MARCO ISLAND — It didn't take much time for Marco's Code Enforcement Board to come to the conclusion that they did not want to rehear the longest-heard case in city history.
A three-day hearing by the code board of a case against Key Marco Community Association and Greensward of Marco, a landscaping firm, had been the city's longest.
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.
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 rehearing June 4 on the grounds that the city violated its own ordinances. He said the city should have given his clients at least 30 days after they were notified of their violation to prepare a mitigation plan.
Chief code compliance officer Eric Wardle said there was no violation by the city because the city was following its ordinances by taking the respondents before the code enforcement board immediately and seeking remedy to the habitat damage through mitigation in the time frame allowed by the ordinances.
The board side with Wardle in a 3-2 decision Tuesday afternoon to not rehear the case.
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.
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 had been “irreversible and irreparable” and the board agreed per their May 15 decision.
Key Marco is not just an ordinary gated Island community, but rather is native habitat protected by several state and local agencies. These "irreversible, irreparable" conditions allowed for fines up to $5,000 for each of the two violations and each defendant in the case, for a total of $20,000.
However the board had decreased 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.
A May letter to the city from Weidenmiller had foreshadowed 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.
After Tuesday's decision, Weidemiller said he didn't know if there would be an appeal on the case made to the Collier County Circuit Court.
Ward and Gerry Tsandoulas, president of the Key Marco Association, have both declined comment on the case. Weidenmiller shared his opinion on the case Thursday afternoon.
“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."
Sal Sciarrino and Bob Schuh were the two code board members who voted in favor of allowing a rehearing Tuesday.
“I feel there’s a deep animosity between the city employees and the respondent. I feel there’s a big deep wound here,” Sciarrino said of his leaning toward allowing both sides to be heard on any issue they desired.
The original order is to stay in place until or unless an appeal to the Circuit Case is made and won.