Sunday, December 11, 2011
State should explain end run around ROGO

Once again controversy surrounds implementation of Monroe County's Rate of Growth Ordinance, commonly referred to as ROGO.

Since 1992, ROGO has been the system used to allocate permits for new construction in Monroe County. ROGO is overseen through administrative rule by the state of Florida through the Department of Economic Opportunity's Division of Community Planning, and is guided by the Area of Critical State Concern designation.

When it was created earlier this year, the Department of Economic Opportunity absorbed the ROGO allocation responsibilities of the former Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

ROGO is a competitive, performance-based system for both residential and commercial development. It controls growth throughout Monroe County in order to maintain a 24-hour hurricane evacuation clearance time, environmental needs including water quality and habitat protection, and community character.

Monroe County receives only a couple hundred ROGO building permits a year.

Not surprisingly, over the years ROGO units have become a valuable commodity. So much so that the county has had a 13-year self-imposed moratorium on building new hotels, as granting new hotel transient ROGO units reduces the number of residential ROGO permit allocations.

It's in this context that members of the Monroe County Commission felt they were blindsided by the city of Marathon's request for transient ROGO units for lodging use, and the subsequent Department of Economic Opportunity's support for the request.

Marathon Mayor Ginger Snead wrote a letter in August to former DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett in order "to obtain transient residential units outside of the framework of the Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO)."

The Department of Economic Opportunity, in turn, recommended allocating 100 transient units to Marathon in recognition of its "unprecedented progress" on an advanced wastewater treatment system.

This ROGO allocation, if approved by the governor and the Florida Cabinet, looks a lot like an end run by Marathon around rules, policies and comprehensive land-use plans to control growth based on the Florida Keys' carrying capacity.

So why did ROGO allocation rules suddenly change? County Commissioner George Neugent remarked, "It's just that one day we went to bed with a set of rules and woke up with what seems to be a different set of rules. We'd like to know what is going on."

Did the dissolution of the DCA really signal the return of unfettered, gold rush mentality to development in the Keys?

It certainly didn't take long for County Administrator Roman Gastesi to ask commissioners if they wanted the county to make a similar request for more transient units.

And the Key West Chamber of Commerce, while raising concerns about the fairness of the Department of Economic Opportunity's decision, noted that Key West was the first Keys city to complete an advanced wastewater treatment system.

What about the impact to hurricane evacuation? While the county and state evacuation models may disagree on the precise amount of time currently needed to evacuate the Keys, the reality is that the county is already bumping up against the 24-hour state-mandated threshold for evacuation.

We believe the Department of Economic Opportunity has some explaining to do regarding its decision to support Marathon's ROGO request, including any resulting changes to ROGO rules and allocation process, prior to the January Cabinet meeting to decide the fate of the Marathon request.

Marathon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Guadalupe said the transient ROGO units would provide a "much-needed shot in the arm of our local economy."

We believe it's more like a shot heard across the Keys.

A shot that will be echoing throughout meetings of the Keys chambers of commerce, environmental organizations, concerned citizens, and in county and city halls and courtrooms.

-- The Citizen

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