New Development at Sunset Marina: Commercial Slip Owners Cry Foul

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

6 thoughts on “New Development at Sunset Marina: Commercial Slip Owners Cry Foul

  1. Maybe this devious horse ain’t entirely out of the barn yet, but he’s close to getting loose. Rebecca Jetton/DEO can derail parts of this shell game, but will they? Or will they do what Mayor Cates and 5 city commissioners did? Ignore the 30 percent rule? Invent parking places out of thin …I wuz gonna say air, but maybe thin bay bottom is more inaccurate.

    Anytime I see Ronald Ramsingh’s lips moving, I assume he’s lying and leave for him to prove he ain’t, and he don’t usually convince me he ain’t. You’d know what I mean if you had seen him in action as many times as I’ve seen him representing the city, while prosecuting, rhymes with screwing, citizens at the same time, before the city’s special magistrate, in the local courts, before the tree and historical architectural review commissions.

    I think maybe the aggrieved Sunset Marina boat people maybe need to be getting themselves lawyered up pronto and suit filed in circuit court, requesting injunction, attorney fees, court costs, just in case Jetton/DEO do the now you see me, now you don’t maneuver. Hope they don’t, but developers have long been the most favoreds in Florida and the Florida Keys.

    I think Frank O’Conner might have been the developer who spoke at the workforce housing workshop at NOAA on Truman Waterfront, hosted by the city’s city planner Thaddeus Cohen. The developer voiced his displeasure with the difficulties developers in Key West have building affordable housing on which they can make a profit. I asked him from my seat, what would be the $ rents for the units in his new development, the name and location of which he had not revealed when he lamented? Thaddeus Cohen told him not to answer me, that was not a discussion for the workshop. We could have that discussion outside the meeting. The developer left the meeting, I followed and caught up with him and the woman with him in the parking lot.
    He was tough to get anything out of. Said he didn’t know if he wanted to answer my questions, which were making made him suspicious. I said him not wanting to answer my questions made me suspicious. He relented, but only a little. He would not tell me the $ rents of the units. He would not tell me where his development was located, other than it was on the city side of Stock Island. He griped, which gave it away, that he’d had to give up one affordable unit because the city had not waived the Art in Public Places impact fee. I said I had heard about that at a recent city commission meeting.

    Later, I passed the developer’s and my conversation along to Naja and Arnaud Girard, who were at that NOAA meeting. They heard Thaddeus Cohen state at the beginning of the workshop that it was an interactive workshop. They heard Cohen also block me from getting an answer out of the Ocean Walk developer: What was his estimated cost per new unit? At which point, I reminded Cohen he had told us it was to be an interactive workshop, and he said my question was not relevant to the workshop, and I could ask it of the developer outside the meeting. The developer was represented by Jim Hendrick, sitting beside him.

    It was Thaddeus Cohen who had spearheaded the Sunset Marina shell game before the city commission about a week or so before the affordable housing shell game workshop at NOAA, to which the devious Barton Smith had sent his plant, the contractor who would build the new units at Sunset Marina. However, devious Smith’s mentor Jim Hendrick was at the NOAA workshop.

    The Sunset Marina shell game is just a small piece of a much larger shell game being foisted onto the public by Thaddeus Cohen and his masters on the city commission – all but Sam Kaufman, who is trying to bust up the shell game, but he’s gonna need a lot of help, and I don’t see it coming from DEO, not after all the years I have followed their track record. That leaves litigation, or doing nothing. Perhaps Last Stand will partner with aggrieved boat people at Sunset Marina and sue the devious bastards.

    Sloan Bashinsky, write-in mayor candidate, Nov 4 ballot

    1. So then will be all but the the tip top of Solares Hill in Key West and maybe a small part of Lignum Vitae Key, gulf side below Bud n’ Mary’s on Matecumbe Key (Islamorada). The rest of the Keys will be reclaimed by King Neptune and his mermaid legions. Naja and Arnaud will go back to being boat people, maybe retrace the route Arnaud took on a small sailboat, with no motor, leaving out of North Africa for the Virgin Islands, with very little provisions on board and $20 in his pocket. Quite a tale, a real sho nuff sea saga I hope Arnaud shares with humanity some day. The part about him sailing up to New York City and up the Hudson River without a motor, and his adventures in the Big Apple, are especially entertaining. All before he ended up in Key West and met Naja, who just so happened to be fluent in French, which both of her parents spoke.

  2. I would hope that the slip owners get together to petition, call, write plead with the DEO to deny this development. The dockominium owners do not need to spend a small fortune (which they don’t have) hiring an attorney to defend their rights. I am continually disgusted in the trampling of residents lives in favor of development. Our local leaders talk out of both sides of their mouths by stressing our need for “affordable” housing and then giving it all away.

  3. First, they kicked out liveaboards with no notice from city marina, where I was docked, as well as Oceanside. I have only been at sunset marina for 4 months, and this is like a punch in the gut. As it is, I pay over $900 per month to live on my own property not even on land. That’s about as “affordable” as it gets here. I have been a resident of key west for over 10 years. I’m getting old, and I’m tired of all this. If they kick us out, I’m sailing north to marathon. I can’t keep doing this. They are pushing out the entire workforce from this island. Eventually, I’m sure it will come back to bite them, but long after casualties such as myself suffer the loss.

  4. Only chance they have is to try to stop it but if anything like Peary Court they will find a loophole or just ignore the law they wrote. Is there any question about bribes ?

    The result is wages must go up or all you will have is temporary help that stay for a few months. Ever watch the live cams at Sloppy Joe’s ? The security outside seems to change often. Likely the result of low pay. At what point will nobody be willing to drive a cab ? It all comes down to supply and demand. Nobody will work 60 hours just to sleep on a couch or on a boat. If no time or money to enjoy Key West then why be there. At some point the employers will be forced to raise the pay or have no help. No help means no customers. This is all part of the results of property values going crazy like they did in 08. That resulted in many properties selling for less than half of it’s value. Many will hurt once again. Nothing wrong in serving the rich but they need service from the low paid. Not all will live on a boat or in a tent.

    This will only be stopped if enough of the people at the slips force it to stop. And with the corrupt system it will be hard to stop. A ten year old could do the math on this project.

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