MARCO ISLAND — Marco’s code enforcement board will be deciding whether to rehear a case they spent a historic amount of time reviewing in early May.
What became a three-day hearing by the board of a case against Key Marco Community Association and Greensward of Marco, a landscaping firm, may be getting at least one more day in front of the quasi-judicial board.
Both respondents were found responsible on May 15 for egregious violations committed against two protected native habitat parks in the 550-acre area known as Horr’s Island or Key Marco, located on San Marco Road outside the village of Goodland.
Casey Weidenmiller, an attorney with the firm Salvatori, Wood, Buckel & Weidenmiller of Naples, represents both the Association and Greensward.
Weidenmiller filed a request for a hearing Thursday on the grounds that the city violated its own ordinances.
“Respondents were not allowed the required opportunity to work with the Community Development Director (Steve Olmsted) to prepare a mitigation plan for the properties in question,” Weidenmiller wrote in the May 28 letter to the city.
Olmsted was not available to comment on the regular process or the process in this particular case, however Chief Code Enforcement Officer Eric Wardle, who handled the case, did share why he does not see any violation of city code by city employees.
Wardle said that per the city code, after a notice of violation is given, a violator has 30 days to submit a mitigation plan for the city to review.
Once approved, they have 15 days to complete mitigation unless other arrangements are made, he added.
The city sent a notice of violation to Key Marco and Eileen Ward of Greensward dated March 23. On the same day, a notice of a hearing before the board was sent by Wardle and the respondents were to have defense information delivered to the city by April 8.
“The irreparable/irreversible condition permits us to go directly to a hearing before the Code Board, however, it does not prevent us from pursuing mitigation. They just didn’t present any plan to us,” Wardle said.
More time to compile a defense packet was requested and granted.
City code enforcement officials said the damage caused by Eileen Ward of Greensward and the Key Marco Community Association was “irreversible and irreparable” and the board agreed per their May 15 decision.
The “irreversible and irreparable” condition deemed of the habitat, which is protected by several state and local agencies, allowed for fines up to $5,000 for each of the two violations and each defendant in the case.
However the board lowered the fines, decreasing Ward’s fines and fees to a total of $1,000 and the association’s to a total of $5,500. The association was also to work with the city to develop a mitigation plan within 45 days to repair as much damage as possible to both the Indian Mound and the 8-acre protected native habitat park near the entrance of the gated community.
In addition to the recent request for a rehearing, the letter from Weidenmiller foreshadows the possibility of an appeal.
“The respondents believe that there are several errors that will lead to the Circuit Court overturning the decision on appeal,” Weidenmiller wrote.
Ward and Gerry Tsandoulas, president of the Key Marco Association, have both declined comment on the case. Weidenmiller shared his opinion on the case after press deadline Thursday afternoon, confirming an appeal may be imminent.
“It is unfortunate that the City of Marco Island refuses and fails to follow its own Code of Ordinances, and yet is quick to pass judgment on those it alleges violate the very same ordinances. We would think in these difficult economic times the city would not waste taxpayer dollars so foolishly," Weidenmiller wrote in an e-mail to the reporter.
"We are hopeful that, before the extreme expense of yet another appeal is shouldered by the residents of Marco Island, the city will rethink its initial decision to ignore its own Code of Ordinances, and provide the respondents with the due process and lawful treatment that they deserve and is required."
The seven-member code board will have two new members with terms that began June 1.
Councilman Chuck Kiester appointed Carol Glassman and Councilman Frank Recker appointed Joe Batte.
Wardle said the previous board, which included members Bob Schuh and Donald Schwartz, will decide upon whether to have a rehearing. The new board may then rehear the case.
The rehearing request is scheduled to go before the board 1 p.m., Tuesday, June 9, in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.