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MARCO ISLAND — Some Island restaurant owners say city parking regulations aren’t fair for the small-fry, stand-along restaurants, compared to the shopping center plazas.
After pleading with Marco City Council and other city officials for years to level the playing field between stand-alone restaurants and restaurants located within shopping centers, the Island’s free-standing owners will soon get their chance. This will be at least the fourth time restaurants’ seating or square footage to parking ratios are to be reviewed by the city in the last four to five years.
Stand alone restaurant owners are to have their cases heard once again. The question this time is, will a solution to appease all parties be found?
Even though there have been changes in the requirements over the years, Joseph Oliverio, who owns Joey’s Pizza on Collier Boulevard and is president of the Marco Island Restaurant’s Association, said stand-alone restaurants haven’t been given a fair shake in comparison to restaurants in strip malls.
He doesn’t understand why an Island ice cream store located in a plaza isn’t considered a restaurant and has lax parking requirements.
Prior to 2004, one space was mandated for every two seats in a free-standing restaurant. That year, the requirement was lowered to one space for every three seats and in 2006 was lowered again to one space for every four seats.
The Planning Board has declined to consider changing the code in discussions since 2006, however increasing concerns are about to change that.
Some, including Councilman Bill Trotter, say those repeated accommodations over the past five years are more than enough.
Others, including Chairman Rob Popoff, say maybe it’s just not right to regulate these free-standing restaurants so closely.
At Monday’s City Council meeting there was a unanimous agreement that it should be discussed again. One thing almost any Islander can agree on is that there isn’t enough parking in the late winter months on Marco Island when visitors outnumber year-round residents on many days.
While Trotter didn’t necessarily agree that the answer was to make free-standing restaurants’ requirements less stringent, he did say it deserved review because perhaps shopping center restaurants’ parking requirements are too lax.
The Planning Board, under the direction of council, put clearly by Councilman Chuck Kiester, is “to level the playing field” for the restaurants.
Restaurants in shopping centers are currently regulated by floor area rather than number of seats as to how many parking spaces they need. Oliverio said he understands shopping centers could be required to have fewer spaces per business, but both free standing and shopping center requirements should be based on interior area rather than seats.
He says the more seats, the less of a parking problem because people can sit right down and be served.
Trotter said he was concerned that seats could be crammed into a small space contributing to an already limited supply of in-season parking spaces.
Councilman Ted Forcht said he was even more perplexed as to how Marco Walk has not been forced or encouraged through any enforcement mechanism to put in a mandatory elevator for about four years, while other restaurant requirements are being enforced.
Oliverio was chosen to represent restaurant owners Monday, several of whom spoke in an April council meeting on the issue, including Joe Franchino, of Cafe De Marco. Franchino has said he also supported a more fair regulation of one parking space required for 200 feet of free-standing restaurant space, which would be more equitable with the current one space per 250 square feet requirement for shopping center restaurants.
Marianne Tirri-Kramer of Sasso’s said in the April meeting that she hoped ongoing parking and other code violations at Marco Walk, which is across the street from her restaurant, would be given attention when considering the matter.
Now it’s up to the Planning Board to see how or if they can level this field.