Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Letter to the Editor: Out the Park, but Not in Secret

 

 

My wife and I live directly across the canal from Veterans Community Park. When you’re in the park, you might see us in our family room or grilling on the lanai or chilling on our dock. We have a front-row seat at the Seafood Festival and all the other wonderful events. It’s a real pleasure to live near the park, where we can open our storm doors and let the music flood our house. I would love to see the park built out – but not in secret, and not until the community is brought into the discussion the proper way.

Many months ago, I asked my colleagues on city council to allow me to present a plan for park development, and they agreed to let me do so, but it has not yet happened. I also asked – and my colleagues on city council approved – that we spend money to get a qualified city planner to review the 2009 Park Master Plan and update it to reflect improvements constructed by our veterans’ organizations and also to provide professional planning on how the park might fit into the city’s overall development.

So it was with great surprise that I read in the paper that Marco Island has been negotiating with a developer to build a gigantic hotel near the park – that requires city property in order to be constructed – without first bringing it up with city council, which is legally in control of all of the city properties. This is amazing, and it’s unacceptable.

The city/hotel negotiations involved the city’s selling some of our “density credits” that specify how many people can occupy a certain amount of space. There is a major disagreement about whether the city has any density credits from the park to sell in the first place! So that’s an unknown. But even if we assume there are credits to sell, the next question is, what are they worth? We don’t know! The city’s plan – not approved, not reviewed, and not even discussed by city council, nor ever disclosed to or discussed with the citizens of Marco Island prior to the deal being cut – is to sell the density credits for what the developer is willing to pay for them.

This is obviously wrong. It’s like selling your house for what a buyer says it’s worth, regardless of what your appraiser says. In fact, we don’t have any appraisal – none – on the value of this property. The hotel developer also wants water rights on the canal, to put in dinner cruise boats and to rent kayaks and so forth. We are asking zero, nothing, for those rights. This is wrong. Where is the public purpose in doing that? Water access rights are valuable on Marco Island, as every boat owner knows.

It was only last summer that the city was on the verge of putting a government building in Veterans Community Park, under a ruse that veterans would somehow be served, all in the vain attempt to get a building, paid for in part by the State of Florida. I thought we had learned our lesson then, but apparently not. Here we go again – secret negotiations, with zero attention to what the citizens who voted for the purchase of this property want, just to “get something done in the park.”

Marco Island deserves better much than this. We deserve what I proposed, and council approved, which is an update to the 2009 Park Master Plan before we proceed. The community deserves full, open, and deliberate discussions about how and when we want our park to evolve. Input is also needed regarding if we want to sell this density to fund park improvements or would our citizens prefer that the density be eliminated (as some thought had happened).

Larry Honig

Marco Island

 

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