Friends & Supporters,
Council had a comparatively light schedule in February with two regular meetings (February 7 and 22) as well as a workshop on a possible rental registration ordinance (February 17). Here are some of the significant issues we addressed:
Boat Covers Now Allowed
The law on Marco Island has prohibited not just boathouses but also boat covers such as the this one. One of our residents, Bill Palladino, was issued a citation by the city and he raised the issue with me. Mr. Palladino’s cover is a design that has already been approved in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties, the City of Punta Gorda, and elsewhere across the State. The canopy structure of the covering is engineered to withstand winds of up to 180 mph, and the fabric itself can withstand 70 mph winds. The canopy can be removed or reinstalled by one person in about 30 minutes in the event of severe weather.
I suggested to Mr. Palladino that he come to a council meeting to request a change to the ordinance. He did this at our meeting in December, and Council asked the Planning Board to consider the issue. On January 7, the Board voted 6-0 in favor of amending the ordinance to remove the prohibition of boat covers. The matter then came before Council of February 7. After hearing extensive comments from citizens, including many who expressed concerns about the safety and the aesthetics of these covers, Council voted unanimously to allow them. Council then directed city staff to work with the Planning Board to come up with criteria to ensure standardization and safety of these covers as the change to the law is implemented. I believe this is the right decision, as boat owners should be able to protect their property at their home in this manner. Concerns about safety and aesthetics can and should be addressed, but do not warrant a continued ban on covers widely in use elsewhere throughout the State.
At our February 7 meeting, Vice Chair Grifoni presented a white paper proposing a referendum to determine whether the City should take over the maintenance of sidewalks after the owner has bought the sidewalks adjacent to their property to established levels of compliance set by the City. This issue has been debated for years by the City, but as of today sidewalk maintenance is generally the responsibility of property owners for the adjacent sidewalks. Council discussed various issues, including possible increased taxes required for the city to undertake this added responsibility, increased liabilities to the city, and the costs and challenges to individual homeowners of maintaining sidewalks on their own without the City’s purchasing power. Following discussion, Vice Chair Grifoni stated that he would bring back a proposed referendum for Council to consider sending on to the voters in time for the elections in August of this year.
Rental Registration Workshop
At our January 24 meeting, Council agreed to hold a workshop on the issue of short term rentals. This workshop was held on the afternoon of February 17. Numerous citizens - homeowners wanting to constrain short term rentals as well as property owners who rent their houses on a short term basis, shared their strongly held views with Council members. Discussion with staff and citizens demonstrated a significant difference of opinion on the number of houses on Marco being used for short term rentals. Additionally, while various ideas concerning rental registration were discussed, I was encouraged to hear some realtors and homeowners who rent express the view that a reasonable compromise could be reached in developing a short term rental registration process. Staff presented estimates that the number of single family homes used for short term rentals was about 880, while citizens in favor of stricter controls presented estimates that were about three times higher. Council directed staff to work with citizens who contest the City’s estimate to better understand their estimates and methodology and see if those discussions might yield a better estimate of the number of houses involved. Further, a majority of Councilors wanted to continue the discussion about whether such a registration ordinance would be helpful at this time, and the matter will be further addressed in upcoming meeting of the full Council.
I realize that many citizens want immediate action on this issue, while many others do not want a registration ordinance at all and feel that it is merely bureaucratic overreach for no good purpose. In this regard, Council was presented with some interesting data from the police department which showed that noise complaints received for the last five months of 2021 were less than half the number received for the same period in 2020 (217 vs. 441) while verified complaints dropped by nearly 80 percent year over year, from 173 to 35. To me, this indicates that toughening the noise ordinance has had a major impact, and that the concerns about rowdy and disruptive behavior has certainly diminished from the middle of 2020 to today. While many concerns remain, the number of complaints and verified violations demonstrates a positive improvement in the situation, which I find to be encouraging. More certainly to come on this issue.
Building Fee Schedules
At our February 22 meeting, Council agreed to update the City’s building permit fee schedules. Despite rapid growth in home prices, the City has not updated these fees since 2011. We now recover less than half of our costs for these inspections. The new schedule raises these fees to cover the full costs for our inspection team to undertake the inspection and permitting work required by State law and and City ordinances. Council approved these changes unanimously, and further directed staff to ensure it can reduce its cost structure if and when demand, currently at a very high level, subsides.
Municipal Code Audit
Although often attributed to Jefferson, it was Henry David Thoreau who stated “That government is best which governs least.” That is to say, government should not intervene in the lives of its citizens any more than is necessary to protect life, liberty and property. Sadly, government rarely does this. Instead, it steadily adds to the demands placed on citizens at all levels- federal, state and local, burdening them with ever increasing statutes, regulations, and in our case, ordinances, constraining our liberties every time they do so. What governments, especially legislative bodies, almost never do is take stock of the laws already on the books to see which are no longer necessary or are redundant, unnecessarily burdensome, or nonsensical.
For example, our existing Code of Ordinances is nearly four inches thick, even though our City is less than twenty-five years old. And we keep adding additional ordinances to deal with new issues as they arise. With this in mind, I asked staff to come up with some ideas for how we could conduct a comprehensive review of our existing Code of Ordinances with the goal of eliminating provisions which no longer, if they ever did, make sense to have on the books. At our February 22 meeting, Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius recommended a process for the City to review the entire Code (other than the Land Development Code, which is being thoroughly reviewed by the Planning Board to align with the new Comprehensive Plan). Very few other cities have tried this, but one that has done so is in Washington State, and the results have been impressive, with whole sections of the Code being eliminated. Staff was directed by Council to come back with specific details specifying how we could undertake such a review here in our City, and we expect a comprehensive proposal in the near future. I am excited by the prospect that we could reduce the burden of extraneous and unnecessary laws on our citizens, thereby increasing the freedoms we enjoy. l look forward to getting to work promptly on this process.
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