Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Current issues

Frank Recker

Frank Recker

By Frank Recker, Chairman, Marco Island City Council

City Council will continue to assess several issues. One matter relates to our utility system and how we should establish rate structures, while another involves the topic of transferring development rights.

Recently, our citizen-comprised Utility Advisory Board (UAB) developed several potential options for adjusting the current sewer rate structure. Based on their findings and recommendations, it appeared to be universally accepted that facial inequities existed in sewer rates, and such could be addressed by immediately implementing adjustments to the various user groups. Although Council initially selected a rate structure that would generally result in lower sewer rates for single-family homeowners, Council decided to defer implementation of any changes until an outside consultant completed a formal Cost of Service (COS) study. The consensus was that we needed more analysis of the underlying data and assumptions prior to implementing rate changes. Council concluded that retaining a professional consulting firm to perform this study, instead of placing the entire responsibility on the volunteer citizen committee, would enhance public understanding and acceptance of any future rate changes.

A COS Committee was formed which includes four city councilmen. After much scrutiny and analysis, the COS committee selected the consulting firm Burton & Associates, a firm which is highly qualified and experienced in this area. The Committee is currently working with the consultant in providing data, guidance, and input as requested. The study will evaluate the current water and sewer rates, the distribution and collection costs, and assess the many factors involved in determining rate structure. Several such items include the availability of reuse water for irrigation purposes and its cost, peak demands on the system, capacity costs, user group costs, and allocation of utility debt.

It is anticipated that this study will be completed sometime in April, after which Council will reassess the utility rates in light of the consultant’s study and recommendations. I believe that the actions of Council have been geared to insure that this entire process is, and will remain, objective, fact based, and transparent. It is our goal, in whatever direction the consultant leads us, to have both the Council and the public feel comfortable with any subsequent rate decisions. The more everyone understands the process and the bases for the results, the more likely it is that all user groups will acknowledge any rate changes as being based upon credible facts, assumptions, and data.

Another recent topic of Council discussion relates to the transfer of ‘development rights’ within the Town Center or ‘Midtown’ area of Marco. The transfer of development rights (TDR) is currently allowed for transfers between commercially zoned waterfront properties, both as the sender and receiver of credits, through development agreements. This process, under current ordinances, allows an owner of a waterfront property needing more ‘density’ for a development to obtain density ‘credits’ from another waterfront property owner in order to develop a property for a specific, more ‘dense,’ use.

Council was asked by the Planning Board to select one of several options for its review of the credit/transfer mechanisms in the Midtown area. The illustration presented to Council was the potential development of a mid-range hotel property (i.e., Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, Courtyard, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, etc.) through a developer’s ability to buy density rights/credits from another property owner in the same area in order to have sufficient density rights for the proposed development. In theory, the overall ‘density’ limitations of the Comprehensive Plan (i.e., Citywide density limitations) would not change, but simply be reallocated in such a manner that maintains overall density limitations. Council recommended that the Planning Board pursue one of the alternatives presented, which is the most limited one. This option only considers the potential transfer of residential credits from waterfront commercial property in the Midtown/Town Center area to any commercial property in the same area.

While this study by the Planning Board has only just begun, it will involve the consideration of many related issues, such as infrastructure, traffic, effects on adjacent properties and businesses, as well as potential shifts in density within the affected area. Such a density transfer mechanism would seem to have the potential to stimulate development and improvements in the Midtown area. I personally believe that the private sector can more efficiently and effectively undertake such activities.

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