The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) launched a “Less Than Fee” Program in October 2018 for people who own a home and the adjacent lot in unincorporated Monroe County.
More than 175 homeowners have applied for the program. To date, the County Commission has approved about $1 million in contracts to retire 19 development rights. At the May 22, 2019 BOCC meeting, seven more contracts will be considered.
A “less than fee” is a legal term which means the property owner owns less than all the rights and privileges of property ownership. Under the program, a homeowner retains ownership of the adjacent lot and can use the land for legally permitted accessory uses like a pool, open yard, or shed in exchange for being paid to permanently retire the right to build a home on that lot.
“The County’s Less Than Fee Program process is designed to reduce the residential development potential in the unincorporated portion of the Monroe County through voluntary purchases of development rights,” said County Attorney Bob Shillinger. “The process is straightforward but can take some time to complete because we want to ensure that the lot is eligible for the program, has no code liens or other violations, and that we are reaching an agreement that is fair to both the property owner and the taxpayers.”
Priority is given to lots on Big Pine Key and No Name Key, followed by Tier III lots on other islands. “We are trying to retire as many development rights as possible with limited resources, so we are also focusing on less expensive lots rather than more expensive ones,” said Shillinger.
County staff uses the vacant parcel’s Market Land Value on the tax roll. The value is calculated by the Monroe County Property Appraiser Scott Russell’s office. Russell is an independent elected constitutional officer who does not answer to the BOCC. Upon closing, the property is deed restricted to permanently retire the right to build a residential structure on the adjacent lot.
To be eligible for the program, a lot must have a designation of Improved Subdivision, Improved Subdivision-Masonry, or Urban Residential-Mobile Home; consist of a lot with at least one buildable unit or transferrable development right; and be held in common ownership with an adjacent lot that is developed with a house as its principal structure. Multiple adjacent lots will be considered.
The County prepares and records all necessary documents to finalize the transaction and covers the costs for the title search and recording fees. All contracts are subject to final approval by the BOCC at a public meeting.
The program was created due to state and federal regulations limiting the number of residential building permits that can be issued under the County’s Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO). The State of Florida mandated ROGO due to the Florida Keys’ unique environment, as well as the limited road capacity on US 1, which constrains the ability of residents and visitors to evacuate to safety in advance of major hurricanes.