Zoning Basics, Zoning Map, and Village Code

Future Land Use Maps (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.

Zoning is the division of a community into different districts (zones) in which certain activities are prohibited and others are permitted.

Zoning is a planning control tool and the way governments regulate the physical development of land based on its usage, purpose, environmental features. It defines the rules that govern how our community can be developed. The purpose of zoning is to protect and conserve the value of land within the community and assure property uses are compatible.


  • Protects and enhances property value.
  • Conserves existing neighborhoods.
  • Prevents the mixing of incompatible land (think strip club next to a preschool).
  • Provides better lot arrangement, protecting recreational areas and open spaces.
  • Protects environmentally-sensitive areas.
  • Restricts height and size of buildings
  • Assures the infrastructure needs are available
  • Gives community some control over its land uses, appearance and quality of life.

You can access the zoning laws of Islamorada by going to the Village website at www.islamorada.fl.us. Go to the “Departments” menu and click on Planning. A side menu will allow you to select GIS Maps where you can display zoning and other features of the properties in Islamorada. 

At the top left of the GIS Map you can zoom in or out, select a specific location, and/or select the type of map: click on “layers,” the stack of papers icon, to select zoning map, or a variety of other maps.

Also under the planning department you can select Village Code and then search by the zoning classification you are interested in to learn what is allowed or restricted in that zoning. For example, search for “R1” to find out about single family zoning. Then, click on the section of the code listed for that classification.

The zoning maps are a subset of the Village “Future Land Use Maps,” (FLUM), which can also be reviewed in the GIS system. The FLUM are broader classifications that are then split into the zoning districts.

Both the zoning maps and the FLUM were developed when the Village incorporated more than 20 years ago. There were months and months of public workshops, meetings, debates and then public hearings so residents could have a voice on how their specific areas were zoned.

There are reasons why property owners want to change the use of property. Click here to read the whys and why nots of zoning changes.


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:

  • It complies with the policies of the Village Comprehensive Plan
  • There is a need for the uses and there is no land zoned that way elsewhere in the community that would meet the need.
  • The change will be consistent with surrounding uses.
  • The zoning change is appropriate based on the existing infrastructure and will not negatively impact things like wastewater, potable water supplies, or traffic.  

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:

Key Heights

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.”

Parmelee Estate

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.


Who has read our Village Constitution, the Comprehensive Plan? 

Here’s what we think.

Proposed Change to Future Land Use Map in Key Heights Neighborhood

On the agenda at the March 18, 2021 council meeting, there was a public hearing to change the Future Land Use Map for a lot fronting U.S. One on Plantation Key to Mixed Use which would allow non-residential uses.  Click here to see the staff report in the agenda.

The applicant had purchased the bayside waterfront residential lot in August of 2019 knowing it was zoned for single family use. Except for the area closest to the canal, the lot is covered with thick, beautiful hardwood hammock. We have been told a bald eagle nests in that hammock. It is at the entrance to a well-established residential community – and at the end of one of the most beautiful canals in all the Florida Keys. That crystal clear waterway is home to manatee, sea turtles and a variety of sea life. Homeowners think of that waterway as their own personal aquarium. 

The property owner hired Pete Bacheler as a planning consultant, and within a month, they filed an application to have it re-zoned so it could be developed as a commercial business. They would need to change the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and also the zoning map, according to Islamorada’s Comprehensive Plan.

Perhaps the new owner had been encouraged that it would be an easy process as Pete’s good friend, Ty Harris, the director of planning for the Village, does not hide the fact he believes that all properties fronting U.S. One should be given commercial zoning.


Current Islamorada Zoning Map

Current Village Habitat Map

The Planning Department is tasked with assuring all requirements for a requested change have been met. Then, there is a multi-step process going first to the Local Planning Agency (LPA) for its stamp of approval and then an initial public hearing in front of council, then to the State of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity for a review, and then a final public hearing so that Village Council can pass judgement and make the final decision. That’s where this item is now in the process.

An entire residential community was unnerved about the possibility of this significant change in its quiet neighborhood and the impact on its waterway and its inhabitants. But, the process moved on and the final public hearing took place at the Thursday meeting.

Some members of the new council have limited land use experience and limited understanding of our complex Comprehensive Plan, our local constitution, as it is referred to. 

You can find our Comprehensive Plan: ISLAMORADA: THE VILLAGE THAT RECLAIMED THE KEYS, under Planning Department in the Village website, www.islamorada.fl.us, a 312-page document.

Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler, a land use consultant, declared a conflict of interest as the applicant is a former client and Bacheler submitted the original application for the change. 

The applicant was represented by Attorney Jim Lupino who presented the case. The applicant apparently did not attend the Zoom meeting. Just one member of the public supported the change, Don Horton, a local building consultant. Several attorneys spoke as to the legal reasons the change should be rejected. Numerous other members of the public spoke eloquently about the reason why the change to their neighborhood would be detrimental. 

Councilman Mark Gregg has extensive background as an attorney and a landowner who has had numerous hearings himself and deals regularly with the planning department with his own ongoing development projects. Until elected to the council, Gregg was a member of the LPA when the application for the map change was unanimously approved by them. 

Following long and emotional testimony by the neighborhood opposing this change, Gregg took charge to guide the council discussion and help the more novice council members. He seemed to be attempting to paint a picture refuting the opposing testimony and supporting commercial zoning. 

It seemed obvious to observers that the staff, recommending approval, was doing what they could to sway the vote in favor of the applicant.

The staff report seemed weak at best. Among other issues, it indicated that this FLUM could potentially result in adding almost 100 trips a day to an already overcrowded highway, but indicated that was acceptable. 

The staff report acknowledged that the property contained mostly hardwood hammock except the area nearest the water, but that the hammock is low quality. It did not explain that the “low quality” designation is not because of the quality of the trees, but rather because of the relatively small size of the lot.

All adjoining lots are residentially zoned. If zoning is changed for this lot, this would certainly be classified as spot zoning, usually a planning no-no.

The applicant is required to demonstrate there is a need for more Mixed Use Zoning. We all know of numerous non-residential properties along U.S. One that have been sitting empty, some for years. Why more? 

It was disappointing there were only two members of council, Henry Rosenthal and Buddy Pinder, that understood and cared about the impact of this change on the neighborhood, our community, our environment and our limited infrastructure. Thankfully, only two votes were needed and the vote to change the map failed. A tie vote means the item is not approved.

While our community should be delighted this spot re-zoning in a residential neighborhood was rejected, it was a close call. The next time, it could be your neighborhood. And it could be the neighborhood that loses the battle.


Morgan Bailey is a student at Coral Shores.

She gets it! Perhaps she could be a future village planner or member of council! This was her statement:

“Hi everyone. My name is Morgan Bailey, I live at 174 Airstream Lane. I am 15 years old, and I do not support the rezoning of either of these properties because of the need for more affordable housing and the negative environmental impact.

The first reason I am against the rezoning of this property is because of the need for more affordable housing that these properties would be perfect for. This is something that is in high demand in the keys after the hurricane. Also, most people that work here in the keys usually can’t afford to live here which puts our workers in the keys driving long ways to get from work to home. We need more people to operate the businesses that are already here in the keys, not more businesses.

The other reason I am against the rezoning of this property is the significant negative environmental impact that this will have on our canal. If this zoning law is changed from residential to commercial it opens up so many more opportunities to destroy the delicate habitat that thrives in this particular waterway. This is a unique canal directly off the bay, this is what makes this calm and clean canal a needed sanctuary for endangered species and close to endangered species, such as manatees and the sea turtles that  I see from my window every day. Manatees come down this canal to seek refuge from the chaotic and dangerous traffic in the bay. A manatee even chose to have her own baby at this particular end of the canal adjacent to this property, which shows that this space is a safe sanctuary for them to not be subjected to boat traffic or any other type of watercraft. When motors are idling manatees are attracted to the water coming out of the motor which leads them to the back of the boat, this leaves them vulnerable to injury.

I recently tested the pH level in the canal and the beach at Founders Park. The current pH level in the canal is already 8 which is elevated compared to the Founder’s pH level of 7.5. If a commercial business such as a jetski or boat rental was put at the end of the canal, it is highly probable that the canal’s pH would rise even more getting closer to the pH level of bleach.

Regardless of who will be developing this property whether an individual or corporation, it is not in the best interest of our community or our fragile Florida Keys ecosystem.

In conclusion, if it is one or two more residents added to the end of the canal that is not an issue. But if this particular lot becomes zoned commercial, there is no telling what type of businesses could be put there now or in the future that could significantly alter if not destroy this unique canal’s ecosystem completely. Is it ethical to purposely rezone this area not knowing the extent of the damage that it will inevitably cause? I challenge all of you to introspect and ask yourself if this rezoning is something you can permit with a good conscience. Let’s not forget the Florida Keys is a treasured sanctuary above all else, let’s give our sea life the ability to thrive and not contribute to their extinction.”

Let’s make certain the staff and the Village Council remember the people who live here, our quality of life, our precious environment, limited infrastructure and the standards we established in our Comprehensive Plan.     

What does the Comprehensive Plan say? 

Looking at the staff report, it appeared that even the planning staff could use a Comp Plan review.

Reading from the very first goal in the Comprehensive Plan:


That the Village incorporated to create a Comprehensive Plan to reclaim the Keys by conserving, preserving, and retaining our remarkable assets — our waters and natural environment — and our quality of life;

That the Village is and must continue to be synonymous with sport fishing, diving, the Everglades National Park, the living coral reef, Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key, Shell Key, Windley Quarry, and many species of fish and fowl;

That the Comprehensive Plan must further understanding of the ecological limits of our Keys and prohibit any further degradation of our natural resources by incompatible land and marine activities such as casino boats, sea planes, personal watercraft, and other watercraft that are operated improperly; and

That  the  Comprehensive  Plan  must  describe  public  and  private  actions  needed  to  protect  and  retain  the Village’s waterways and natural resources comprising our unique ecosystem as well as preserve the quiet solitude of the backcountry.

Policy  1-1.1.1: Protect  Residential  Areas  From  Incompatible  Development.   Stable residential areas shall be protected from encroachment by incompatible development.

Policy 1-1.1.2: Ensure Orderly Land Use Transition

Policy 1-2.1.13 Future Land Use Map Amendments. Applicants for FLUM amendments that increase density/intensity shall provide a needs analysis

Policy 1-2.1.14:  Criteria for Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Amendments The Village Council shall make its determination on proposed FLUM amendments on legitimate public purpose.

However,  in  no event  shall  an  amendment  be  approved  which  would  result  in  an  adverse community change

Policy 1-2.3.3:  Residential Medium (RM).  This designation is intended to provide stable, single family neighborhoods and allow for uses which further the peaceful enjoyment and high quality residential character valued by Village residents.

Policy 1-2.4.1: Guide the Location of Commercial Uses and Revitalize Commercial Areas.  Mixed Use (MU) is the only FLUM category in which commercial uses shall be permitted.  The general pattern of commercial land uses in MU shall:

1.Prevent  negative  impacts  on  the  fragile  coastal  ecosystem  by  directing  commercial development away from environmentally sensitive lands and critical habitat;

2.Revitalize all existing commercial areas and further distinguish Village Activity Centers;

3.Restrict the scale and intensity of commercial development outside of the Village Activity Centers and other appropriate areas in the Village;

4.Promote safe and efficient vehicle, cyclist and pedestrian movement;

5.Prevent or minimize Village costs to provide infrastructure;

6.Avoid  encroachment  of  incompatible  commercial  activity  into  established  residential neighborhoods;

7.Enhance the unique character of the Village’s commercial land uses through incentives for buffer yards and landscaping

Policy  1-2.4.3: Commercial  Uses  Located  Outside  of  Village  Activity  Centers. Commercial uses adjoining residential canals, except commercial fishing uses, shall be limited to fully enclosed uses of medium to low intensity.

GOAL 1-3:  LIMIT GROWTH WITHIN THE VILLAGE. Islamorada, Village of Islands shall manage the rate of development and population growth to promote small-town ambiance, improve quality of  life for residents, enhance and protect natural resources and environmental quality unique to the Florida Keys, comply with adopted level of service standards for public facilities

OBJECTIVE 1-4.5:  PROTECT NATURAL RESOURCES. Land Development Regulations shall ensure  that  development  and  conservation  activities  protect  natural  resources

Policy 1-4.5.1: Manage Environmentally Sensitive Lands, water resources, wetlands, upland hammocks, transitional areas, wildlife corridors, sea grasses, the coral reef, other living marine resources and other environmentally sensitive resources