MARCO ISLAND — Solar proposals for Tract K reignite an old flame for a Marco Island High School and have many Islanders and government officials looking back at the history and perceptions of the intended use of the Collier County School District’s remaining 11-acre vacant Island property, known as Tract K.
MOVEMENT FOR A MARCO HIGH SCHOOL
College professor and Island resident Mario Sanchez is looking for stakeholders in education to take charge in the Island’s future. Sanchez announced a “Town Hall” meeting 10 a.m., Saturday, at Mackle Park.
A small group of about 12 Islanders met Jan. 24 and now Sanchez hopes to draw more engaged community members to the table to discuss the prospects for a future Marco Island high school this Saturday.
“We’re hoping to gauge the willingness and commitment of the community to bring a high school of excellence to Marco Island,” Sanchez said.
Nearly everyone seems to support an Island high school and education conceptually, but now it’s a matter of who will “actively” go for it, he added.
Fay Biles, President of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association and member of the Foundation Board of Florida Gulf Coast University, has been working with FGCU, Sanchez and other Islanders on the concept of a highly academic high school on Island for at least two years, Sanchez said.
Biles said the three Island properties set aside by Deltona Corporation for the Collier County School District was always understood as being appropriate for what would become the future Island elementary school, middle school and high school. The high school is the remaining piece of those goals, she added.
“This Island is screaming for a high school and no one seems to be hearing it yet,” said resident Roger Hall.
Hall said if the community put the same kind of energy into obtaining a high school that it seems to be putting into obtaining an electric company, the Island would eventually get its wish.
Resident Bill McMullan, who said he had three daughters who did well at Lely High School, now says Lely is not providing the same level of education.
“It’s a D school. We can do better than that,” McMullan said.
“I think a lot of this high school talk started from bigotry. The charter middle school started that way,” said Monte Lazarus, who is vice president of United Energy Technology, which formed in August 2008 with proposals for solar projects on School District land, including Tract K.
Hall said he did not believe racism was the issue.
Islander Harvey Goldberg said the excuse that the land is too small just “doesn’t sit well” with him.
“Urban schools are built on much less than 11 acres ... I think the School Board set a list of criteria that just doesn’t fit Marco Island,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg also said he didn’t believe UET was being forthcoming about the amount of money they would be looking to make off the solar enterprise on Tract K.
UET CEO Gary Elliott said a group of private investors, the School District and UET would likely negotiate a three-way split of future profits off electric sales to a power company such as FP&L.
Goldberg said the government land should be used to benefit the taxpayers.
City Councilman Ted Forcht said a Marco Island High School may be the cure to the Island’s “in-fighting.”
“Although personally I’m not sure Tract K is the right place. I think it’s too much of a residential area for school traffic ... There is bound to be a solution. So far we’ve been too busy fighting to find it,” Forcht added.
TRACT K ZONING
Tract K is zoned single-family residential. Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said that “schools and electric generating facilities are conditionally permitted uses” within the residential district.
“The property would not need to be rezoned to accommodate either a school or solar field. However, that is not to say that an application for either would automatically be approved,” Olmsted added.
An application for a conditional use permit is required to be reviewed by the Planning Board in a public hearing followed by consideration and final action by City Council at a subsequent public hearing, he said.
EDUCATIONAL RESTRICTIONS MAY NOT EXIST ON TRACT K
City Attorney Alan Gabriel said following the meeting between City Council and the Collier County School Board Jan. 20, he searched county records for restrictions on Tract K.
“I have seen no evidence of a restriction applicable to Tract K,” Gabriel reported to City Council and the Eagle.
“Thus Tract K may be developed in any manner that complies with the City’s Land Development Code, subject to the further environmental limitation caused by the presence of the bald eagle nest located within the subject Tract,” he added.
The Collier County School District agreed with Gabriel.
“I have learned from our Chief Operations Officer (Michele LaBute) that it is a misperception that there are deed restrictions on Track K. There are none,” reported Collier County School District spokeswoman Sarah Hamblett.
Biles is among several Island residents who are still under the impression that educational or school use was the intent for the land.
“It may not be in writing but it’s always been understood. I don’t care what the attorney says, since day one, since 1967, we knew this land was plotted for the schools,” Biles said.
Lynn Bradeen, a former president of the Marco Island Civic Association, said he holds many documents on the issue. MICA took control of all deed records when Deltona Corporation completed the Island’s development.
“The School Board sued Deltona to get three properties on Marco Island that were promised as school sites. Deltona settled out of court and the settlement stated it was to be used for ‘educational purposes,” Bradeen reported to the Eagle in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman from the Collier County Clerk of Courts said the settlement agreement is available for review and print on microfiche.
“There are no deed restrictions on Tract K like there are on most properties on Marco Island. ... There was always an understanding by all parties that Tract K would be used some how for school or community purposes,” Bradeen reported.
The Eagle will follow-up on the records for this land in upcoming issues.
Everyone is invited to attend the Town Hall meeting for a Marco Island High School 10 a.m., Saturday, at Mackle Park, 1361 Andalusia Terrace.