Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Council once again set to address supersized docks

ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council will again consider banning the construction of long docks in Islamorada when it convenes Thursday, Feb. 27.

The debate will come as a follow up to a council discussion in December, when, in response to objections from contractors, the board tabled an ordinance that would have capped all new docks at 100 feet in length.

Under existing village code, property owners can ask for a variance to build a dock longer than 100 feet if the extra length is necessary to reach the required water depth of 4 feet.

Such variance applications have caused conflict within Islamorada in recent years, sometimes between neighbors. Twice since 2007 the village has faced lawsuits related to long docks, once when the town approved a dock variance, and then when it denied one.

Last summer, as neighbors fought over a proposed 325-foot dock off a private Plantation Key property, the Islamorada Planning Department first recommended that the council approve the application, only to reverse itself months later after reviewing new evidence.

To Councilman Ken Philipson, who introduced an ordinance in December, the solution to those disputes was to end the variance procedure entirely.

But contractors, including former village Building Director Don Horton, argued that a better way to reduce the controversies would be to ease dock regulations, which they characterized as the most restrictive in the Keys.

In the aftermath of the December discussion, Senior Planner Jeff Stuncard has sought to gather public thoughts on how to handle the issue. He said about 10 people have met with him in his office, from both sides.

"I guess the thing I've heard the most is that due to the amount of regulation they go through at the state and federal level, it should be a breeze by the time they get to the local level," he said,

For his part, Horton last week said he thinks the situation would be eased by reducing the minimum depth that docks must reach to 3 feet. The village standard of 4 feet, he said, is stricter than the state standard.

"Every time you go deeper, that makes you go longer," he said.

Philipson, meanwhile, said he no longer advocates eliminating the dock-length variance procedure entirely.

His newest idea is to allow for property owners to apply for docks longer than 100 feet but only if both neighboring property owners already have long docks. Even then, the docks could not extend longer than what the neighbors have.

"To me, that makes sense," Philipson said. "But to the dock builders, it's not going to make much sense at all."

During Thursday's meeting, the council will hear a report on the logistics of installing parking meters at Anne's Beach. According to Interim Village Manager Maria Aguilar, a public works department analysis found that it would cost $15,000 to install master meters at the two Anne's Beach lots and $5,000 annually to maintain the meters.

With an hourly rate of $1, the village estimated is could earn $20,000 annually in parking fees. The village recently created a part-time position to clean up Anne's Beach on weekends. The position is budgeted for $15,000.

Also on Thursday', Councilman Mike Forster plans to push for a more defined towing ordinance in Islamorada.

The village's current ordinance allows haulers to charge a maximum base fee of $135. But they can also bill an additional $135 per hour for labor. Companies can charge $3 per mile for the haul, and they can also bill for storage, administration and after-hours pick-up.

The Key West towing ordinance, in contrast, caps the cost of a tow at $155, plus a $25 per day storage fee.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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