A change to the county code could be a big deal and Monroe County wants to hear from YOU

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

A code may be changed in the county soon.

Schemper explained, “One big piece of my job is to coordinate public hearings if there’s a big development proposal or a change to the code of the Monroe County. One of the public hearings that we have going on next week is regarding a proposed change to the code, which is kind of a big deal. It is the idea that on vacant lots were normally they have to stay vacant, you can’t use it for things if you don’t have a house or a business or something established there. So we would open that up a bit and allow some other uses on these vacant lots. Proposals have ranged from sheds and garages to pools to just docks and boat parking and things like that. So there’s a public hearing on that next week. It’s really just transmitting to the state a small piece of that amendment, but I do want to encourage people to come and speak either in support or against the different details of an amendment like that, because it really could affect anyone in the county. If you’ve got a vacant lot across the street or down the street from you, if you own a vacant lot or are thinking oh, I need more space to do this, or my house is on a dry lot and I’d like to park my boat on a vacant lot down the street, but I can’t get a ROGO allocation to build there. This is something that could affect you. So we’ll probably end up going through some of the details of the bigger amendment that’s coming back later, but the board really did want to hear public input on that. Do people want to see garages? Or do they just want it to be for docks and docking facilities for people who don’t have a waterfront lot for their home?”

At the moment, the change of the code would be pretty narrow.

Schemper said, “The way it’s been drafted would be based on some public comment we’ve gotten already and direction from the board would be to allow docking facilities, and then allow some limited use of dry vacant lots that you could put up a tiki or a shade structure. If you need extra space, like for your yard, basically, our kids play structure, that sort of thing. It does not right now, the way it’s drafted allow a resident to put a pool, for example, on a vacant lot that several miles from their home. Distance is another factor that’s kind of up for consideration. There’s been a proposal that it just be on the same island as your home, you have to own a home in the Keys in order to do this the way it’s proposed. One idea was it has to be on the same island as your home. But some people have pointed out that, for example, on the island of Key Largo, that could be 20 miles away. So right now, the way it’s drafted based on public comment, it would have to be within three miles of your existing residence.”

The county is looking for public input, good or bad.

Schemper said, “The board, they don’t want to adopt something that nobody wants. We know of a few people so far, but we’re trying to get the general community interest for something like that.”

The public hearing will be at 10 a.m. on July 19 in Marathon. Residents can also participate via Zoom.

Schemper said, “Some of the objections have been that if people are using a lot that’s not right next to their home, there’s more potential for it to become messy or unsightly, if there’s storing a whole bunch of stuff out there, all of your outdoor stuff, it could be dangerous in the event of a hurricane as well, if people are not picking that up, because it’s not next door to their house.”

Noise is another issue that people have mentioned.

Schemper added, “Also, if we were to allow an enclosed structure, a shed or garage or something like that, the potential that someone could try to move in and live there. So a number of different concerns.

An amendment like this is also good for the county in terms of what to do with vacant lots that don’t have a building permit for a home at this point. We’re still up in the air about that. We’re still waiting on the word from the state about our ROGO permit allocations and what is going to happen with those. So that’s also part of the consideration for this, people would have to retire any development rights on that property. So lots of factors at play here.”

Recently the board had asked staff to pursue with FEMA whether the rule for 300 square foot enclosures under houses be changed.

Schemper said, “I think some people have asked then even further about habitable space down there. That is probably not likely to have habitable space below the flood elevation is very much not an option in terms of the FEMA federal regulations, have anybody living or having actual habitable space down there. However, there is also an agenda item next week. The county attorney and county administrator are going to give a report regarding a visit that staff had with FEMA at their regional office in Atlanta on June 23. So there was a meeting with FEMA where the county asked, would they consider changing some of the things that are in our remedial plan. In order to stay in the National Flood Insurance Program, which you have to have flood insurance to get a mortgage these days, so it’s pretty important and in order to stay in that program, we had to adopt certain things into this remedial plan, which are a little bit above and beyond what a lot of communities have to do. That 299 square foot downstairs below flood enclosure limit was one of those things. So there was a meeting regarding that. FEMA did not say no. It was not an automatic yes, there’s more discussions to come.”

Contracting permits are another issue for the county.

Schemper explained, “This usually falls solely under the building department, but for my department, we do issue some permits, through the building permit system, we issue some environmental permits. So things like clearing of land, restoration permits, if someone has cleared something without a permit, and then they have to replant it. Some tree trimming, certain environmental permits. Currently, certain licensed contractors pull those permits and as many people know, a couple of years ago, there was a bill with a state that does not allow local governments to issue local licenses or require local licenses anymore. So for example, for one of those permits, it would seem then that someone would have to have a full general contractor’s license just to get a tree trimming permit, for example. So the current status of that, we give updates every quarter to the Contractors Examining Board. The current status of that for these type of permits, environmental permits, is that they are continued based on something that went through the legislature this year and an ordinance that the BOCC adopted last month, the landscaping contractors, the tree trimming contractors, those contractors that have had licenses from the county, those will be continued for one more year. So it will be business as usual until next summer, and then we need to move on to a new plan of how to do that. It’s a work in progress. So those landscaping and tree contractors that have their licenses with the county that will be sort of grandfathered in for another year now.”

The board of county commissioners will meet next Wednesday at 9 a.m. For the agenda, click here: https://monroecounty-fl.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=1