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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
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?
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