MARCO ISLAND — Nearly two years ago Alfred Marchand and Ann Sepe didn’t know much about Marco’s policies and political processes.
It was in April 2008 when they installed a shell driveway believing from their conversations with a city building inspector that the material was not an illegal one to use, they said.
Just as the couple went to get their certificate of occupancy, in June 2008, a city code compliance officer advised them otherwise, they said.
“I didn’t even know what a planning board does until this happened,” said Marchand.
Soon the couple began learning how to traverse through city codes, community planning lingo and political processes.
The couple says they remained positive and calm throughout their ordeal and only recently, they said, did an occasional moment of doubt and skepticism occur.
“We’re not cave dwellers, but I can understand now where that attitude comes from,” Sepe said.
The term “cave dweller” is occasionally used in Marco politics to describe residents who oppose city policy and "cave" is the acronym from the words “citizens against virtually everything.”
First, Sepe and Marchand thought they would only need to convince one man, Community Development Director Steve Olmsted, that shell could be a “dustless material” and thus be allowed under current city code. They would get their certificate of occupancy and enjoy putting the finishing touches on their new Piedmont Circle home.
Then, the couple, who has lived on the Island for several years before building their new home in 2008, attended their first planning board meeting. The board members were to decide if they interpreted the portion of the code, which describes permissible driveway materials as dustless, to be inclusive of shell.
When Planning Board member Marv Needles said he recalled when the code was written and that it was to be inclusive of shell, Sepe and Marchand thought their journey through city debates would come to a pleasing end.
It did not.
Sepe and Marchand said they were waiting for their certificate of occupancy (C.O.) so that they could move into their new home while the city’s movers and shakers made a decision.
They say it was not granted until one day, in November 2008, when a TV news reporter from NBC 2 interviewed the couple and city officials.
The reporter called them back and said the C.O. was going to be issued, recalled Sepe.
“That was news to us and he (the news reporter) only came because the iguanas weren’t out that day and he needed a story,” she said and then laughed.
The certificate of occupancy is open-ended now until the Planning Board completes their review.
Sepe and Marchand say their skepticism grew when the Planning Board, in January 2009, was ready to make a decision and the majority of the board was looking to favor allowing shell driveways. Then, during the meeting, a new opinion was presented by Marco Island Fire Rescue Chief Mike Murphy that shell driveways were not a safe material for rolling gurneys.
“I don’t understand why he is even getting into this fray… To use a gurney as a guideline for safety, safety engineers are going to laugh at you,” Marchand said.
Sepe wondered aloud how shell was permitted and safe enough in higher-traffic public areas of the Island, including the Winterberry ball park, Mackle Park, at the beach and along linear parks, but not in a driveway.
“No one is more concerned about safety than the homeowner. This is not a safety issue,” said Sepe.
At this point in the process, skepticism grew.
“There is something going on in City Hall. They’re not getting along, but I don’t want to be in the middle of this fight. The public shouldn’t be in the middle of the fight. To put taxpayers through this ringer because you can’t make a decision?” said Sepe, leaving the question to linger.
She is particularly concerned that the process is going to start all over again as new planning board members and council members are being seated and will be unfamiliar with the history.
Marchand shared concern as well: “Something, someone, somewhere is playing with the control mechanisms on Marco.”
Sepe added: “There is too much government. I think they’re getting as confused as the citizens are.”
A new draft of the driveway ordinance is being created by City Planner Kris Van Lengen and is to be reviewed by the Planning Board beginning at 9 a.m., Feb. 26 along with a rushed request by City Council Chairman Rob Popoff to complete a recommendation on restaurant parking.
Van Lengen couldn’t forecast whether a consensus was around the bend on whether to permit shell driveways. Sepe and Marchand say they want to keep their driveway for its environmental benefits, particularly limiting storm water runoff and for aesthetics, but more than anything, they want the fight to be over.
They are split as to whether this next meeting, where a required slope for shell driveways is to be set, will mark the end of their journey through the political process.
“I think it is nearing the end,” says Marchand. “I’m sure it’s not,” says Sepe.