By Noelle H. Lowery
The main topics of discussion at Monday’s Marco Island City Council meeting were no surprise: the termination of former Community Affairs Director Bryan Milk and the three zoning decisions that sparked the controversy. The shocker came when Interim Director of Community Affairs Joe Irvin reversed one of those zoning decisions during a zoning appeals hearing held at the meeting.
“I was not forced to make the original interpretation,” Irvin explains to City Councilors. “(The reversal) simply is because there is more information that has come through the research I have done. I was given the task to really make sure we do the right thing, to make sure we uphold the integrity of the plan.”
At question was the approval of a conditional use permit the city issued to the Kellys for the Progressive Auto building. While Progressive Auto originally was permitted by Collier County as an “automobile ‘parking garage’ to be used for seasonal storage of private motor vehicles,” the conditional use permit expanded the approved uses to include storage of “vehicles” as defined by Marco Island’s Land Development Code. This list includes trucks, bulldozers, tractors, automobiles, motorcycles, dune or swamp buggies, motorbikes, go-carts, vans or trailers of any type.
When the city approved the changes, the island’s other storage companies — Rizzi Industrial & Storage and Marco Storage — hired an attorney, Douglas A. Lewis, to protest the decision. Among other things, their appeals focused on the conditional use permit not being consistent with the goals, objectives and policies of the city’s Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan.
Last fall, the city issued official interpretations based on these appeals still favoring Progressive Auto’s request. During the hearing, Irvin admitted that he wrote those interpretations at Milk’s request. “Bryan asked me to write them because he had a friend in the building,” noted Irvin.
This is where Irvin departed from the city’s original official interpretation: “When reviewing all of the documents, I have to state for the record that it is my official interpretation that (the conditional uses) are not consistent with the goals, objectives and policies of the city’s Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan.”
After the collective audible gasp from the audience, Councilor Larry Honig asked, “You are saying the original city interpretation had it 100% incorrect?” When Irvin confirmed this, Honig move to continue this item. “This is too much to ask of us,” he said.
Vice Chairman Larry Sacher and Councilor Bob Brown echoed Honig’s statements and asked Irvin to repeat his statement. “You were not under duress,” Sacher confirmed. “Upon further review, you determined that you no longer agreed with the program?”
“I am comfortable with what you just said,” explained Brown. “But there is nothing that happened other than some more investigating on your side that caused you to review and change your opinion to be other than the original interpretation.” Irvin affirmed this statement as well.
As the hearing came to a close, it was understood that Lewis would withdraw the appeal filed by the owners of Rizzi and Marco Storage, and that his clients would be seeking a refund for fees incurred during the appeal process. “We are blindsided on our end, “ Lewis said. “We commend Joe (Irvin) for what he just did… and we agree with that conclusion, but my clients have incurred a lot of money and time to get here. We would expect the fees for the appeal would be refunded.”
Still, the question of Progressive Auto’s conditional use permit is not satisfied. Richard Yovanovich, an attorney for Cleveland Construction Inc. which owns two floors in the Progressive Auto building, plans to appeal the city’s current decision. Cleveland Construction Owner Mark Small was not happy about the turn of events.
“I’ve been on a farm before and so have you, and you know what it smells like,” Small said addressing City Council. “What is going on here is wrong. You folks are doing the wrong thing, and you are working behind the scenes to assist someone to stop trade, and I am pissed.”