Friends & Supporters,
Council had a relatively light agenda in the four meetings held in March and April, so this update covers all four meetings for both months. I will touch upon some of the most significant issues addressed by Council, including a petition to approve off-site parking for a proposed new restaurant in Old Marco, boat canopies, sidewalks, and acceptance by the city of an anonymous $1m donation for Veterans’ Community Park.
Off-Site Parking Agreement
At our March 7 meeting, Council held a quasi-judicial public hearing on a petition to approve an off-site parking agreement to facilitate the opening of a new restaurant adjacent to Snook Inn in Old Marco. The restaurant as proposed would be over 40 feet tall and would have a 268-seat dining room, in addition to exterior deck areas. Under existing zoning rules, there is sufficient parking on and immediately adjacent to the site to accommodate a restaurant with about 170 seats, but no larger. Petitioner sought to get additional parking spots to justify the increase in seating capacity to 268 by supplementing the parking on site with additional parking at 1111, 1117 and 1121 Bald Eagle, which is the current location of Marek’s restaurant. The Marek’s site is around 1000 feet south of the site for the new restaurant, and would provide not only additional parking but also kitchen facilities and storage. Food and customers would be shuttled from the what was formerly the Marek’s location to the new restaurant, or customers could walk as well.
The Planning Board had approved the site plan in a previous meeting, but the plan was contingent upon Council approval of the proposed parking arrangement.
Council chambers for this hearing were as full as for any issue I have seen discussed in the past two years since I joined Council. Petitioner argued that the new restaurant would be another great waterfront location for residents and visitors to dine and enjoy, and they certainly made a persuasive case that the facility would be a strong attraction for customers. However, as many of the residents from Old Marco saw it, this was a real problem. Resident after resident expressed concern that the Old Marco area is already inundated with traffic and visitors, particularly during high season, and that another huge restaurant would simply overwhelm the area. Further, many also expressed concern about the lack of feasibility of remote off site parking in this area, given the need under the plan to increase traffic still more to cover valet and food shuttle traffic.
A traffic study was presented showing that the proposal was workable, but the study in my view and in the view of many residents who testified was insufficient, as the traffic counts upon which it was based took place in 2012, when the area was far less congested.
After hearing all the testimony and public comments, I concluded that I could not support the agreement in the absence of a current traffic study based on current traffic counts. I therefore moved to delay consideration of the request for not more than 60 days while a current and comprehensive traffic study can be completed to assess the full impact upon the neighborhood of the restaurant and parking arrangement as proposed. My motion carried 4-3, and we expect to revisit the proposal with the benefit of an updated traffic study in the near future. Many of our fellow citizens are concerned about this proposal, and I understand their concerns.
Council, the Planning Board, city staff and members of the public have been debating and assessing city rules banning boat canopies for several months now. On April 18, Council gave preliminary approval to an ordinance amending the land development code to permit boat canopies which are affixed to docks. I have supported this change, as have many of my colleagues and members of the Planning Board and public, who see this as a reasonable way for boat owners to protect a major investment. A number of citizens expressed concern about the impact on the appearance of our canals, but I was satisfied that reasonable requirements with regard to color and appearance addressed many of these concerns, and that in any event the property rights of boat owners justify this change to our code. Concerns remain about the need in this first draft of the legislation about the requirement for a building permit before covers can be installed. I have asked staff to minimize the approval requirements while still assuring the safety and appropriateness of the covers. More to follow at our next meeting when we have the second reading of the legislation.
Also at our April 18 meeting, Vice Chair Grifoni presented a position paper supporting the proposition that the city take responsibility for all sidewalks in the City, after they have been brought up to city standards by the adjacent property owner. He also proposed that the matter be placed before voters at our next election to finally and conclusively resolve the matter once and for all. I very much appreciate Vice Chair Grifoni’s excellent work on this matter, but was concerned that turning over all maintenance to the city could prove surprisingly expensive, would increase the city’s liability exposure and insurance premiums, and could drive maintenance costs far higher than projected. Chairman Brechnitz and I expressed concern that this additional expense could result in our inability to hold tax bills flat for our citizens, a commitment all of us on Council take very seriously. After discussion, Council reached consensus not to submit the matter to referendum at this time, but to evaluate the proposal in the context of our budget workshops in the coming months for 2023, when we will have the benefit of updated cost and revenue projections to better assess the affordability and advisability of this proposal.
Acceptance of $1M Gift to Enhance Bandshell at Veterans’ Community Park—an anonymous donor has offered the city $1M to provide enhancements to the existing bandshell design and sound system. In return, the donor has requested naming rights for the bandshell for 99 years, which the donor wishes to name the “Unity” bandshell. This will in no way change the name of the Park—which is and will remain Veterans’ Community Park. The agreement with the donor allows the donor approval rights for how the donated money is spent, allows for appointment of two members to the non-governmental Marco Island Parks Foundation (subject to city rules and ordinances and City approval), and gives the donor the right of first refusal to spend more of his or her own money, before any third-party donors, to sponsor any future concert series or similar programming at the Park. This right of first refusal does not give the donor control over entertainment, but only the right to sponsor it. I asked the City attorney how this agreement binds the city, and he explained that he drafted the agreement to assure that the city was not encumbered in any way in running and operating the Park, with the exception of the naming of the bandshell.
Numerous citizens expressed suspicions online about the motives of the donor or what the city was giving away in exchange for this $1M gift to the community. I reviewed the contract in detail, questioned our City Attorney about it, and have found nothing improper or unreasonable about the limited conditions the donor placed on his gift. I am very pleased to have this generous support for our new bandshell from a member of our community, and was pleased to vote in favor of the agreement accepting the gift.
I hope you and your families had a Blessed Easter. Margo and I are looking forward to a slightly less busy period on the Island as Summer approaches. I will be back with another update in the next month or two.
Thanks again for your continued support! Please like and followmy Facebook page for the latest updates. Take care and God bless!
Greg S. Folley
940 Cape Marco Dr, Unit 2006
Marco Island, FL 34145