The Marco Island City Council appears to be at odds with both the city’s planning staff and the community’s planning board. The issue at hand is one that is complex and emotional in nature. It deals with how, if at all, an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) might fit on the island and meet the requirements of the Land Development Code (LDC).
The planning board originally had two individual developers looking to construct two distinct facilities here on the island. Changes to the LDC had been drafted by one of the developers and presented earlier this summer. However, the document contained issues concerning the city’s Land Development Code (LDC). The developers sought to have the projects identified as commercial, rather than residential, as defined by state statute. The residential definition would limit the usage to 26 living units per acre, therefore limiting an increase in island density.
One of those proposed developments was planned for a 1.3-acre parcel on South Barfield. The total number of units being proposed stands at 81 units, with 40 of those set aside for “memory care.” That number well exceeds the 26 units allowed under the code per acre. That developer had been turned done by the planning board late last month and his proposal had now been brought before council.
The developer was represented by Robert Mulhere, by Hole Montes, the planning professionals from Naples, Florida. The city staff and the planning board rejected their request due to density, health and safety issues. They did not find it in compatible with the city’s LDC, although they were sympathetic to the conceptual nature of an ALF. They were especially concerned regarding having one constructed on a “barrier island,” and the challenges that would present not only to residents of such a facility but the strain it would put on the community’s first responders should a major storm event occur.
Marco Island came under a mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Irma last year and during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Mulhere would point out that under the city’s current zoning the developer would not have a “financially viable project.” Planning board member Ronald Goldstein would point out that it was not the city’s responsibility to insure the financial viability of any project, but instead insure that the city’s codes and ordinances would be followed.
The board would also have concerns regarding unintended consequences of altering the LDC and exposing the island to other types of group home living facilities, which could lead to increases in density and other challenges within the community.
As part of the process, the ordinance was brought forward to the city council on September 4, after the planning board had rejected the proposed legislation and voted to not recommend its passage. Once again the developer’s representatives framed the discussions relative to the need for this type of project and the inability of it to be a profitable venture for the investors.
The developer found a more sympathetic ear in front of council at the September 4 meeting, as most of the discussions were held regarding the services it might offer.
“There is a lot of interest in having such a facility here on Marco Island,” commented Councilor Charlette Roman during the debate. Roman went on to criticize the planning board for only looking at an ALF as “only residential and nothing else,” commented Roman. However, Florida State Statutes identifies ALF’s as residential under the Florida law for the purposes of zoning and planning purposes.
Roman would be in favor for amending the LDC to provide for alternate ways to calculate an acceptable formula to determine the density allowed on a parcel seeking to have an ALF built upon it.
Councilor Howard Reed would speak to some of the concerns he had heard from the debate before the planning board, such as the need for an emergency evacuation should a storm require such an action. The response from Mulhere was simple, “That’s an operational function,” therefore implying council should not consider that issue under their responsibility.
Council would vote 5-2 to approve the ordinance on first reading and ignore the staff and planning board’s recommendations.
At the planning board meeting on September 6, the subject was again revisited and discussions centered on how that board might proceed. The vast majority of those members disagreed with the council’s actions and were concerned regarding the unintended consequences regarding the board’s acceptance of the developer’s proposal to allow it as a “conditional use.”
Some felt there was little or no discussion as to the legislation’s compatibility with the Comprehensive Plan or Land Development Code for the island. The developer had never discussed “conditional use” with the planning board or was it part of the original application.
The advertising of the ordinance before council was therefore not in compliance with the requirements by law and would therefore require the process to begin again. This would require two additional advertised hearings and subsequent discussions. That would be a requirement due to changes allowing “conditional uses.”
The board’s attorney would be meeting with the city attorney to determine the best way forward, but strongly suggested that the entire language within the code be “cleaned up” as part of the process.
“There was no mention at the council meeting as to how this would impact our “comprehensive plan,” said Board Member Ed Issler. “No matter what you call these projects they have residents. They have water, sewage, traffic, parking and other impacts,” said Issler.
Board Chairman Erik Brechnitz suggested that his fellow members approve his desire to reach out to the council to suggest that council return the issue to them for further review.
“I don’t see that the council is looking for further input. I see it as a rejection of our Comprehensive Plan,” said board member Goldstein.
The board would reluctantly allow Brechnitz to discuss the issue with council to see if an accommodation can be reached and further review take place on the matter.