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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Commercial allocations could go away

ISLAMORADA -- An allocation system that has regulated commercial development since the founding of the village in 1998 could soon be a thing of the past.

The town's Local Planning Agency was to review a proposal to eliminate the Nonresidential Building Permit Allocation System at a meeting scheduled for Jan. 14, after press time. It's one of several proposals being brought forward by Village Manager Ed Koconis in response to a push from the new Village Council to make Islamorada's permitting and planning review process faster and less cumbersome.

"We need to have less interpretation. We need things to be more clear," Koconis said at a Jan. 11 workshop, which the Village Council called to discuss planning issues.

Under existing village code, the town only accrues 6,692 square feet of new allocation rights annually. That rule has presented challenges over the past two years. In 2011 it delayed the building allocation for a proposed Upper Matecumbe Key Winn-Dixie. Now it is hindering the development of a potential Upper Matecumbe Publix and has forced local businessman Monte Green to build a south Plantation Key storage facility in two phases.

The allocation standard has been in effect in response to concerns from the state about the impact development has on hurricane evacuation time. But at the workshop last week, Koconis explained that during the evacuation modeling process undertaken by the state and Florida Keys governments in 2012, state officials determined that homes and lodging establishments, not non-hotel commercial development, lure traffic to the Keys and increase evacuation times.

"We're proposing that the nonresidential allocation system simply go away," Koconis said at the workshop. He said other provisions in the village code would effectively limit the type of large-scale development that is often frowned upon in the village.

"We're not going to have a Dadeland Mall here," the manager said.

Koconis also outlined other proposed changes, many of which were to go before the Local Planning Agency Monday night. Among them are reducing the number of parking spaces new developments would be required to contain, making it easier for nonconforming structures to comply with village code, and cutting back on the type of projects that require a conditional use review from the Planning Department prior to the issuance of a building permit.

Koconis, who doubles as village planning director, also explained that the village has already added a second permit clerk at the reception window in order to speed up the processing of routine permits. He said he intends to put a planner at the window as well, so applicants can learn right away if they are missing any materials.

"We don't want you to walk out of there thinking it's complete and then find out things are missing," Koconis said.

During the workshop, council members continued to impress upon Koconis, and make clear to 10 or so contractors and planning consultants in attendance, that they are determined to streamline the permitting and planning review process.

"I'm not saying I want everyone to get permit. I'm just saying I want an expectation, and I want the expectation to be met," Councilman Mike Forster said in reference to processing time.

Forster also repeated his call for Koconis to give up the planning director hat so a full-time person can work the position. He received a nod of support from Councilman Dave Purdo. But Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn and Councilwoman Deb Gillis expressed concern about the cost of bringing on additional staff. Mayor Ken Philipson stayed quiet on the issue.

The council scheduled a second planning and permitting workshop for the evening of Monday, Feb. 11, during which they plan to appoint an ad-hoc committee to tackle the subject.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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