In an emotional plea to City Council on Monday, Chef’s Express owner Annie Feinman, expressed her shock and dismay at the way the City has withheld an electrical permit because of unpaid impact fees in the amount of $64,000—fees for which, she says, she never received a bill.
Rick and Ann Feinman and their daughter, Lauren, were present at the City Council meeting on October 18 for the scheduled discussion on restaurant impact fees. Ann Feinman described how she and her daughter opened Chef’s Express four years ago as a small deli and carryout in Old Marco where customers would sit to eat their food at tables in the enclosed courtyard outside their business. (The area is designated a “mall setting” by the City.) In May, when the Feinmans who had been renting two adjacent units, moved out of one of the units, they were denied a permit to move electrical equipment into the kitchen area they continued to rent. Through an exchange of emails they learned that they would not obtain the permit until the bill is paid. Ann Feinman gave a passionate account of how her business has evolved and how she and her family had “brought the area to life” with Chef’s Express, but that unlike other new restaurateurs they do not have millions to put into the business. Her husband also spoke.
Following the Feinmans, Attorney Craig Woodward added his own comments, calling it “blackmail to hold up the electrical permit”. He said, “New ideas are good regarding assessment of impact fees based upon real numbers not just using Health Dept tables. Also there is no logic as to why impact fees expire.” He went on to describe how the units in this shopping center in Old Marco had been used as restaurants at various times in the past, and the Feinmans’ restaurant had no more impact to the sewer than they did.
Business owner, Bill McMullin described the current impact policies as “punitive in the current economic period”. He pointed out that when a resident goes out to eat at a local restaurant, he is not using his own utilities at home, so why make the restaurants pay more?
Vip Grover of the Chamber of Commerce called the $64,000 fee an “obscene” number. He backed an earlier suggestion by Councilor Larry Magel for a one-year moratorium on restaurant impact fees. (It had been pointed out by the City Attorney that a moratorium would require a change in City Ordinances.)
Councilor Jerry Gibson asked if City Manager James Riviere would respond to the Feinman’s issues. Riviere promised that they would hear from him by the following morning. According to Coastal Breeze News sources, the electrical permit has now been issued.
The City is looking at revising the methodology for calculating fees to make charges equitable, and possibly reducing them. The fees are currently assessed based on 40 gallons of water used per seat, when in fact it has been determined that only 27 gallons of water seat on average are used. It had also been pointed out usage varies from restaurant to restaurant. Council asked that the Utilities Advisory Committee work with the City Finance Department to improve the system. Councilors agreed that the matter needed to be resolved as quickly as possible for the sake of supporting local business.
Also, at the City Council meeting, both Betsy Perdicizzi of the Marco Island Historical Society, and Clayton Lietz spoke before Council regarding designation of the Marco Island Cemetery as a historical site.
The original building of worship for the original settlers on Marco–the Church of God– is situated at the cemetery. Many of the earliest inhabitants of Marco are buried in the cemetery. The cemetery is deeded to the New Life Community Church who maintains the grounds. Pastor of the church, Reverend Thomas MacCauley spoke saying he would welcome the official designation, but that it would not “change the Florida statutes”.
Clayton Lietz’s long-term endeavor is to establish an above-ground burial at the Marco Cemetery with a new garden memorial building. The new building would be twelve feet high and would house 100 caskets with niches for cremation urns. Lietz has worked for several years on his aim of building a mausoleum at the cemetery. And in spite of support from the island’s ministers, and many others, he has yet to attain his goal. Current state regulations prohibit Lietz from realizing his dream at the cemetery.
Council commended Lietz on his tenacity in pursuing his goal and agreed that the topic be a scheduled for discussion.
If you have questions, please contact Clayton Lietz at 394-7080