LAND USE: CHANGING LAND USE
Whys and Why Nots of Land Use Changes
When Islamorada incorporated more than 20 years ago, it took extensive time and many meetings to create a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and a Zoning Map based on the vision of the residents of the community. The goal was to formulate the future land uses that would best protect our community, its residents and the environment over the long term.
FLUM designations indicate the intended use for a particular area, while zoning districts more specifically define allowable uses and contain the design and development guidelines for those intended uses.
These maps give you a general idea of types of Future Land Use designations and Zoning classifications. But to see current maps, go to the Village GIS system and zoom in on the properties you are interested in. You can put in an address to see a specific property. Instructions are on the Land Use Briefing page. Click here
When a property owner wants to use a property for something that is not allowed under the zoning, they need to apply to the Village for a zoning change. Often, it first requires a change to the FLUM as well (which must come first, but this follows same time frame with back-to-back hearings at the same meetings.)
The change to the use of land is decided by the Village Council following two quasi-judicial public hearings and a recommendation from the Local Planning Agency. What does quasi-judicial mean? While the decision is not made by a judge, the council is asked to pass judgment on whether the change is appropriate based on the facts and testimony presented. Does the change meet the requirements established by the Comprehensive Plan?
Staff members are the first folks to deal with a zoning or FLUM request. They review the application and work with the applicant to ensure it’s compliant with the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. They then make a recommendation on the application.
Next step, the Local Planning Agency (LPA). The LPA has seven members. Each member of council can appoint a member to a one-year term and two at- large members are added, requiring 4 votes out of 5 from the council. If a member has already served 3 one-year terms, a 4/5th vote of council is required to extend their term on the LPA.
It is the task of the LPA to study the requested zoning change (and FLUM if that changes as well) and vote to recommend that the council approve or deny the change. And then the Council conducts two quasi-judicial hearings before the public.
Nearly always, changes requested by private property owners for re-zoning in the Keys, and specifically in Islamorada, are requested in an effort to increase the value of the property for the owner. And most often, the request increases density and/or intensity of use. Increase in value is not a valid reason to change land use according to Comprehensive Plan standards.
The owner must justify the change by demonstrating:
The change should always be in the best interest of the community as a whole.
One situation that will nearly always fail this consideration is “spot-zoning.” Spot zoning occurs when a parcel is zoned differently than its surrounding uses for the sole benefit of the landowner. While property may lawfully be zoned differently than its surrounding uses, such varying uses are typically permitted because they serve a public benefit or a useful purpose to other properties.
Why should you care, especially if it is not in your immediate vicinity? Land use changes can have specific and cumulative effects on our traffic, our very limited infrastructure, our fragile environment, our overall quality of life and so much more.
Everyone needs to pay attention.
Examples of changes requested in Islamorada:
Review the Key Heights land use change request, recommended by the Village planners, but denied by the Village Council in a 2-2 vote on March 18. Look at the list of Comprehensive Plan policies in the Key Heights article. Did the council make the right decision by not approving the change?
Peaceful Palms Mobile Home Park
A few years ago, the Peaceful Palms Mobile Home Park with 15 sites on Windley Key was purchased for $2,945,000 and then rezoned from mobile home park zoning to residential high. The property, 1.145 acres, is now for sale for $5,895,000, a 100% increase in less than 5 years. The ad: “RARE SHOVEL-READY ONE OF A KIND OCEAN FRONT DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITY in the heart of Islamorada. Build fifteen (15) market rate homes on this cleared ocean front parcel.”
The Parmelee family has owned the magnificent 40-acre tract on Lower Matecumbe for decades, seemingly satisfied with the small home on the bay surrounded by mangroves and hundreds of coconut palms, a property shared with a family of bald eagles. But in 2018, the Parmelee Estate was for sale for $19 million and had a pending sale contingent upon a zoning change to allow double the density.
The proposed site plan submitted to the village by a buyer included the building of 10 homes, 10 accompanying caretaker cottages, limited to 1,500 square feet, and 10 accessory guesthouses, limited to 500 square feet.
Boy Scouts SeaBase
The Boy Scouts currently are seeking a zoning change for a residential lot they own that adjoins the Sea Base property at MM74 on Lower Matecumbe. They want to change the zoning from single family to duplex so they can provide more housing for employees at their facility. The LPA has already voted to recommend the change, but the council has not had the change scheduled as of March 2021.
With R1 zoning located on U.S. One, the Village Code allows one market rate home or up to 4 deed-restricted dwellings. The Boy Scout property is located on U.S. One. R2, duplex zoning, does not have the provision for additional affordable housing. According to the current Affordable Housing Fact Sheet, the maximum qualifying household income for a deed-restricted home with one occupant is $98,700, two occupants is $112,840, three occupants $127,000. Perhaps the Boy Scouts would be better off leaving the zoning as is.
Zoning Changes of Concern
Changing from residential use to mixed use. If property is zoned for residential medium density (R1), there is a limit of one residential home per lot, and no new vacation rental licenses are allowed. If the lot is changed to mixed use, an owner can build up to six homes per acre and lucrative short-term vacation rentals are allowed in mixed use.
Are we already at our limit?
Many people believe the Florida Keys and Islamorada have already reached their capacity. The overcrowding on the highway is an example. The public hearings for land use changes are intended to give the public a voice in the decisions that impact the quality of life. Whenever zoning changes have the potential to increase density, traffic, and noise, the ramifications should be considered. Residents need to pay attention and speak up.