MARCO ISLAND — Several Marco residents are getting tickets before they even leave their driveways, leaving some Islanders and elected officials saying police and code officials are going too far.
“We do not issue citations for parking in driveways, however we do issue citations for blocking sidewalks,” said Eric Wardle, chief of code compliance.
Wardle said police were asked to assist with parking problems occurring on nights and weekends, including parking in swales, on lawns and obstructing sidewalks.
Police Chief Thom Carr said officials are working to reeducate citizens of ordinances that have been on the books for years.
“We have received many complaints about blocked sidewalks, so we must take some enforcement action,” Carr said.
City Councilman Ted Forcht said he has been receiving dozens of e-mails about residents upset over getting ticketed in their own driveways since this “beefed up enforcement” began in August.
City Manager Steve Thompson followed up on the issue and said that “over the past few weeks police and code compliance have stepped up efforts to address parking and neighborhood disruption, as discussed with City Council, and we do continue to receive calls about parking enforcement efforts.”
Parking problems were among several code violations, including noise and high-occupancy, being reported by neighbors of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. When City Council decided earlier this summer to delay approving an ordinance to regulate resort rentals, councilors also discussed stricter enforcement of the ordinances already on the books.
Forcht said he didn’t think council agreed to beef up enforcement so strictly.
“Aggressive enforcement is something I’m opposed to ... I knew we’d run into this problem,” Forcht said of the complaints he is getting from “real residents.”
The complaints are coming from full-time residents, whose bumpers went over the bottom edge of the driveway and into the sidewalk, not the weekend visitor, he explained.
“They’re saying they are getting a ticket at 3 a.m. Sunday night and then another one is left on their car at 11 a.m.,” Forcht reported.
“If some of your readers have multiple tickets or warnings, I would encourage them to bring them to me at the police department and I will see to it that it does not happen again,” Carr assured this reporter.
Blocking sidewalks and parking in the swales between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. has been a reported problem over the past several months and many of the issues are presently addressed with warning citations, Thompson reported.
Resident Lisa Meurgue was among the dozens of residents who contacted Forcht and other councilors after vehicles were ticketed at her home. She wanted to understand why.
City Councilman Chuck Kiester responded, saying one of his house guests was also a target of the beefed up parking enforcement.
“While it is not a safety issue at 2:45 a.m., it could become one beginning as early as 6 a.m. for children trying to ride their bicycles or walk to school being forced out onto the street, where, as fall approaches and vehicle drivers may be unable to see as clearly in their rush to the office, it could lead to a worst-case scenario,” Kiester said.
Another Marco resident, Gina Sisbarro, wasn’t able to be reached over the holiday weekend, but was among the residents who sent e-mail to City Council in late August upset about getting ticketed while parked at home.
She said a special interest group was demanding this action to the detriment of good residents and neighborhoods.
Kiester said it appears the enforcement agencies were taking the direction of council too far when they decided to address short-term rental problems by enforcing the ordinances already on the books. He said current ordinances need to be enforced, but an ordinance to address the problems of resort rentals in particular would be better.
“I say use discretion and ticket those vehicles or deal with those home owners who are abusing the situation and becoming a nuisance in that particular neighborhood. Why go after neighborhoods that do not have a problem and neighbors are not complaining?” Sisbarro wrote to City Council.
Sisbarro went on to say that police are her heroes. “Don’t make them a nuisance for following orders … This is supposed to be Marco Island, not Gestapo Island.”