sunset marina

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

Liveaboards and low-income renters may not be the only victims of the Sunset Marina development agreement approved last month by the City Commission.

Sunset Marina’s $2700/month “affordable housing” project appears to have also cheated small commercial boat owners out of over 100 legally required parking spaces. By the look of things, developers may also be lining things up to cheat the building department on permit fees by an estimated $125,000 [by misrepresenting construction costs by nearly 7 million dollars.]

Last week we reported how developers of Sunset Marina had apparently met with Mayor Cates and several City Commissioners behind closed doors to secure the approval of their controversial development on Stock Island.

One unanswered question was: How could this 2+ acre* development with 68-units of housing, a 118-slip marina and various commercial structures possibly provide enough on-site parking? Well, apparently it can’t.

“Mine’s a commercial boat slip,” says Eric Denhart, one of many Sunset Marina slip owners who spoke with The Blue Paper this week about their concerns, “If I want a license to run, even the smallest charter boat, I’ll need at least 2 parking spaces.”

There are 51 such commercial slips at Sunset Marina. Each needs at least 2 parking spots to get an occupational license to run a charter boat.  So, 102 parking spaces are required. However, according to the development plan approved by the City, Sunset Marina LLC will leave only 30 parking spots for dock operations.

In the wake of those secret meetings between the developers and City Commissioners, we asked to see all documents supporting the Planning Department’s own parking calculations.  After a few weeks of cat and mouse, we were told there were no such documents.

The Planning Department agreed with developers that Sunset Marina would require only 189 parking spots – a number that was then lowered, by variance, to 154, the maximum on-site parking that could fit onto the property after construction.

Yet the math is quite simple:

The 66 housing units require: 132 parking spaces [2 per unit]

The 51 commercial slips: 102 [1 for every 3 passenger capacity; 2 per 6-pack charter boat]

The 67 non-commercial slips: 17 (1 for every 4 stored pleasure boats)

The 6600 sf of commercial space: 22 (1 for every 300 sf)

GRAND TOTAL:    273 ……………[273- 154 [maximum number of spaces the development plan can fit] = 119 parking space deficit

In other words, because of the 119 parking space deficit, the LLC has 59 units too many in its 62-unit development.

The 119 parking space deficit is a conservative number. It will require developers to make good on their controversial decision to evict all 50 or so liveaboards from the marina.  Under City Code, liveaboards require 1 parking space per slip instead of 1 space for every 4 stored non-commercial boats.

Eric Denhart, who bought his slip on “Lobster Pier” when the marina first opened in 2001, is pouring through the 100 + page binder that holds the documents for his Sunset Marina “dockominium.”

E.D.: “See, right there, it says: ‘the Grantor [Sunset Marina developer] hereby grants to Grantee [Sunset Marina Dockominium of Key West Association] and its condominium unit owners members and such members’ family members, guests and invitees, the non-exclusive right to park vehicles upon the parking spaces located upon the Primary Parking Area and the Additional Property.’ I was guaranteed parking,” says Denhart.

B.P.: “Why didn’t you tell the City Commission about your commercial slip at the public hearing?”

E.D.: “I thought the City was on top of it. I never would have thought they would or could give away my business parking to allow a developer to build more condos. I was never informed that a reduction in my parking was part of the development plan.”

When asked, during the July 6th City Commission hearing, whether the boat slip owners had been properly notified of the hearing, Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh told the Commissioners the slip owners were not required to be notified, “They’re in the water column. That is not real property.”

But another slip owner, Sadler James disagreed, ““I have a mortgage at the bank. It shows I own a dock and some bay bottom at Sunset Marina.” James claimed he’d happened upon the meeting by chance. James challenged the Commission on both the notice and the parking requirements.

“This situation could drastically reduce what I can do with my boat slip,” says Denhart, who dreamed of retiring and taking tourists out diving and snorkeling, “I would think that the value of all of our slips could be greatly diminished because of this parking situation.”

So what else was under the rug?

The Blue Paper gathered information that indicates possible gross undervaluation of the construction costs for the Sunset Marina project.

Why does it matter? Because building permits and many other City fees come as a percentage of the estimated construction costs.

If you’ve been reading The Blue Paper the last couple of weeks you know Sunset Marina developer Barton Smith is lobbying the City for an exemption from the 1% fee for Art in Public Places [AIPP] and from an estimated $125,000 in impact fees, promising a few more lower-income units in return.

The proposal has outraged the Key West artist community.

Ah, but what is the estimated cost of construction for this project? While testifying under oath at the July 6th quasi-judicial hearing, Mr. Smith announced that the project cost would be 12 million dollars.  However, three-weeks later at the July 28th affordable housing workshop, Frank O’Connor, who we believe is the Sunset Marina contractor, disclosed that construction costs for the 60-unit housing project would be an average $315,000 per unit.

Even if we count only the 60 new modular units O’Connor was referring to, the total estimated cost comes out at 18.9 million dollars.  To which we must add the costs of the other two units planned to be constructed inside existing commercial structures.

Barton Smith was recently dubbed the “devious” Mr. Smith by County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy. Did he lie under oath in order to slash 6.9 million from the basis for calculating required fees? O’Connor’s numbers would boost the 1% for Art in Public Places estimate from $120,000 to closer to $190,000.  The building permit fees would also climb from around $220,000 to over $340,000.

The City Commission’s approval of the Sunset Marina development will soon be sent to the DEO [State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity] for review. Rebecca Jetton, of DEO, says she has received calls from Key Westers concerned about the project. She told The Blue Paper she will be looking carefully at the City’s workforce housing code that requires 30% of all new units in a project be at the low and median-income level and whether or not the City failed to properly adhere to the code for the Sunset Marina development. “I will be calling Barton Smith to ask him to explain his interpretation,” she said.

Only Commissioner Sam Kaufman (Commissioner Billy Wardlow was absent) voted against the Sunset Marina development agreement.


*According to the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s website the Sunset Marina parcel has approximately 2.3 acres of non-environmentally sensitive land. The documentation supporting the development approval however states that there are 4.5 acres excluding environmentally sensitive land.  If the Property Appraiser’s information is accurate then the property [zoned for 16 units per acre] would support only 33 more units [not 62].  [Stay tuned…]

This article was updated on August 13, 2016

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