MARCO ISLAND — It’s no urban slum, but Marco government leaders put the redevelopment of Marco’s Town Center on the list of top five priorities of what needs fixing. Marco Island residents and business owners shared their ideas to help create the 150-acre Town Center redevelopment agency at a planning “charrette” Monday evening.
Charrette is a French word used to describe a design session between planners.
While residents and business owners focus on what they would like to see improved in Marco’s Town Center, city officials and consultants will continue working on showing a need, meeting state requirements and getting county approval to set up the community redevelopment agency.
Marty Black, a consultant with Kimley-Horn and Associates, is working with the city’s community development department to facilitate the charrettes and eligibility of establishing a community redevelopment area for the district. The eligibility study is expected in September, he said.
One of the greatest challenges is also one of the greatest opportunities, Black said.
A community redevelopment agency, or CRA, uses increased taxable property values caused by improvements to pay for those planned upgrades in the geographical area. This is great for the Marco area’s potential improvement fund because the median property sales on Island are down more than 20 percent from a year ago, according to Realtytrac.com, and taxable properties continue to drop a year behind that schedule, according to the county appraiser. What goes down, must go back up, some argue. However, it is also a challenge because Collier County needs those tax dollars more than ever.
County Commissioners were less than enthusiastic about the proposal at a joint meeting between Collier County Commissioners and Marco councilors in December, and expressed similar sentiments at the next meeting in February.
The redevelopment area would keep more of the tax dollars generated in Marco’s redevelopment area to pay for the improvements instead of going to city and county general funds. The amount that would stay in the district, if any, is yet to be negotiated by the city and county.
“One of the requirements is that the area is blighted. Do you think there is blight there?” asked resident and Marco Island Taxpayer Association President Fay Biles, directing the question toward Black.
“There are areas I would classify as not Marco,” Black replied.
He added that lack of sidewalks, poor storm water management and unsafe pedestrian crossings are the types of conditions he believes makes the Town Center, of which Elkcam Circle is the hub, worthy of being a redevelopment area. The Town Center does not include any single-family residential streets.
“Folks say it’s Marco Island, how could it be a redevelopment area? Not all areas are places you’d take a visitor to see. Some of the alleys. Maybe you’d take your car there to get fixed, but ...” Black said, trailing off as attendees brought up more ideas.
Monte Lazarus, who serves on Marco’s Planning Board, pointed out that Naples has been able to create two CRA’s, including one on Fifth Avenue, which many would argue was not reminiscent of urban blight at the time, but needed to be improved.
Another topic which may pose challenges is the creation of a community consensus on how best to balance “mixed-use” and low-density. Low density is a community priority that has been indicated year-after-year according to the results of the Marco Island Civic Association’s annual membership surveys.
“There are differing opinions about how much mixed-use should be allowed in the Town Center,” said Constance Aria, who operates a business, Sunrise Psychological Services, in the Town Center area near Bald Eagle Drive and Collier Boulevard.
Mixed-use is any structure used both for business and residential use and may be like the Esplanade, with restaurants and store fronts downstairs and condos upstairs, or may simply be an artist living in their studio, Black explained.
He said he foresaw significant improvements to be possible as early as 2012.
There were about 40 Islanders who visited the charrette Monday at Mackle Park, many of whom said they owned businesses in the Town Center, which is 150-acres and includes a shopping center by the same name.
Bill Rose, who owns Rose Marina within the Town Center area, said he believed housing for essential workers should be a priority in the redevelopment.
“There should be a place on the Island for the nurses, the teachers, the policemen and the firemen. For those people who serve. I think there’s a need and a responsibility,” he said.
Residents avoided the phrase “affordable housing,” but said they agreed with the need for middle class housing. Others said the economy and real estate market declines were fixing that shortage on Island already.
Resident Keith Klipstein said there may be other benefits to mixed use.
“Up north, we encouraged mixed use to draw people after hours. It begs the question of whether we want Marco midnight to still be 9 p.m.,” Klipstein said.
Another charrette, which offers an opportunity for residents and business owners to share their ideas for the Town Center improvements, is planned for 8:30 a.m. through 12 p.m., Saturday, in the Community Room, downstairs from the police station, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.