then-Department of Community Affairs (now DEO).

Earlier this year, DEO mandated the city adopt a ROGO that would run a decade and allow for six permits per year to be issued, or 60 permits over the life of the law. DEO first brought the subject up in 2012 due to hurricane evacuation concerns.

Residents who attended Monday's special commission had a range of concerns, including the absence of City Attorney Tom Wright and consultants Colleen Castille and Alison DeFoor, who worked with DEO on behalf of the city to broker the memo.

Castille is a former secretary of DCA DeFoor is a former Monroe County sheriff and judge who's well-connected in Tallahassee. The city has a contract with the two for $155,000.

Residents were concerned that only city commissioners would be available to answer questions.

Eve Povolo asked Ellis why commissioners couldn't wait until after the new year to sign the agreement. Ellis said DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio plans to step down in early January and wants commissioners to agree to the deal before he signs it.

After listening to rebuttals from the crowd to the MOU, Ellis said, "You don't know how much work has gone into this situation but this is the best of all possible worlds for our little city. And I know this is hard for some of you folks to swallow because you just want to win for whatever reason."

"That is an unfair statement," Povolo said. "The citizenry of this city deserves a little more respect."

At the end of the meeting, commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the deal. Commissioner Tucker DeGraw abstained.

"For the citizens, this allows them to keep building houses at the same rate they're doing now," Castille said. "It's a recognition of status quo and consistent with the debate we've been having with the DEO."