Oceanside Marina: Bait & Switch

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

December 30, 2016

by Naja Girard…….

He is renowned for his real estate prowess, selling 100-million-dollar hotels in Key West as if they are going out of style: Parrot Key Resort on Roosevelt Boulevard in 2014 sold for $100,000,000 and only 1 year later, in March of 2015, The Marker near Key West Bight sold for $96,250,000).

Pritam Singh, dubbed the Donald Trump of the Keys, is now ready to unveil his latest creation: Ocean’s Edge Key West on Stock Island (the old Oceanside Marina). People will say, “It’s a true Pritam Singh”: A high class bright white hotel emerging out of luxuriant clouds of palm fronds and flowering trees, dipping its feet into the blue waters of the Florida Straits.

But behind the scenes, for several months now, The Blue Paper has been recording interviews of people who claim they have been ruthlessly squeezed out by Mr. Singh’s “cut-throat business tactics” over at Oceanside Marina.

For one – they ask – how has Mr. Singh managed to turn 79 residential trailer homes into a 175-room hotel? What happened to the affordable housing component: The two residential units Mr. Singh should have deed restricted, affordable, for each new unit built at Oceanside Marina? And what about protecting existing port related activities?

Arguably, laws and regulations had to be twisted, bent, and even broken. As one critic of the project told us, “The true title for your article should be: Why Do We Even Bother Having Laws or a County Government?”

It could have been deemed impossible. Where today proudly stands Mr. Singh’s “175-room hotel,” only a few years ago, stood a vibrant working waterfront. It included two engine repair shops, a boat ramp, commercial fishing boats, a fuel dock, boat storage and repair facilities, charter boats and a liveaboard community of nearly one hundred people — and parking for it all. Most of it now gone, to make space for the hotel.

Yet in 2005 the county commission had decided that working waterfront areas had to be specially protected throughout the county and that Stock Island marinas would be joined under an even higher level of protection where “only port and port related land uses” could be authorized.

And then there was the affordable housing issue. On December 14, 2011, as the affordable housing crisis became a priority, the county renewed its moratorium against any new hotel rooms.

At that point the only loophole left to hotel developers was to purchase “transient units” already in existence in their “subarea” [in this case the Lower Keys] and move them to the location of their project.

Finally, the build-able surface at Oceanside was only 9.65 acres. Under the legally allowed density it appears that only 115 hotel units could have been legally constructed – not 175.*

Yet by December 2013, Pritam Singh had convinced the county to let him take over the working waterfront at Oceanside to build his “175-room hotel” while he possessed only 17 legal “hotel” building allocations, and the 2 to 1 deed restriction requirement was lost in the shuffle.

So how did he do it?

It’s October 30, 2013. Pritam Singh has the floor at the Monroe County Planning Commission meeting and with the benefit of hindsight you realize that gaining approval for a project has a lot to do with what you don’t say.

What does Singh say about protection of working waterfront? Nothing at all. And nobody on the county staff or board mentions the issue aside from a requirement to reserve up to 3 dock slips for commercial fishing boats. It is enough, apparently, that Mr. Singh makes the solemn (not kept) promise: “We are not displacing anyone.”

He never mentions the “hotel“ either: “I assume you have all been to Truman Annex?” asks Singh, referring to the rows of luxury homes he built in Key West in the 90’s, “It’s pretty much going to look like what I’ve done down there.”

His selling point was that he would be building and selling separate individual homes: “What we all want — to put our house by the water,” and there will be “green space and swimming pools in front for the homeowners.” A far cry from the hotel that he ultimately built.

To county government’s credit, Mr. Singh never told the commissioners he would be building a 175-room hotel. He claimed he would turn the 79 mobile home units transferred to his project into the equivalent of single family homes and that the individual “homeowners” would enjoy “the option” of renting to vacationers if they so desired.

The excuses however don’t go much further.

When Pritam Singh presented his plans, it became obvious that they were incompatible with the common definition of single family home development. The county staff initially reported on the incompatibility. Single family homes are defined as “detached” houses surrounded by a yard on all sides. They have independent utilities and a kitchen. Mr. Singh was piling up apartments three stories high. The proposed units had shared stairways, elevators, and walkways. At best it appeared to be a complex of multi-family apartments. The type of project that would require 2 deed restricted affordable units for every newly built dwelling.

But from that point on a painstaking review of the record shows that the county staff was going to twist and disregard county regulations in any way possible to support the project.

This is a list of some of the County regulations that were [arguably] violated:

  1. Hotel Rooms: Under the moratorium on new transient units, Mr. Singh should have been required to acquire 175 existing transient residential building allocations (transient ROGOs) for his “175-room hotel.” He apparently had only 17 such transient “hotel room” allocations. The rest were “permanent residential” allocations.
  1. 2 to 1 Rule for transfer from mobile home parks: All of the units are “attached” (without yards on all sides) and use “common accesses” [stairs, elevators, walkways] and as such can be defined as “multi-family” apartments as spelled out in county land development code section 101-1 “dwelling, apartment.” Under section 130-161.1, in order to legally transfer units from a mobile home park to a multi-family project or a working waterfront, the developer is required to purchase and deed restrict, as affordable housing, 2 units at the mobile home park in order to build just 1 new unit at his project site. It is known as the 2 to 1 rule. It is meant to protect both affordable housing and the working waterfront. Only transfers to single family lots or parcels can be made on a 1 to 1 basis.

Planning Commissioner Ron Miller smelled a rat. “The code specifies 2 to 1 for this kind of transfer,” said Miller at the October 30, 2013 meeting, “in my mind we are circumventing the code here.”

Mr. Singh convinced the county to let him get away with a 1 to 1 transfer on the promise that the 79 units he would build (spread across multiple 3-story buildings on one parcel of land) would qualify as “single family parcels or lots.” Mr. Singh would be required to deed each apartment separately and register individual real estate numbers with the property appraiser. However, this separate registration has not taken place and the fact that Oceanside had historically functioned as a “working waterfront” was never considered at all.

  1. “Permanent Residential Unit” plus “Lock-out”: The county allowed Mr. Singh to double the number of units from 79 to 158 by adding one rentable “lock-out” for each “permanent residential unit” transferred from the mobile home parks. Yet “lock-outs” are defined as “accessory units” to a primary “permanent residential unit.” Apparently, not one “permanent residential unit” was actually built. Pritam Singh was supposed to transfer the units from the mobile homes to build “permanent residential units” at Oceanside, equipped, as required by Monroe County Land Development code, with a kitchen that has, at a minimum, a refrigerator and a stove. But that never happened. There are no kitchen’s in the units at the Ocean’s Edge Hotel. Under Monroe County Land Development Code (101-1 definitions) hotel units may not be divided into separate rental units.
  1. Density: Finally, as mentioned earlier, it seems that the legally allowed density for Oceanside is limited to 115 hotel units — not 175.*

In the meantime, a vibrant liveaboard community has been destroyed, marine businesses have been displaced, the parking necessary to the operation of charter boats has been built over and a mockery has been made of the laws adopted for the protection of local residents.


* Assuming commercial density remained as described.

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22 thoughts on “Oceanside Marina: Bait & Switch

  1. Curious what the impact this project will have on the “working waterfront” economy. Monroe County leads the state of Florida in commercial seafood landing (2015). That was a $71.2 million haul. I don’t know what percentage of that industry resides on Stock Island. Our county commissioners should be aware that a healthy economy depends on diversity. Putting efforts towards tourism is laudable but many of those jobs are low scale. One way to counter affordable housing shortfalls is to create higher paying jobs. Projects like this leave me wondering why does everyone think tourism is the end all in Key West?

  2. Naja, where did Pritam Singh get his building rights? Was it a trailer park somewhere else, for example? If so, what has, or will, become of that trailer park? If you know.

    I suppose it might not be far-fetched to imagine that the architect of this latest Singh Bonanza is the same fellow who did Sing’s first Bonanza, Jim Hendrick, former land use lawyer. Before that, County Attorney, also in private law practice, who got indicted for conspiracy and witness tampering arising out of having, while he was County Attorney, allegedly facilitated the bribe of a county commissioner by developers he knew. For which Hendrick was tried and convicted in Federal Court in Key West, and then put on probation and, although he was disbarred, he continued doing the same things he had always done, except go to court, I myself heard him tell someone in his old law office, while he and I were playing chess.

    It was around then that there was a county commission meeting in the Harvey Government Center, in Key West, for which developments on Stock Island were on that meeting’s printed agenda. The morning of that meeting, which I was getting ready to attend, Jim Hendrick called me and asked me to come over and we play chess, instead of me going to that boring county commission meeting. Jim and I never played chess in the morning, only in the afternoons, usually as his law office. Just naturally, I figured Jim had something on the printed agenda he did not want me messing with. I told him I had to go to the commission meeting.

    I did not figure out what was Hendrick’s item on the agenda, because I did not see Singh there. Might be it was another of the developers Jim was representing, behind the scenes. He did not attend commission meetings back then due to his probation, but he interacted with county staff by email and telephone. Jim had made a strong argument to me another time, that developing the waterfront out there would be good for the environment. It would get rid of all the old and derelict boats, and old marine engines and oil, and so forth and so on. The water would be cleaner.

    When I got my 3 minutes during citizen comments on one of the developers’ items, I said I was going to speak to the commissioner as a lawyer. I said, a developer;s lawyer has one job before the commission. That job is to screw the county in favor of his client. If the lawyer does not do that, then it’s legal malpractice. County staff beside me and down that line against the wall were sniggering. The county commissioners were not sniggering. I should have told them that Jim Hendrick had called me that morning to try to get me to play chess, instead of some to that boring county commission meeting, because he had something on the agenda he did not want me messing with.

    Okay, fun aside.

    Where, pray, has Last Stand been during all of this Singh, Hendrick and county commissioner shenanigan-ing? If it as this article says, insinuates, how come Last Stand has not already fouled suit, er, filed suit? Asking a court to order the county commissioners/County Government to obey the County’s own laws and regulations? I figure you can answer that question, Naja, since you are a member of Last Stand and have been its President.

    I doubt bitching and moaning about what had happened with Singh’s latest Bonanza will not change anything. A lawsuit might get results, IF the court does not first rule the plaintiff waited to long to complain.

    1. The article states multiple times that the building rights [aside from 17 hotel units] were transferred to Oceanside from trailer parks [mobile homes]. The development agreement required that the units at he sender sites exist and be deed restricted affordable – 50% moderate, 26% median, and 24% low-income – before allowing the transfers to occur. Pritam gave existing tenants a guarantee of 7 years [I think it was 7] with no rent hike. That was not required by the Code.

      Why, pray, are you, Sloan, always asking others why they haven’t done something or other? – like research, or interviews, and now lawsuits? How about we all just decide for ourselves just what our own VOLUNTEER work will consist of, how thorough it will be and not point fingers at others accusing them of not doing enough – especially if we are going to sit idly by commenting without even carefully reading the documentation that is before us? Now if you want to point fingers at government officials who are PAID [by us] to do the watchdog work that we often find ourselves volunteering to do – well I’m with you on that 100%.

      1. Dear Editor,

        You said a mouthful there! Careful. 😉

        That said, these “PAID [by us] government watchdogs” are doing our bidding, when you consider the whole of the electorate. They wouldn’t be running things if WE (collectively) had not elected them. That’s worth remembering through all of this.

        The technical research in your article is, as per usual, flawless. But, just as per usual…the powers that be plowed ahead anyway. Now what?


        1. Which trailer park(s)? And what became of them after Pritam got what he wanted from them?

          Now what?

          Surely you don’t expect the county government to do the blue paper or its readers bidding?

          Surely you don’t think the threat from blue paper readers of not being reelected is taken seriously by the county commissioners.

          Last Stand disbanded?

  3. Sloan, you’re right in stating that “…bitching and moaning about what has happened with Singh’s latest bonanza will not change anything” (slightly edited for clarity).

    But then, why should it? What we’re witnessing here is the activities of an astute businessman doing what an astute businessman does: Make money. And, he’s doing it with the tacit approval of many, many property owners here who are making money right alongside him. Further, these efforts are aided and abetted by an agreeable government structure. This process is ongoing across the U.S. — it’s called “gentrification”. We’re not capable of stopping it…money talks. We’re not even willing to put up much of a fight. Why not? Simple. This “working waterfront” concept is little more than trying to maintain a dying industry here…an anachronism, at best. Yes, it was…in its heyday, a colorful community. But, it was also an illusion…an illusion that we’ve managed to polish without any real understanding or appreciation of just how difficult a life it was, for all too many.

    I’ve lived on Stock Island for over ten years now…and have seen the changes (mostly for the better) that have occurred. I’ve also seen the invasion of various real estate development schemes in which locals have been scammed out of some serious money…even causing the failure of a local bank. Then…there was Cay Clubs, together with the utter foolishness where the County Commission purchased a forlorn restaurant…that they can’t sell for a plugged nickel. All of these efforts were abject failures. Costly failures.

    To his credit, Mr. Singh has, essentially, bailed out a bunch of local citizens who own property on Stock Island…even though they are not participating directly in Mr. Singh’s enterprise(s). I can’t blame any of them for attending to their own interests.
    Yes, as you might imagine, I’ve drawn the short straw (together with many others): I’m on notice to vacate my (almost) affordable digs shortly. At the age of 72+ living on a fixed income, it ain’t gonna be easy. But, that’s the way it is. I accept that.

    No, I am not pleased, but…change is change. I once rode that stallion myself…with pride -and- a total lack of appreciation for the plight of the “losers”. That’s the price we pay…


    1. Dickford, based on the blue paper’s article, what I am witnessing here is a man who cannot be trusts as far as you can throw Cow Key Bridge, and a county commission, and perhaps a county planning board and county growth management and county attorney, all of whom let him get away with it.

      I replied last night to under Naja’s comment me above, but mine to hers is not yet cleared from moderation.

      Back to Pritam Singh. What I’m about to write actually happened, Eye-ear-witnessed by me, Todd German, Jim Hendrick’s wife, Jim’s girlfriend Donna Bosold, over dinner in the Hendrick home, in the spring of 2010, as I recall.

      Over dinner, Jim said that I had published at my websites that Pritam Singh was possessed by Lucifer, and that he, Jim, now was going to prove to me that was not so. I told Jim to put on his case. Jim said, Pritam is the greatest salesman he, Jim, has ever known. He can get people to look at what he wants them to look at, and not look at what he does not want them to see. I said to Jim, that is how Lucifer sells. I rest my case.

      I reported that number of times at goodmorningkeywest.com and goodmorningfloridakeys.com, and the chess games which followed, at Jim’s insistance, after I tried to beg off because the others there did not play chess and would not be interested. Before the 1st game began, Jim announced he would tell me ahead of time how he was going to come at me, and then he would do it, and he would win. That’s what happened. Then, he insisted on playing another game. I tried to beg off again. He would not take no for an answer. He did the same said the same thing he was going to do and he did it and won again. That was the last time I was in his home, at my choice.

      There is research, and there is research.

      1. Sorry, Sloan…but your ability (or lack of it) to play a decent game of chess has little to do with “research”. Besides, I have it on good authority that Lucifer absolutely despised the game. 😉

        Try harder, eh?

        As for “…what I am witnessing here is a man who cannot be trusted as far as you can throw Cow Key Bridge, and a county commission, and perhaps a county planning board and county growth management and county attorney, all of whom let him get away with it.” Prove it. Whatever you (or I) may think of the “man”, he gets things done…fashions a reality…out of smoldering ruins. He creates value where little existed before.

        When is the last time you heard of Mr. Singh seeking access to the public purse…like a $12.5 million “boost”…to create more non-existent “affordable housing”? Or, a $7+million “incentive” to buy a shuttered nursing home…or, to buy a $1.3 million defunct restaurant?

        You haven’t and likely will not in the future. Whatever Mr. Singh has built stands head and shoulders over whatever dreams we might harbor. And…he built this stuff without taking a dime from the public purse. Well worth remembering.

        And, no…I am not acquainted with Mr. Singh: He doesn’t require my services. In my view, he has earned his stripes.


        1. You keep playing the Devil’s advocate, when he, or she, don’t need no help with that. You did what Pritam Singh and Jim Hendrick would have you do: you went for the bait – chess. Out of his own mouth, Hendrick proved my diagnosis of Singh, was the point. Bait and Switch is the name of this blue paper article. It slams Singh and the many county officials who hopped right into bed with him and Hendrick with their eyes wide open. I simply provided a little different kind of research, from the battle field where live ammo really was being fired, compliments Jim Hendrick, who, by the way, was the architect behind the scenes, representing the Peary Court sellers. Gwad, if Key West wasn’t so hilarious, it would be depressing!

          1. Dammit! You’re taking up way too much of my time, Sloan! 😉

            No, I’m not playing “devil’s advocate” here…he and I just don’t get along. I AM presenting “the other side” of things, though…a view you might try in order to gain a perspective.

            Yes, the headline does read “Bait and Switch…”…that’s called an attractant…not unlike “click bait”. Yet, I don’t see any real condemnation(s) in the article itself…only questions. Why was this allowed…what happened there? Stuff like that. Questions that are legitimately posed. And, I’ll bet that there really are answers that may not be readily apparent. Maybe not wholly satisfying answers…but, we’ll take what we can get.

            Oh…ask me all about real battlefields where real ammo is being expended. BTDT. Not funny…


    2. P.S. Dickord, Naja, others …

      I have heard a few times that Pritam Singh sells his developments before he completes them, perhaps before he even start them. If he did that with Oceanside Marina, a lawsuit filed by Last Stand, or by the blue paper, or by someone (don’t look at me, this latest Pritam Singh fast one ain’t eating me up, I’m living on the street, am looking at maybe having to sue KOTS, SHAL and Key West, in Federal Court, pro se) brings an injunction public interest lawsuit against Pritam Singh, his development company, Oceanside Marina, Monroe County, to do Oceanside Marina by the county rules and regulations, that just might queer Pritam’s sale to his buyer and result in who knows what kind of changes to the latest Pritam Singh fast one?

      1. Sloan,

        RE: “…Pritam Singh sells his developments before he completes them”. Wow! Lock him up, Danno! Since when is that not legal, Mr. Lawyer? Where is that law written?

        In case you’re wondering, our newly-elected president has made such endeavors a cornerstone of his empire.

        Dunno why you’re so enamored of lawsuits. Even further, what does Last Stand have to do with this kerfuffle? On what grounds would the common citizen sue any of the principals you outline here? How would they even achieve standing?

        Your “I’m a lawyer” schtick is wearing thin, Sloan. Let’s quit playing around, eh?


        1. Dick, let Naja tell you about Last Stand, since she is a member and not long ago was it’s president. It has brought litigation in the past for the common good. I can’t think of anybody else to challenged what this blue paper article raises.Your high opinion of Pritam Singh matches his own high opinion of himself, and Jim Hendrick’s opinion of him. His reputation is making promises about his developments he does not deliver. A lawsuit now might derail the pre-sale he made to dump Oceanside and take back a heap of cash. If the sale is queered, perhaps something can be done to fix what this blue paper article laments. Lament will hot fix it.

          1. Sloan,

            RE: Lament will not fix it.

            Nor, will philosophizing…or frivolous lawsuits. I am acquainted with various of the efforts undertaken by Last Stand…and commend their commitment. But, on what grounds would anybody sue Singh here? How would such parties even establish legal standing?

            Unlike several other potential developers, Singh has delivered, contrary to your assertions. That is what I respect. When I moved here almost 12 years ago, the place was already deep in discussions about “preserving the working waterfront”. Yet, virtually all that happened was the continued decline in the industry coupled with the creeping deterioration of the area. It was depressing, to say the least. Now, we have new housing developments, a new park, new fire station, new businesses, a new hotel…real capital investment. What’s not to like? Stock Island is being remade before our very eyes. They call that progress…;-)


  4. I’ll be interested to see if the people who own slips at Oceanside will speak up. I understand he’s really coming down on the owners with some Nazi-style rules, with a lot of harassment. Many have owned there for 20 years or more. Did they lose their rights when he bought the adjoining property?

  5. Given the fact that it appears a few codes/ordinances/regulations or laws may have been ignored and their enforcement seems unlikely, is there an argument to be made that this unduly restricts public access to a public or natural resource? This boat ramp was a unique access point to an incredibly important source of income, entertainment and even sustenance for a large and growing segment of the local and tourist populations. From first hand experience I am also acutely aware of its value to our scientific and research communities who are always strapped for time and resources even under the most optimal conditions. This access point was ideally situated between a number of historic reef-health monitoring sites as well as a number of newer and extremely promising research/restoration projects. Many organizations, encompassing local, state and federal operations enjoyed long standing agreements with the marina staff and management ensuring reasonable access to these facilities.

    The idea that a relatively large number of residents, both on and off the water, are being forcibly “relocated” should also be alarming to us all. Given new anchoring regulations and an increasingly distressing trend of water resources/access being shut down or over-regulated into non-existence, it is high time our community as a whole reassesses our stance on these issues. Our marine resources, be it fishing, diving, snorkeling, leisure boating, cruising, treasure hunting or research are the backbone of our existence. The ocean touches us all in one way or another.

    Despite the recent thought trend, our boating community contributes far more to our communities and everyday life than we are giving them credit for. We are equally as fortunate to have families that have fished these waters for generations as we are to have boaters that have sailed the world single handed and have landed here to share their history and become a part of ours. Various points in the Keys are well known as some of the worlds’ top provisioning and launching marinas. Equally cherished and easily as profitable are some of the worlds most productive fisheries. From coral nurseries to seagrass flats to what could still accurately be called the last frontiers on our planet the ocean should be accessible to all who yearn for it.

    It appears it may be too late to have any effect on the current development at Oceanside, but there are many who would agree that as a community water access/resources should be of the utmost priority moving forward. Whenever new development or redevelopment is debated, it would behoove us to strongly consider the broader affects of our actions.

    Thanks for your time!
    Happy sailing

  6. The Proletariate,

    I commend you for a very eloquent, thoughtful and thorough essay on the subject! Brilliant! Insightful! The sort of discussion we sorely need on the subject. Thank you!

    That said, has anybody approached Singh…or anybody in authority, vis-à-vis your concerns over access? If not, why not? While this place may have provided a “unique access point”, we all know that it has been occupied, for a long time, by the Marina. What has changed?

    I am a veritable “fish out of water” when it comes to marine issues: I only gaze upon the waters, from time-to-time…I leave the “gettin’ wet” part to others. I do not fish, swim, kayak, dive. I am acquainted with various commercial fishermen (and their work) only vicariously. Same with the (very) few marine research projects. I apologize for my ignorance. I’m an unapologetic landlubber.

    While I can appreciate and respect the efforts of people to make a living from the sea…I see it as largely a lost cause. The industry is being decimated by many forces and that is evident on Stock Island. In my view, among the very least of these forces is responsible real estate development. Just ask the real fishermen out there.

    Though I do not currently live on the waterfront, I will find myself among those “displaced” very shortly. That’s the way the ball bounces. I’ve been cognizant of such circumstances all through my life. I don’t like “change” at the tender age of 72…but, I just gotta move on. I can’t fault the likes of Singh or anybody else for the state of things.

    As far as “variances” from building codes and such, I needn’t remind you of all the goings-on WRT the new City Hall and its ghastly, in-your-face solar panel display. How ’bout the YUGE “variance” from height restrictions that were accommodated in the new school (HOB)? You can’t convince me that these things “suddenly appeared”. No, the plans were readily set before everybody…and apparently accepted.

    As Sloan pointed out earlier…we can “lament” all we want. Maybe…just maybe, we need to get a grip on reality.


  7. FYI Sloan. The transfers came from several trailer parks, two that I’m familiar with are on Cudjoe and Summerland. A FEW 2b/1b modular were built at each site. Rental rate for a month $1700 when checked a year or so ago. The remaining trailers were SUPPOSED to be brought up to code which is doubtful to look at them. Singh sold both properties shortly after acquisition to……..(wait for it)…..Bart Smith.
    So it is good that a majority of the residents were able to stay in their trailers for 7 years or however long was promised. In the grand scheme of things…… Mr. Singh got a huge benefit at very little personal cost as usual.

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