Florida Keys

They’re ready to fix their storm-damaged homes and move in. Not so fast, they’re told

This is a bare street at Ocean Isles Fishing Village in Marathon.
This is a bare street at Ocean Isles Fishing Village in Marathon. Keynoter

Three months post-Hurricane Irma, the 126-unit property of the Ocean Isles Fishing Village in Marathon is a ghost town.

It’s at mile marker 53 oceanside, tucked behind a plaza, and could easily be overlooked while driving north on U.S. 1. Most of the studio units are second homes and prior to the storm, there were only a handful of people living in the apartments full time.

All of the peach-colored concrete units are still standing, while those closest to the water are missing doors and windows. Those took on most of the flooding during the Sept. 10 storm, like many other oceanside properties.

Magdalena Jedrzej owns a studio close to U.S. 1, inside of which is a visible water line about six inches off the ground, yet a letter from the city claims all units “likely have substantial damage,” including six to eight feet of storm surge in the waterfront units and “at least 3 feet near U.S. 1.”

The city letter, dated Nov. 7 and addressed to the Ocean Isles Fishing Village board, says that in order to meet National Flood Insurance Program standards, all units will have to be elevated.

Yet Jedrzej and other owners close to the highway say their units are livable and could easily be restored to a habitable state. They say the cost to level the neighborhood and then elevate it will be substantial — money a lot of the owners don’t have, or are unaware they will have to pay.

The city letter says no renovation permits will be issued for an existing unit other than for temporary habitation up to two years.

Jesus Mayan, who owns a unit, said three of the condo board members are “pushing their own agenda and disregarding due process entirely” and are in cahoots with the city and keeping property owners in the dark.

Mayan said a lot of the owners are not informed of the financial implications there will be when it comes to soft costs like engineering and utility work, not to mention how much it will cost to haul all the concrete out of the Keys.

Lori Jones and her boyfriend, Kim Kenney, pose for a picture outside their tent at Castaways RV Park, at Father Tony Way & Avenue C in Big Pine Key on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. Lori and Kim have been living in a tent next to their trailer that was des

David Paul Horan, attorney for the board, said the condo owners have a bigger problem: insurance. Ocean Isles has been hit by three hurricanes in the past 19 years.

“What it amounts to is you have such a loss history that the insurance companies just look at you and go ‘Oh no,’ ” he said, adding that by law, the condo association has to have an insurance policy for the entire property. There cannot be individual insurance.

“Can some of the people redo their unit for less than 50 percent of its fair market value? Yes, but many can’t, and the ones that can are going to drive the insurance absolutely bonkers,” Horan said.

City Planner George Garrett said the real issue is none of the buildings are stand-alone, so it’s not as if one unit can be elevated and the rest remain ground level.

“They can retain their units as long as they rebuild following the flood plain requirements in essentially the same footprint they’re in,” he said. “They’ve been given some options.”

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

Related stories from Miami Herald