Jan 132017
 

Oceanside Marina November 2002 (State Archives of Florida/McDonald)

This article was updated on Feb 5, 2017

Editorial by Naja Girard…….

For the past several weeks The Blue Paper has been reporting on the controversial new hotel that just opened at Oceanside Marina on Stock Island. “Have you seen this article?” asked Commissioner Heather Carruthers in an email to the Planning Director, Mayte Santamaria, “Are the premises correct? Have we been hoodwinked? Or do they not have all the information? I think this warrants a response.”

This week Ms. Santamaria, produced a 22-page document. It provides little direct analysis but is, rather, a compilation of information about the property. “Amazing job!” wrote, Growth Management Director, Christine Hurley, after receiving Ms. Santamaria’s emailed report.

But is it? We will let the reader be the judge of that.  We’ve published the Planning Director’s full report [use link above] and here we look again at the questions raised previously along with the County’s explanations (or lack of explanation.)

A.  Is the hotel legal?

The new Oceanside development is advertised to the world as a “175-room Hotel & Marina”. The developer, Pritam Singh, himself filed an affidavit with the County specifically describing the 4 buildings as “hotel buildings.”

We had [and still have] several questions:

  1. A new “hotel” requires as many “transient ROGOs” (transient building allocations) as it has rooms.

Pritam Singh’s investment company had only 17 “transient ROGOs”. How was he allowed to open a “175-room hotel?” That question is not addressed in the County’s response nor are any the following points.

  1. If the buildings are more like “attached condominiums” than “hotels,” then there is an even bigger problem:

The County Planning Director has ruled that “attached units” are not allowed to be used as “vacation rentals” in the Mixed Use [MU] zoning district.

In fact, Ms. Santamaria has shut down all “vacation rental” activity for Pritam Singh’s neighbors who own condos [“attached units”] adjacent to his new hotel at Oceanside Marina because of the MU zoning at that location. And this week again, in her report, on page 21, Ms. Santamaria points out to County Commissioners that “vacation rental use of attached units is not permitted in the MU district.”

So why would Mr. Singh’s “attached units” be allowed to be used as “vacation rentals” in that same MU zone where his neighbors have been denied that very activity?

  1. Ms. Santamaria points out that the development agreement the County signed off on does authorize “vacation rental” use for Mr. Singh’s “attached units.” However, she doesn’t address the claim that Florida Statutes requires the County Commission to certify that a development agreement is not contrary to the local comprehensive plan or code of ordinances.

Undeniably, as per Ms. Santamaria’s determination, the development agreement is contrary to the code where it allows “vacation rentals” in “attached units” at that address, which is located in the MU zoning district. If you believe prominent local attorney Bob Goldman, a development agreement is invalid if it violates the code.

So, is the development agreement legal?

  1. Finally, all but 17 of the ROGOs transferred to Oceanside Marina by Mr. Singh’s Oceanside Investor’s LLC are described in the documents as “permanent residential units.” This is what he was expected to build and there’s the catch:

By code those “permanent residential units” must have a kitchen that, at a minimum, contains a “refrigerator and a stove.” That is the essential difference between a “hotel room” [“transient unit”] which is not required to have kitchen facilities and a “permanent residential unit.”

Yet this key definition, of “permanent residential unit,” is suspiciously missing from the list of definitions presented on page 14 of the County Planning Director’s report (even though it was mentioned repeatedly in previous Blue Paper articles, the ones that triggered the County’s response.)

So, are there any “permanent residential units,” each containing a kitchen with a “refrigerator and a stove,” at the new Ocean’s Edge Hotel? The photograph reproduced by Ms. Santamaria in her report shows a typical hotel suite with a wet bar, but there is no stove apparent in the photo. Recent publicity for the hotel specifically says “no kitchens,” and the plans provided by the developer during the permitting process show a wet bar — but no stove.

Which begs the question: Why did the County issue building permits and certificates of occupancy for “permanent residential units” that have no stoves?  Was it always understood that the units would be hotel rooms built without transient ROGOs?

B.  The issue of the 2 affordable units for 1 new market rate unit:

In Monroe County, for each new “market rate permanent residential unit” transferred to a “working waterfront,” a developer must deed restrict [as “affordable housing”] two mobile homes. [See County Code 130-161.1]

The County’s report focuses on whether Oceanside Marina had a significant commercial fishing fleet. The relevant statute (F.S. 342.07(2)) however defines “working waterfront” mostly in terms of public access to the waterway (docks, boat ramps, boat repair shops, tourist facilities, charter boats, etc…)

Apparently, the status of Oceanside Marina as a “working waterfront” was simply ignored at the time the development agreement was processed. Interestingly, this week’s presentation by the Planning Director emphasizes that the development agreement requires the developer to allow the public continued free access to the waterfront; one of the key elements in the “working waterfront” definition.

So, if Oceanside Marina was and still is “working waterfront” why then was Pritam Singh allowed to deed restrict only one mobile home for each new market rate unit instead of being required to deed restrict two mobile homes for each new market rate unit as is apparently required by county code?

There is no answer to this question in the County’s report, nor to the following:

C.  The Separately Rentable “Lockouts”

The County also allowed Mr. Singh’s company to add one rentable “lockout” for each of the 79 “permanent residential units” that  were allowed to be constructed at the project. In effect, the developer was given permission to nearly double the number of new units in his development.  The “2 to 1” requirement ended up as a “1 to 2” bonus.

But, County Code specifically prohibits dividing hotel rooms to create multiple units that are rented to separate unrelated occupants and likewise the code defines habitable accessory structures as “dwellings”.

In 1998 the County signed an agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) with the state allowing bedroom/bathroom additions (with separate entrances) accessory to permanent residential units without requiring a ROGO allocation but cautioned in the MOU that the “accessory dwelling unit” would not be permitted to create a “guest house.”

How does the county justify this charade of separately rentable “lockouts”? The answer is not in this week’s County presentation on the issues.

D.  Why are there no separate property titles?

The development was permitted on the condition that each of the 79 “permanent residential units” would have its own separate property deed and a separate Real Estate number (RE #). This was presented to the Planning Commission and the BOCC as an essential guaranty that individual “single family” residential homes were being created in the new project location. And it was the main justification used by the County staff to allow Mr. Singh’s development to slide on what would otherwise have been a requirement, under the 2 to 1 rule, to deed restrict 47 additional mobile homes.

However, the property appraiser’s records, as of press time, continue to show only the 3 original RE numbers for Mr. Singh’s Oceanside Investor’s project area and this was confirmed by Barton Smith, Mr. Singh’s attorney, on December 9th.

Yet the County has signed off on certificates of occupancy and issued all the occupational licenses and permits they have deemed necessary to allow the opening of the “175-room hotel.”

Why has the County allowed the developer to move forward without the mandatory establishment of “single family” RE numbers?

Conclusion:

There is little if anything in the County’s 22-page compilation that responds directly to the concerns brought out in The Blue Paper’s previous articles:

The County does not address the issue of the “working waterfront” definition that might have triggered the 2 to 1 rule and a requirement for another 47 deed-restricted mobile homes.

The County does not address the issue of renting “lockouts” separately or the “permanent residential unit” definition requiring the installation of kitchens equipped with a stove, nor the issue of separate RE numbers or the legality of allowing vacation rental activity in Mr. Singh’s “attached units” in a MU zone while denying that benefit to his neighbors.

Nor does the County explain why a 175-room “hotel” has been allowed to be built and opened with only 17 transient (hotel) ROGO allocations.

Mr. Singh had painted the picture of individual “homeowners” owning their dream houses by the sea; where each unit would have its own real estate number; a harmonious development, friendly to the neighbors, which was “not going to displace anyone.”

Yet all the liveaboards have been evicted from the neighboring docks, the majority of the dry storage racks are gone, as well as the public boat ramp and the marine mechanics. Parking that was used by liveaboards and licensed charter boat operators docked at privately owned wet slips has been built over and Mr. Singh has filed 7 lawsuits against his immediate neighbors in an effort to bar them from using their properties for the very same short term rental activity that he now profits from himself. The 2 for 1 affordable housing incentive program has been butchered and a “175-room hotel” has been allowed to rise out of the ashes of our county code’s happy bonfire.

Twelve complaints have been filed with code enforcement objecting to the hotel’s opening.

What in the world happened?  And will it happen again?

Is it time for an independent opinion?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW:

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Blue Paper Editor
Naja Girard
 January 13, 2017  Posted by at 1:08 am * Featured Story *, ~ Opinion ~, Editorial, Issue #201  Add comments

  14 Responses to “Oceanside Marina / Time for an Independent Opinion?”

  1. The lead into your irreverent (thank you) reply to the county’s hit girl, sacrificial lamb – you pick (Santamaria):

    ~~~For the past 2 weeks The Blue Paper has been reporting on the controversial new hotel that just opened at Oceanside Marina on Stock Island. “Have you seen this article?” asked Commissioner Heather Carruthers in an email to the Planning Director, Mayte Santamaria, “Are the premises correct? Have we been hoodwinked? Or do they not have all the information? I think this warrants a response.”~~~

    No, Heather, you (you and the other county commissioners and your able county staff) were not hoodwinked. You knew whose development it was. You knew how his previous developments had gone. You knew this would be another Pritam Singh wins, everyone else loses deal. No, you were not hoodwinked. Yes, you tried to hoodwink the public. Yet, the blue paper caught you with your wooden noses grown out a few hundred yards and your pants burning robustly.

    Naja, I just heard on US 1 Radio that this is the 23rd (I think it was) anniversary of Harry Powell’s invasion of Peary Court, with dynamite strapped around him, to protest that then beloved city park being razed and a lot of new navy housing built there. Perhaps it’s time for a Harry copy cat at the Pritam Hoodwink Hotel? Why not, Last Stand has shown no interest in standing up to Pritam. And, you and Arnaud have now proven, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that the county commissioners and their staff are possessed lock, stock and barrel by Pritam.

    Cheers! It’s Friday the 13th.

  2. Please take a close look at the relationship between Ms. Santamaria, Barton Smith and Barton’s law office. It seems whenever there is a slimy deal Barton is involved, if it’s in the County Ms. Santamaria seems to trip over herself to make her opinion the same as his, often fudging the truth and changing her “opinions” for Barton’s clients.

  3. We were two of the liveaboards that were ejected from Oceanside. We were there as watched all the law-breaking and heart-breaking unfold. What we don’t understand is why those who were so unhappy and could stay there, just let this monster take over without a fight. Even more disheartening is that the county is clearly lining it’s pockets and allowing him to just keep going. He is ruining old Key West. Karma will catch up with him!!! Thank you for putting this out for public consumption. I have been sharing on my Facebook page. Not that it serves a purpose for anyone to take action, but simply for awareness.

  4. The County Commission that names George Mayor while the ink is still wet on his Public Censure and Reprimand by the State Ethics Commission cannot be expected to enforce our laws when there is big money to be made.

  5. “I am shocked there is gambling in this establishment”

    “Here are your winnings, sir.”

    Thanks for the expose on how “development” really happens. Mr. Singh will sell this hotel to some LLC. The BOC will protest. No one will be responsible and business will continue as before. Support the Blue paper with your donations.

  6. I imagine Singh contracted to sell this hotel before he even broke ground; he used that contract to secure the construction financing; and when the hotel opens, he will close the sale and make a bundle and move on to his next get himself a lot richer scheme. You have to give Pritam credit for being smarter than just about everyone else, including your county and city elected officials. Perhaps deep down inside, they wish they were more like him. Or, perhaps they are just gullible. Or whatever. Well, he has property rights, and property rights, and making a profit, are king in Key West and the Florida Keys. Meaning, Last Stand can’t interfere by filing a lawsuit demanding the county and Pritam obey the county’s own laws and regulations.

  7. Even if this is all illegal and there were favors paid. what difference will it make at this point? The hotel will continue to operate as a hotel, and there won’t be any new affordable housing. The only change will be that will come from all of this attention is Pritam Singh will sell the development for $99 million instead of $100 million.

    • If just one-half of the people who turned out for the Woman’s March today came out and presented their views on this to our local officials what would happen “Ben”? A development agreement – and this one is no different – always says that if one clause is found to be unlawful the agreement will still stand apart from that clause. Pretty sure that means that if something is found unlawful in the agreement it can be nullified.

  8. By the way, adding property titles to each individual unit will only add to the total value of the development as a whole. A higher taxable equals a higher sales value. Pritam Singh thanks you for a job well done.

    • Adding property titles to each individual unit would also increase the amount of property taxes. Something most people living in Monroe County would not object to…

  9. Such lackadaisical attitudes are destroying Key West. Oh shucks, they got another one on you. I think I’ll come down there, pay a couple people off and screw the hell out of you people. Give me all the lip service you can because it won’t make any difference. A little payola works wonders in KW. Now, how about giving me some new ideas!!

  10. Yes , Singh’s systematic efforts to develop should have an outside investigation……

  11. YES! This is absurd.

  12. Yes! I’m blown away that county government is allowing this. It’s so far outside the law that it makes no sense. How did this happen?