Saturday, September 26, 2020

Planning Board Votes for Rental Ordinance

By Pat Newman

In a 4-2 vote, Marco Island’s Planning Board passed a controversial rental ordinance at its Dec. 5 meeting. Charlette Roman and Jack Patterson voted against the proposal with Bill Trotter, Marty Roddy, Irv Povlov and Frank Mulligan voting to approve the ordinance with a few modifications to be made by staff before sending it to City Council for debate. Chairman Monte Lazarus was absent from the meeting, with Roddy stepping in as acting chairman.

The decision was made to move forward after another two-and-a-half-hour line-by-line dissection of the document and a final round of public comment. Roman said she favored a “simpler solution” to dealing with the ongoing noise, parking and tardy trash removal caused by some rental units in single family neighborhoods.

“I cannot support this amended ordinance,” Roman stated. “There are elements that are contradictory, especially in regard to state statutes. I don’t want to see the city left open for litigation.” She continued to call the ordinance “overly complex and confusing,” adding “complexity invites non-compliance.”

Patterson was absent from the last meeting due to a physical condition and questioned many of the ordinance’s components. Following a series of public comments addressing the validity of the ordinance against Florida State Statutes, Patterson called the legal objections “legitimate.”

Board member Frank Mulligan called for staff to research some of the questionable legal issues before it is passed to council.

As it now reads, the ordinance will govern all rentals — not just short-term vacation homes and units. Condominiums may have the option to “opt-out” if it is voted upon by its board of directors. Those condo communities who do register, will be required to pay a $150 fee inclusive of all units. The initial registration fee for all rentals was reduced from $250 to $150, with a $100 annual renewal fee. There is also a $75 fire-inspection fee.

The ordinance attempts to shift responsibility of the city’s code enforcement covering noise, trash and parking of cars and boats to the rental owners, providing brochures be given to property owners to distribute to tenants when leases and rental agreements are signed. Another placard must be installed in the rental units covering basic laws.

The noise ordinance will be amended to eliminate the need for decibel monitors and will cover excessive noise violations 24 hours a day.

The protocol for handling code violations is as follows. The rental ordinance, once adopted by City Council, will serve as the first warning. Landlords, homeowners and rental agents will sign an affidavit when they register their properties acknowledging they understand the ordinance. When an infraction is reported to the city, the landlord, homeowner or rental agent will be contacted by phone and given an hour to resolve the problem. If the problem persists, an enforcement officer will be dispatched, and upon arrival, if the noise or code offense is not rectified, a citation will be issued. It’s up to city council to set the financial penalties for citations.

Also to be included in the ordinance is a provision regarding fireworks, requiring anyone who discharges fireworks to have a city-issued permit. Based on eagle and turtle nesting times which can adversely be affected by fireworks, March appears to be the only safe month. Could Marco Island soon host a St. Patrick’s Day Fireworks display?

The question of whether or not call-in complaints should be allowed anonymously was still under debate.

City staffers will now prepare the ordinance for council perusal.

The need for a rental ordinance has been debated by the planning board and city council for about six years. A spate of complaints from homeowners in single family neighborhoods fed up with noise, random parking and trash cans left on the street for days sparked another round of discussion the last several months. A task force was formed to study the problem and the results indicated a lack of data available to track the number of infractions.

City Manager Roger Hernstadt indicated that issue has since been resolved. It was decided by Planning Board to take a model rental ordinance, in this case, the city of Marathon’s ordinance, and make it Marco Island specific. The results appear to be mixed. Marco Island resident Howard Reed called it the “Trojan horse ordinance.”

Kelly Linman who served on the rental ordinance task force, told the board,” I don’t want to see an ordinance going off the track and turning into a train wreck.”

Next stop, Marco Island City Council.

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