1.4 The Planning Approval Process


The planning approval process was mostly a blur, as we started about 11 years ago. At the time most real estate transactions were handled by attorneys as well as real estate agents. I was a very nervous buyer. There were CC&R’s (covenants, conditions and restrictions), many local, county, state and federal (FEMA) approvals, including environmental and biology approvals or waivers.

Old Marathon, 1911

Old Marathon, 1911

The attorney was important to me. Back then I did not have much confidence in Florida real estate agents. Here in California real estate agents are highly regulated, requiring continuing education, and the state of California is big on consumer protection. Buy a house in California and you will know all about it. Our attorney make sure that all of the submissions the seller made to the City of Marathon were complete and could be submitted for the BPAS approval process.

Sombrero Beach before development

Sombrero Beach before Development

The Florida Keys has an interesting approval process. Each city, town and unincorporated area has a different approval process. Know where you may buy! You may not be able to build as you want. There are only a certain number of unbuilt lots per year that are given approval to build. Some areas have a ROGO process, Marathon has a BPAS (Building Permit Allocation System) process. I think it is based on; the water supply, sewer capacity, and the number of people who can be on the one road out of the Keys during a hurricane. Even paradise has its bad points.

Since we bought a lot in Marathon we are in the BPAS process. Basically you get points for certain amenities and improvements such as; being in a subdivision with utilities, having solar panels, having a water cistern, etc. The one that appealed to us was the “patience” one. For every year you wait you get one point. Since we were years away from moving we had no choice but to be patient!  Not my strong suit.

For the submission of documents for approval, there were many.

  • City Planning and zoning requirements
  • Surveyor’s plan with property lines, elevations, easements,
  • Percolation test for septic (not required now, we have sewers!)
  • Elevation Certificates
  • Land Clearing approval
  • Water District approval
  • Florida Energy Efficiency worksheet
  • Product Control Notice of Acceptance (for wind resistant windows)
  • Fish and Wildlife Waiver
  • Electric company approvals and required specifications
  • Architect’s drawings (more on that later)
  • Probably more I do not know about yet

The submission, with all of the documents and fees were a “placeholder” for us. It allowed us to start the process of building points towards a building permit. The architectural drawings the seller had could be changed but still needed to comply with the updated city building and zoning codes. New fees and permits will be required.

The other issue I had was the CC&R’s (Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions) on the lot. They were first filed on 1960. I tried to get an attorney and the City to see if they are still in effect. So far no luck. I think they were unenforceable after 30 years. If so, we may not be able to change the plans originally submitted.