Feb 102017
 
Time Bomb

© Can Stock Photo / piedmont_photo

Feb 10, 2017

Commentary by Arnaud and Naja Girard……. 

Contrary to popular belief, adding one or two “lock-outs” to your home and renting them to tourists without getting any separate building allocations was legal after all!

Developer, Pritam Singh, bless his soul, has shown us the way: He took 79 “permanent residential” building rights [called ROGOs] and transferred them to Oceanside Marina and, after adding 79 “lock-outs” and 17 hotel rooms, he’s now renting all 175 “units” to tourists. It could appear unlawful and it has upset a lot of people, but here’s the rub: The County Commission let him do it and they won’t dare shut it down.

God forbid others might want to take advantage of the “Pritam loophole.”  So, your government has a plan: They’re going to pretend that Mr. Singh’s “lock-outs” are legal.

But on Wednesday the County Commission will adopt a moratorium on “lock-outs.” It might be too little too late.  The Blue Paper has uncovered a time bomb hidden in the fine print of the County’s new Land Development Code which came into effect last week.

Let’s start at the beginning. And first of all, yes, you were right, that nauseous feeling, telling you that something is rotten about those so-called hotel room “lock-outs” was spot on. The County Code is crystal clear: “Lock-outs” [called “accessory structures”] —“shall not include second dwelling units or any other habitable structures that are occupied by a separate and independent resident.” A “lockout” is “to serve an existing principal use or principal structure ……contribute to the comfort, convenience or necessity of occupants of the principal structure…. ” In fact, it appears that under no circumstances, in Monroe County, can a “lock-out” [without a separate ROGO] lawfully double as a separate rental unit.

Developers have launched a campaign of disinformation. Consigliere to the powerful, Jim Hendrick, was quoted in the Key West Citizen last week claiming, “Lock-units have been allowed ‘up and down the Keys’ for years.”

However, when The Blue Paper asked the County for “an official response” as to the location of any such developments, other than Oceanside Marina, where separately rentable “lock-outs” have been permitted by the County in the past, they couldn’t site one. “Since I have been with the County” [6 years], wrote Director of Planning, Mayte Santamaria, in an email, “I cannot think of another development.”

And, if there was any doubt as to the legality of separately rentable “lock-outs,” in the late 1990’s, after battling the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) over unlawful “lock-outs”, Monroe County signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing that when issuing permits for “lock-outs” [without requiring a ROGO allocation] “care should be applied to ensure that a guest house … is not created.”

Yet Mr. Singh was permitted, in December of 2013, to add 79 “lock-out” vacation rental units at his new “Ocean’s Edge Hotel” without the need for any additional ROGOs whatsoever. County Commissioners claim they were “hoodwinked,” that the right to rent the extra “lock-outs” to separate groups of vacationers was hidden in the fine print of the development agreement.

Were they? County records show that Planning Commissioners agonized for months over the project. But the deliberations were a painful mix of unanswered questions, dubious legal advice and, apparently, false testimony over the veracity of documents which did not exist or at least cannot be found.

In an October 30, 2013 video, Planning Commissioner Ron Miller, is heard saying, “In my mind we are circumventing the code here.” “You feel dirty afterwards,” is how the Planning Commission Chairman, William Wiatt, described being part of the Oceanside Marina permitting process. The man in charge, then Planning Manager Joe Haberman, appeared to have no illusions about the County’s ability to defend itself against the developer’s hotshot lawyers: “They can argue that they can do it anyway even without the development agreement…”  “Ultimately the Board will have the final decision on it and … that’s at least comforting that staff’s not making the final decision on this one.”

So, what about that final say by the County Commission? After a 3-minute discussion, including the time it took to unanimously approve the development agreement — 79 separately rentable “lock-outs” and all, the developer was sent off laughing, all the way to the bank.

The Board of County Commissioners is now trying to weigh its options. The angry public wants an investigation. To make matters worse, developers of another similar project, Dolphin Marina on Little Torch Key, have also applied for a doubling of rental units through the use of “lock-outs.”

But a “lock-out” moratorium may be useless.  “Lock-outs” could already be a thing of the past. Last week the County’s Land Development Code update came into effect. The new name of the game is to be found in the revised definition of “dwelling unit.”  “Dwelling unit means one or more rooms physically arranged for occupancy by one residential household sharing common living, cooking, and toilet facilities.”

“Cooking facility” is an intriguing new requirement. The astute reader may have deduced that in a way “one or more rooms” which don’t have “cooking facilities” are no longer considered “dwelling units.” Why is this important? Because only “dwelling units” require the holy ROGOs, the unattainable building right allocations. Theoretically, under the new definition, as long as the blueprints don’t show a cooking facility, you should be able to build as many “non-dwelling units” as you like. [Will density even apply?] No reason why those “ROGO-less,” “kitchen-less,” “non-dwelling” units could not be used for “vacation rentals.” Since ROGOs are nearly impossible to obtain for Tier I parcels, can one now buy cheap Tier I waterfront property and build a “non-dwelling” “kitchen-less” house next to a “non-dwelling” “bathroom-less” house?

And of course, thanks to the amendment of the “dwelling unit” definition, Mr. Singh need no longer worry about finding ROGOs for his questionable “lock-outs”: as long as they have no kitchens they don’t need a ROGO anymore. The new definition of dwelling units does include hotel rooms, but here’s the catch: Mr. Singh would tell you that he did not really build a “hotel,” he built “attached single family units offered for vacation rental.”

Do we read too much into this code amendment? Perhaps. But who really believes that last week’s little twist appeared in the code by accident?

The County Commission agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting at Key West’s Harvey Government Center does not address, in any way, the legality of the Oceanside development agreement. The Commission is, apparently, planning to pretend that the creation of separately rentable “lock-outs” without separate ROGOs was lawful when they allowed Mr. Singh to double the number of his “non-hotel rooms” from 79 to 158.  And they will try to save face by adopting a “lock-out moratorium” to close down this “loophole.”

In the meantime, while hotel units multiply like amoeba, many property owners are still waiting for the right to build their one little dream house. The traffic is so backed up that one Blue Paper reader wrote us that it now takes her an hour to get to a grocery store. Locals have almost nowhere left to dock their boats and last week Stock Island residents, mostly working class people, learned that their sewer bill would nearly double to cover the costs of processing the by-products of all of the grand hotels that are popping up on the waterfront.

 

 

 

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.
 February 10, 2017  Posted by at 1:24 am * Featured Story *, Naja and Arnaud Girard  Add comments

  6 Responses to “A Time-Bomb in the County’s New Land Use Code?”

  1. Nice reporting again…Thank you!

    The construction at Simonton and Green has “lock -outs”
    What about the hotels that have changeable rooms for up to
    10 persons?
    “Bait and Switch” the New Key West style!

    The 500 parking spaces is for the Cuban Ferry…thanks Co-mish Payne!
    This blocks any green space from the citizens at Truman.
    “Tear down the trees and put up a parking lot”
    Where are the Duval Bar owners about “Truman” something
    Is just not right???
    Bahamas Village now has parking for their Lock-outs.
    Any parking left for the “Show” or Bahama Village training Hotel?
    God! I love this town!

  2. Neugent et al.are are proving the impossible: the old Gang of Three weren’t so bad after all.

  3. Now the citizens know that the stench blanketing the County wasn’t just another leak in the Cudjoe sewer system.

  4. This is terrific reporting. Thanks! Who knew, but for your diligent quest to find answers.The most damning evidence is that 2013 videotape. There has to be someone held accountable for this blatant disregard for the code and weak defense of what is in it. Not only in and of itself, but because the negative impact such actions have on our community, e.g., affordable housing and traffic, are significant. Shame on these planning employees and commissioners. Why am I not surprised…

  5. Well, just naturally, my first thought, that is, question, is:

    Are blue paper readers who voted for George Neugent, instead of for me, in 2006 and 2010, and for Heather Carruthers, instead of for me, in 2008, thrilled that’s how they voted?

    The next thing, just naturally, that comes to my mind is, Singh and Hendrick, either one, are heap smarter than anyone working for Monroe County, who have to do with processing, approving and voting on new developments.

    Don’t see any solution to that.

    Unless.

    Henceforth

    county growth management staff, volunteer county planning commissioners, and elected county commissioners simply assume and declare out loud, in public, that any development Singh brings them, and any development anyone represented by Hendrick, or his protege Barton Smith, bring, is going to be really bad for the county and the county people simply say no thanks, go away, you ain’t welcome here, sue if you want, and the we will vigorously defend.

    Meanwhile, Naja and Arnaud, are you saying what Singh got away with, what Hendrick said has been going on all the time, now is legal, that there was not a crime, that there is nothing for the State Attorney, the US Attorney, to look at?

    You know what might be a sho nuff real good howler is all the local charities, which accepted donations from Singh, send the donations back. That gasping for air sound you now here is not me holding my breath.

  6. OK , I see where this is going. And KW is walking on thin ice. Is nothing illegal about bedroom doors in your house having a key lock. We did this for many years just to protect our kids from going in our bedroom and be in reach of our guns or any of their friends visiting and able to enter our room to steal cash or anything. And guess what , we gave them the same degree of privacy. So yes our 4 bedrooms all had door keys. Do think we have that right of privacy and protection by law. Yes can see how could be misused. Now comes the question of your right to rent a room in your house to help with the costly bills.

    I built over 20 houses with no license by using a loophole in FL law to build as owner builder. My partner said it best, make any laws you want and I will beat the system with your own rules.

    Think out what a bed and breakfast really is. They meet the requirement of a residential unit by having a KITCHEN. Nothing says how many bathrooms you can have. And making laws after the fact could land you in court.

    One of our tenants was a contractor in Monroe county and confirmed the corruption that your building department has was going on over 20 years ago. So if you hire a state licensed contractor and not a BUBBA contractor you will fail every inspection.
    Yes a time bomb and sooner or later a smart builder or owner builder will take you to court and go for millions in harrasement case. He did confirm we made a smart choice in not buying a half of a duplex 5 years ago that had serious fire damage. We would gone thru hell had we purchased it and tried to get a permit.

    Love that you are brave enough to publish even half of what you do. Your life is in danger. On our next trip we will drop you some cash off as we do not want to risk a paper trail as to our identity just because of replies I made hear. Yes I trust your cops about as far as i could throw them. Great paper and gladly help pay to support it. Wish you could find an easy way for people to just drop money off with no paper trail. Maybe a bank account or something but prefer giving cash.