Marco Island’s Planning Board generally assumes a role of decision-making, not discipline. But on Friday morning, the council-appointed board found itself doing both, scolding the Public Works department for what some members said was a simple case of being a bad neighbor.
The board also voted 5-1 to recommend rejection of a conditional use permit by Public Works Director Rony Joel to relocate the collections and distribution arm of the utility to the city’s south plant, which abuts Mackle Park and a neighborhood of single family homes. Board member Vince Magee voted in the minority, and member Monte Lazarus was absent.
However, the board’s vote does not prevent the request from going forward to City Council for deliberation. It simply stands as a resounding disapproval by the board, which acts in an advisory capacity to the council.
The request included plans to move 12 utility employees to that location as a base of operations, plus an intent to locate four steel storage containers at the site. Joel explained to the board that three of the containers were already there, and he would be adding a fourth.
But the plan was rejected after testimony from four residents, three of whom recounted experiencing more than a year of constant disruptions from noise, smell, dust and even leering workers peeking over the fence and through the window of one home.
Joel was earnest in addressing the complaints from those residents living near the plant, calling the concerns “legitimate” and the behavior of contractor workers “totally inappropriate,” but the board indicated that it wanted some resolution to the issues before it could condone the conditional use.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re being a good neighbor,” Magee said. “You’ve got to make some specific rules. When people come onto city property they’ve got to conduct themselves with some dignity.”
As part of his vote to approve the request, Magee stipulated that Joel should draft an apology letter to the resident who reported that workers have repeatedly peered over her back yard fence and through her kitchen window at she and her 19-year-old daughter. He also requested that Joel send letters to all city contractors outlining the city’s expectations for good behavior when they are on the island.
“I feel for your position, Rony, and I want to support it, but there needs to be a code of conduct for how these people act and how they represent us.”
Board member Brian Moss told Joel he could not support the request because he felt that Joel had done little to look into alternative locations for the collection and distribution staff. The 12 workers need to be relocated from the north facility, Joel said, because upgrades to that plant are imminent, and five structures — including one housing those employees — would be demolished as contractors begin work at the site.
Member Marv Needles spoke similarly to Moss following his “no” vote.
“I think if the alternatives were better addressed and identified in terms of other locations, I would be comfortable with it,” Needles said. “I just haven’t seen an explanation of why other locations would not be okay.”
Joel tried to deflect some of the criticism, saying that the south plant is the only area with the room to accommodate the workers, who need facilities to shower and change, as they often have the dirty job of fixing water and sewer leaks.
“We have over three water leaks a day on the island,” Joel said. “It’s a busy crew.”
He said, too, that much of the noise and disruption residents were complaining about was related to expansions at the south plant and the use of the site as a staging area.
“The neighborhood has had a legitimate complaint in the past when we have used that facility for staging, debris and loading,” Joel said. “That activity stopped over six months ago.”
That comment elicited outraged comments from the few residents present, one of whom shouted, “Liar, liar, liar. I have it on tape.”
Mike Sullivan, a resident whose property abuts the plant, told the board that Joel has acted toward him with arrogance and that public works activities are “ruining people’s property.”
“You are our last hope to stop him from doing stuff back there,” Sullivan said.
After the board voted, Sullivan and his fellow residents each approached the board members to shake their hands and thank them. However, the request will now continue forward for City Council deliberation, with the board’s recommendation attached.