What's at stake
Key Marco Community Association submitted to the city an application for a near-carte blanche landscaping permit on Key Marco, which was developed by Ronto and which also is known as Horr’s Island.
If you go
Marco Island City Council’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
MARCO ISLAND — Key Marco continues to find itself the home of one of the most controversial landscaping plans in Collier County.
After filing a lawsuit and an administrative appeal earlier this month, Conservancy of Southwest Florida officials say their next move is to ask the Marco Island City Council on Monday evening to put the issue on the Dec. 14 Marco Island Code Enforcement Board agenda.
However, with talks of disbanding the code enforcement board and replacing the volunteers with a paid magistrate, it remains unclear whether the request will be granted.
Conservancy leaders are seeking to protect Key Marco’s sensitive habitat and a rare Indian burial mound there to no avail as Marco Island’s City Manager Jim Riviere continues to support a near-carte blanche vegetation management.
Three entities — Key Marco Community Association, the city of Marco Island and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida — continue to disagree on how to manage the environmentally and sensitive archaeological grounds.
In exchange for the right to build, Ronto, Key Marco’s developer, had agreed to protect the native habitats. A 1990 conservation easement restricted the association’s ability to disturb native plants and habitats. It also allowed the Conservancy access to Key Marco.
Key Marco, also known as Horr’s Island, was designated for protection from development in a 1982 settlement between the Deltona Corp., the state Department of Environmental Protection and five local environmental groups.
“I just wish Key Marco and the Conservancy would make peace with each other,” Riviere said.
“I just wish Key Marco and the Conservancy would make peace with each other,” City Manager Jim Riviere said.
The Conservancy filed a complaint in mid-November in Collier Circuit Court naming Key Marco President Gerry Tsandoulas and Riviere as defendants, seeking an injunction to prevent further landscaping work.
It requests a halt to all vegetation removal and permits, requiring the community to file a signed copy of the 1990 conservation easement.
That same day, the Conservancy filed an administrative appeal with Riviere, asking him to prevent further landscaping at Key Marco and damage to the burial site and native habitat.
The appeal accuses Riviere of exceeding his authority and allowing city code violations.
Riviere sent a letter to Tsandoulas dated Nov. 2 that said “develop and implement vegetation management plans on your own authority.”
The letter “was kind of like a blanket permit,” Riviere said.
The “permit” came just days after the city’s environmental specialist, Nancy Richie, outlined several concerns about the landscaping permit application.
“I strongly recommend that the city attorney review the documents and ensure there is not selective permitting or enforcement to individuals or entities within the city of Marco Island by allowing changes to application forms that exclude ordinance requirements, contractor information and appropriate reference language that could leave the city and community open to legal and/or liability issues,” Richie wrote in the Oct. 28. memo to Riviere.
When Riviere was asked why he approved the permit despite these concerns, he said it was because the application was just a “trial for a new permit application form, trying to make it simpler.
“The letter is a permit. I may stand to be overruled by that someday.”
Riviere has said that the city need not be in the middle and also said arduous permit applications aren’t the way to protect the land.
“Sometimes it’s form over substance,” he said.
The distrust, Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine said, continues following previous violations in Key Marco.
In May 2009, the city’s code officials found “egregious violations” by the association and its landscaper, Greensward of Marco. The code board ruled vegetation damage had to be mitigated; it fined Key Marco $5,500 and fined the landscaper $1,000.
Key Marco fought the ruling and in July, council voted 5-2, with council members Wayne Waldack and Bill Trotter dissenting, to settle the case.
The settlement didn’t require Key Marco to replace native plants, dropped the landscaper’s fine and ended lawsuits against the city. McElwaine contended that vote “completely undermined” the code board’s ruling.
“There is nothing I saw in that settlement agreement that overturned city code ... It appears to me that this permit violates city code,” McElwaine said.
Riviere maintains that Key Marco leaders should be free to make their own choices in landscaping the property.
“If they say they’ll do something, I believe they will. I have no other reason to believe otherwise,” Riviere said.
When asked about the violations reported by the city’s code officials and ruled egregious and irreparable by the city’s code board, Riviere said: “I wasn’t there. I have no idea.”