Developers to Build on Imaginary Land at Sunset Marina

sunset marina mcpa map 2.79 acres

by Arnaud and Naja Girard……..

To allow an additional 60 plus apartments on his property, a Key West developer nearly doubled the size of his parcel – on paper.  And some of the City Commissioners, who last month signed off on the development agreement, knew all about it.

Under Key West zoning density ratios, developer/lawyer Barton Smith needed a minimum of 4.5 acres to build 62 new housing units on his property at Sunset Marina.

“And so here are the boundaries of the parcel. I click on each point of intersection. The computer does the math.” We are sitting with Jim Gale, in front of his computer at the Property Appraiser’s office.

“We have an excellent software program to compute total area,” explained Scott Russel, the Monroe County Property Appraiser.

The curser is flying from point to point on the lot’s upland boundary lines at 5555 College Road, Sunset Marina.  A final double-click on the keyboard and “here it is — roughly 134,000 sf — that’s about 3.08 acres,” says Gale.

“Not 4.5?  Are you sure?” we asked.

“Jim is the numbers guy,” said Property Appraiser, Scott Russel, “I have total faith in him.”

[Once the dockmaster’s office, which we discovered is actually on the water, is subtracted from the calculation the total upland area decreases.  The official upland build-able area found by the Property Appraiser’s Office is 2.73 acres.]

Could Barton Smith, dubbed by County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy as the “devious” Mr. Smith, have actually nearly doubled the size of his parcel in his application?  And if so, how did he get that past the City’s Planning Department?

The documentation provided by the Property Appraiser’s Office is pretty clear. Smith pays taxes on 2.73 acres of commercial waterfront.  The rest, over 71 acres, is baybottom, wetlands, and mangrove areas.

The project has triggered public outrage over Smith’s controversial interpretation of the 30% low and median-income affordable housing requirement: He somehow convinced a City Commission presiding over an unprecedented housing crisis that the requirement for a 30% ratio of lower-income affordable housing doesn’t apply to his project.

We asked the Planning Department for a copy of their calculations for the size of the upland area for Sunset Marina. Planners apparently knew we’d spoken to the Property Appraiser and immediately volunteered that, “the Property Appraiser’s Office are not licensed surveyors,” and provided a copy of a survey that Barton Smith had given them.

The “survey” however has a disclaimer that specifically indicates that it is “not a boundary survey,” and “the legal description has been provided by the client or his or her representative.”

It was an electronic scan, and would you believe that precisely where the estimated size of the upland area was to be indicated, an unfortunate crease in the paper made the first digit entirely unreadable?

We asked for clarification but have not received a response as of press time.

But here’s the thing. In fact, when it comes to Sunset Marina, apparently “size doesn’t matter.”

Going back into the history of the property, State documents show that Sunset Marina has reached “build-out.” The last large-scale construction on the property was permitted in 1998. 60 condominium units were approved in a settlement agreement between the State of Florida Department of Community Affairs [DCA], the City of Key West, and the property owner on the condition that development of Sunset Marina would occur only as spelled out in the agreement.

In 2010 the former owner, Sunset Ventures, tried to push for new construction. At the time, the Planning Department objected to the project stating:

Because the settlement agreement limits total development on the site, modifications to the development program can only be accomplished through modifications to the agreement.”

“Sunset Marina,” concluded then Planning Director Amy Kimball-Murley, had reached “build-out according to the agreement.”

But if you are the “devious one” and your bag of tricks includes the allegiance of the Key West establishment you might try buying Sunset Marina’s parking lot for a song and turning it into gold by getting the system to grant you development permits that would be allowed to no one else.

The State will soon begin reviewing the new Sunset Marina development agreement. According to State documents the 1998 settlement agreement is equivalent to a “deed restriction” and its covenants “run with the land.”

Interestingly, the 2010 development proposal got a lot of attention before being withdrawn. It was on City Commission agendas not once, but three times. Mayor Cates, Commissioners Weekley and Lopez all sat on the dais and public documents clearly spelled out the size of the parcel [2.8 acres] and the restrictions contained in the settlement agreement.

Somehow, this year, through those secret meetings with developers that some Commissioners pretend did not take place, they forgot all about the agreement and the “deed restrictions” the City had agreed to, and all about the true size of the parcel.

And 2.8 acres turned into 4.5.

14 thoughts on “Developers to Build on Imaginary Land at Sunset Marina

  1. It seems there is one common theme across all of these “questionable” development decisions: “Cates, Weekly & Lopez”. Their names always associated with amazing “bending of the rules” in order to approve what the voters would never agree to…. Peary Court was a classic example, Sunset Marina is their latest attempt at “hocus pocus”, just wait and see what happens if they get their hands on the outer mole… do you really think they care about what you want? Heck NO! It’s all about under the table deals with developers and friends.
    Guess what fellow citizens: It’s an election year!
    You can vote your conscience and replace Cates.
    Depending on where you live you can do the same with Lopez.
    Unfortunately Weekly will have to wait for someone to run against him.
    We would all be better off with new blood sitting in those positions. It’s time to purge….

  2. Once again I am awed by the abilities of the Girards. Great work shinning a light on the ongoing corruption and rule manipulation by developers and our local governments. I am a huge fan and when I can I donate to keep this publication going. I urge all readers to do the same! The Blue Paper ROCKS!!

  3. “And if so, how did he get that past the City’s Planning Department?” A rhetorical question with an obvious answer: anything gets past the Planning Department. Were the Planning Dept in charge of dam building, they’d build them out of cast nets; if in the weight control business, they’d serve donuts with every meal; if named after a TV show apt titles would be The Price is Right or Goodfellas.

    But, alas, the Planning Dept. is but a cog in a much bigger wheel long spun by manipulators, Imagine the non-fiction script had Mario Puzo lived in Key West…..

    Lastly, jail garb seems appropriate attire for submission of false documents. Just business as usual, though, in Key West.

  4. I continue to be stunned and amazed at the way our city representatives ignore facts and laws. Thank you Arnaud & Naja for your investigative reporting. I hope your reports are being sent to the state for consideration in their review. However, I have little faith in that organization to uphold laws rules and regulations.

  5. When I “chanced” to see Naja and Arnaud yesterday, Aruaud said he and Naja have no intention of killing themselves, so if they turn up dead or missing, I should tell people what they told me.

    I attended the city commission meetings where this flim flam was robustly defended by Thaddeus Cohen, by Assistant City Attorney Ronald Ramsingh, whom I don’t tend to trust anytime his lips are moving, and by more than just Mayor Cates and Commissioners Weekley and Lopez.

    Far as I know, I’m the only mayor candidate this year, who spoke against the Sunset Marina development at city commission meetings. I would have spoken against it if I were not a write-in mayor candidate this year. I’ve been speaking against new developments for years at city and county commission meetings.

    The city and county don’t need any more new market rate housing, for sale or for rent. The city and county sorely need more housing for poor working stiffs, very low, low and median income workers, and for retired and disabled people with very low, low and median income. The only way the city can pull that off is partner with the Housing Authority and build that kind of rental housing on the city’s own land.

    The biggest piece of city land, Truman Waterfront, is going instead to a pricey public park, which, so far, will not generate revenues to pay for its construction or subsequent maintenance. A great deal of actually affordable rental housing could have been built there. The rents would have paid for the project and its upkeep.

    Ron Demes, the Navy’s civilian liaison to the city and county told me at a city commission meeting earlier this year that the Navy would be okay with Truman Waterfront being covered with affordable rental housing, but the land on the right side (gulf side) of the road running through Truman Waterfront would have to be cleaned of toxic wastes like the land on the left side (ocean side) of the road had been cleaned by the Navy. I shared that with the mayor and city commissioners during closing citizen comments at that commission meeting. They looked at me like I was daft.

    I started in 2013 pushing to cover Truman Waterfront with Housing Authority- managed affordable rental housing. I told the City Commission to scrap the park plans. The city didn’t need the park. The city has beautiful Fort Zachary State Park right next door, which costs the city nothing. Yawn. ZZZZ.

    Write-in candidate names are not on the ballot, there is a blank space to write in a write-in candidate’s name on the Nov 4 ballot. There are no write-in candidates on the August 29 primary ballot..

  6. More superb investigative reporting!

    How stupid are voters that this kind of public “representation” gets elected?
    Is impeachment an option? A malfeasance suit for emptying public coffers into the pockets of certain entities and general dereliction of duty and lack of due diligence?

    As for the acreage, I fully understand how the GIS program might be off some in calculations, especially if the maps are raster image based, but there should be a legal description available on a deed, or metes and bounds identified on a recorded plat from which an accurate area can be calculated by one of the at least two retired land surveyors that regularly read The Blue Paper, or probably as a public service by one of the currently licensed surveyors in the area. That would be hard evidence to dispute.

  7. I’d like to give the PlannIng Director, Thadeous Cohen , the benefit of the doubt , but it’s getting harder every time these things occur. Perhaps he just tailors his opinions to what our commissioners want to get away with . Afterall it is a nice cushy job and guess he wouldn’t want to displease those commissioners, who seem to have acted improperly and may have known what you have found so easily. Looks to me that there are serious legal and ethical problems ahead for some
    And I donated…

  8. Nothing surprises me anymore about Key West. Corruption and bribe capital of Fl. and perhaps the USA.

    So now what happens ? Return the bribes ? Cancel the project ? IMPEACHMENT ? PRISON ?

    They should have bribed Arnaud and Naja. If you want to fix Key West put them in office. I think they just stopped another disaster and cost a developer millions.

  9. When adding bay bottom from the marina, fuel dock and their 29+ boat slips to calculate the total land area, does that bay bottom count as pervious or impervious?

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