MARCO ISLAND — Hideaway Beach officials and residents may consider giving up the $1.6 million Collier County offered them for beach renourishment due to possible challenges in meeting the county’s condition that the gated community install a public bathroom.
A point of concern in installing the bathroom is that it may obstruct the beach view for residents, said Katie Maline, Hideaway’s construction project manager.
“One of the options is there is no bathroom and we pay for the (beach renourishment) project ourselves,” said Richard Freeman, chairman of the Hideaway Beach District Board.
The district, representing a private community of about 620 households in the Hideaway Beach development, met Thursday to discuss all options including proposed locations, seeking money from FEMA or just completely abandoning the project.
Freeman said the next step is to see what residents want as the three condo associations and the homeowners’ association meet in December.
Collier County commissioners narrowly approved the use of $1.6 million in “bed taxes” to help stop Hideaway Beach from washing away by installing six beach erosion controls, called t-groins. The “bed tax” comes from a 4 percent charge on all hotel rooms and other short-term stays in Collier County.
Commissioner Jim Coletta was the swing vote and said he would only approve the spending if Hideaway homeowners added a public restroom for visitors.
Hideaway’s management has proposed several locations and the county has proposed a location for the bathroom, but so far they have not been able to agree.
Maline said the bathroom design proposed by the county was “very elaborate, very large.”
She hoped to get approval for a portable toilet, but the county rejected it, looking for a more permanent, environmentally safe facility.
The design seems to be agreed upon and the bathroom for public use at Hideaway, if they go forward, will be a nine-foot by nine-foot “concrete slab, drain in the middle, hose it down type of situation,” said Maline.
The location proposed by the county is near Hideaway’s “aquascapes,” small man made waterfalls near a walking path along the beach that is accessible by boat.
“There is a possibility we could hide it,” Maline said of the bathroom in that location.
She said she preferred a location near Hideaway residents’ private picnic area. The county rejected that idea because there is no boat access, due to shallow water leading up to the area, and pedestrian access is limited because it is among the further locations from Tigertail Beach.
Much debate centered around Hideaway getting approval for financial assistance because it is a gated community which blocks all vehicular access to the beach, leaving only limited boat and pedestrian access. Even when boats and pedestrians do make it to Hideaway, much of the coast line is marked with “private property” signs.
A county requirement to receive Tourist Development Council dollars is that projects must be deemed to be in the public interest.
Tourist Development Director Jack Wert said the idea is to support projects that promote tourism.
Commissioners questioned whether most tourists could access the beach at Hideaway. There is no public parking, and if you don’t live on Hideaway you can only get there by boat, or by walking over from Tigertail Beach.
Bruce Anderson of the Hideaway District said he hopes the county-approved public bathroom will only be open when Tigertail is open.
“(When the bathroom is open) is a significant point, if we ever get to building this bathroom, which I don’t think we will,” Anderson said.
Coletta maintained that he would not reconsider the bathroom.
“Without the bathroom this deal is null and void. The bathroom is a deal breaker,” Coletta said.
He said he believed the public bathroom was necessary in order for pedestrians to walk from Tigertail to Hideaway to enjoy the beach.
“It’s a heck of a jaunt. A person would have to use a restroom facility once they got there,” he said.
Coletta did not seem to think Hideaway would change their mind from their July agreement.
“Their integrity is too strong to go back on their word,” he said of the Hideaway community.
Commissioner Donna Fiala has been a supporter of Hideaway Beach receiving money from the county for the project.
“Obviously access to Hideaway Beach is not easy ... the public can get there by boat or walk .6 miles from Tigertail, which really isn’t that far ... That is why I supported it,” she said of boat access in particular.
Fiala also believes the public restroom may be a win-win for the public and Hideaway residents.
“The people of Hideaway have complained to me in the past because they didn’t like people using their bathrooms because they are private,” she said.
This isn’t the first time tourists have helped fund Hideaway’s needs. In 2005, Hideaway Beach received $2.9 million in tourist development tax money to fight erosion. Though the beach doesn’t meet the county’s public access guidelines, county commissioners that year approved spending the money because they determined it was “in the public interest.”
According to Naples Daily News reports, it was meant to be a one-time deal. But with the washing away of nearby Coconut Island, the Hideaway sands have continued to disappear without a barrier island to protect it.
At the June commission meeting, Marco Island residents and leaders argued that the county should support the project because it’s still in the public interest and is a continuation of the 2005 project. Hideaway residents nearly matched the 2005 county contributions and are expected to pay about half or more this time as well — if they agree to build the bathroom. The project is $3.5 million for six more t-groins and the sand to protect the middle section of the beach.
Bill Trotter, chairman of the Marco Island City Council, said the cost of the project would be covered by less than six months of the city’s contributions to the tourist development tax.
The city of Marco Island also approved a $1.6 million loan to Hideaway in September, an unprecedented loan of tax dollars to a private community.
Bill Harrison, the city’s former finance director, served as the liaison with the Hideaway tax district, the only dependent taxing district on Marco Island. He encouraged council approval in September because “it would take time that we don’t have and extra dollars we don’t need to spend” to hold a referendum for Hideaway residents to approve paying higher taxes to fund the project themselves.
The city will charge 4 percent interest and earn $40,000 on the loan in the first year.
Hideaway homeowners are also in the process of paying $400,000 to protect a narrow road that leads into the gated community.
The rock wall will provide immediate protection to the roadway, which was constructed by the developer about 30 years ago. The emergency improvement will also protect the city’s investment in the utilities that are under that roadway, Harrison said.