The Marco Island Planning Board literally found themselves torn between doing what they know the community may see as a need and balancing that with their responsibilities as stewards of the community’s zoning and development regulations.
At the recent meeting, some said the “cart had been put ahead of the horse.” They were referring to the fact that developers who will be proposing two separate ALF (Assisted Living Facilities) and ILF (Independent Living Facilities) came forward and mixed a discussion of those facilities with an explanation of why they would be compatible, if certain changes were made to the city’s Land Development Code.
One of those facilities would also offer “memory care” as part of their provisions.
Planning Board Chairman Erik Brechnitz began the meeting by attempting to have the discussion initially focus on the viability of “group facilities,” and their practicality on Marco Island, either as a commercially zoned entity or as a residentially zoned use.
“As a residential facility under the present Land Development Code I don’t see this as being feasible economically. It’s probably not even feasible even if we decide it is commercial with significant changes,” said Brechnitz.
Board member Ed Issler questioned the rationale of placing such a facility on a barrier island and would reference the recent issues surrounding the impact of Hurricane Irma. He would also point out that one of the facilities might impact density, by adding the potential of 650 possible residents, some with physical issues requiring special needs.
“As planners we have a responsibility to consider the health and safety of our citizens,” said Issler.
Board member Joe Rola made another similar observation. “Residents paid ten million dollars to reduce the density on the island when they purchased the Glonn property,” said Rola. He also went on to mention the recent discussions of the city taking over the EMS services for the island, including medical transport and how that might be impacted should we take that responsibility over.
Board member Dick Adams commented on the fact that MICA in recent surveys showed support for this type of service and the fact he saw the need for these facilities on Marco.
“When you look at our island and its aging demographic this makes sense,” said board member Frank Mulligan. He also spoke to the fact it would be the responsibility of the developer to do the adequate planning for the concerns being voiced. “People want to stay here and not have to leave,” said Mulligan.
“I’m not so concerned about impact on our infrastructure, but I am concerned about the health and safety, especially if evacuation is necessitated. Something like this really needs to be planned for,” said board member David Vergo.
“Clearly there is a need here for these services. I am concerned about the unintended consequences. Evacuation plans that make sense. There is a reason these types of facilities are not found on barrier islands; it’s not best practices for emergency services.
“I am also concerned that under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act that allowing a group home of this kind puts us into a position of having to allow lots of other uses. I’d have to be convinced that allowing these facilities would automatically qualify us for lots of other things that wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community,” concluded Brechnitz.
Local Attorney Craig Woodward would come forward on behalf of his client and explain that Marco Island did have a history regarding “group homes,” and that they were in fact included within our LDC. Under that provision a 1,500 square foot home could have six individuals being cared for and a 1,900 square foot home could have up to eight individuals receiving care.
He also went on to explain that in 2003 a developer did receive approval from the Marco Island Planning Board and City Council for a rather large ALF/ILF facility out on San Marco Road. That would have been built on the property now owned by the Marco Island Academy, as plans for that project were not followed through on by the developer.
Woodward discussed details regarding the projects the developers would be proposing, which caused board member Issler to question why anything specific to those projects would be discussed now, when they only were supposed to be dealing with the potential of LDC changes.
Woodward explained that he was attempting to put the discussion into perspective, the differences between a single family home and an ALF/ILF facility. “In my experience it is very difficult to deal in the abstract and much easier to show how this relates,” said Woodward.
City staff has initially ruled that they see this use in the same context as a residential unit and Woodward and his clients relate to them in a different perspective due to their use.
The one project being proposed would be on a 12-acre site which encompasses the Naples Health Care Campus at the intersection of Bald Eagle Drive and San Marco Road. The developer is proposing to purchase that site from NCH to build their facilities there, while rebuilding and modernizing the present urgent care facility.
The second developer would be purchasing the former property which housed the Sanitasole adult care facility located on South Heathwood. That developer would add the empty lots on each side of the original site for construction of their ALF and Memory Care Facility.
A number of residents including Mary Lee Kocourek, Judy Kenney, Bonnie Woodward and Natalie Kirstein all came forward to relate their experiences with spouses and/or parents who have or will be in need of this type of facility if it were to become available on Marco.
Daniel Smith, Marco Island’s Director of Growth Management explained it was his job to make the call on how this type of facility should be defined, commercial or residential. “Based upon how our codes read and state definitions for all points and purposes, these are residential units,” said Smith. He was therefore required to deny the initial request because of a lack on adherence to the Comprehensive Plan, as the petitioner’s desire was to see the units described as “commercial.”
Smith did not close the door on the issue, but instead pointed out that it would be up to policy makers as to where they wished to go from here. Should they desire to move forward to provide this type of service on the island, work would have to be done regarding the LDC and Comprehensive Plan to address a number of issues to make it acceptable, according to Smith.
It was agreed upon at the end of the meeting that the applicant and staff would meet to work through many of the issues and bring back potential changes leading to a resolution of the issue at the planning board’s July 6 meeting for a report.