County looks toward independent voice on height issue
BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers wants to take the politics, and the county, out of the decision about who can exceed county building height requirements.
Carruthers proposed having people who want to exceed the county’s 35-foot height restriction plead their case before a state Department of Administrative Hearings special magistrate, instead of having the county commission, planning commission or county planning staff make the call on granting such variances to county land development and comprehensive plan regulations.
Carruthers made her proposal Wednesday when the county commission was reviewing changes to its comprehensive land-use plan and its land development regulations.
Department of Administrative Hearings judges have been called upon in recent months to rule on important wastewater projects on Stock Island and Cudjoe Key.
Carruthers is concerned that the county will receive more requests for height variances in the future as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is developing stricter flood mitigation requirements and approving maps that will expand areas that are considered high flood zones. Sea-level rise could also force more homeowners and businesses to raise their structures.
“It would help to make sure it is not a political issue, but an administrative regulatory issue,” Carruthers said.
The county is currently considering changing its land-use regulations to allow homeowners to raise their homes by five feet for flood mitigation efforts and to encourage the development of affordable housing.
Also on Wednesday, the commission agreed to keep the 10-year limitation on keeping a development agreement active. Currently, the county allows developers 10 years to design, plan and construct a project. If it takes longer, they have to reapply for a development agreement and building permits.
County planning staff was considering allowing developers 30 years to complete a project.
“We have not gotten any complaints about it,” county senior planner Mayte Santamaria said of the existing timeline.
The county is currently reviewing all aspects of its comprehensive land-use plan and land development regulations and making changes to them. The county and the private planning firm Keith and Schnars have spent the past five years working on the comp plan and land development regulation changes. In January, the commission sent a series of changes to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review and comment.
The state called for stronger language for rules on the banning of mining and natural resource extraction in the Florida Keys and requiring reasonable setbacks on property being developed.