MARCO ISLAND — Marco's Planning Board is to review whether to allow shell and gravel driveways as well as consider whether to change parking space requirements for restaurants.
Shell driveway consideration
Fire Chief Mike Murphy said he plans to demonstrate how unsafe it is to roll gurneys on gravel.
"We do not object to compacted shell. Loose gravel is the issue," Murphy said.
"I'm against this charade. The rock on the side of this building isn't demonstrative of a compacted shell driveway... It's turning one issue into another. You want to go out to somebody's driveway, I'll go out there with you. It's a misrepresentation of the issue," said Planning Board member Vince Magee.
The reason the board is reviewing the ordinance regulating permissible materials for driveways is because resident Ann Sepe and Al Marchand installed a shell driveway in their then-new home in April 2008. They were told by a building official is was OK, but later learned the city's codes on the issue were vague and the board began reviewing whether shell was a "dustless" material as required by the current code.
Sepe and Marchand have been waiting nearly two years for the city officials to decide if their driveway was legal so that they would be given a permanent certificate of occupancy for their recently built home on Piedmont Circle. The couple has lived on Marco for about 15 years before building their new home. They currently have a temporary C.O. until the issue is resolved.
Murphy said he hasn't seen the couple's driveway.
Member Irv Pavlow said he would take the Fire Chief's word for it that gravel was dangerous for the backs of emergency responders. He didn't need to see it.
New member Patricia Walsh said she would be willing to see the Chief's demonstration or go to someone's house to see a demonstration on other material.
Planning Board Monte Lazarus said he thought the majority of the board was willing to see it. Chairman Jim Riviere, who said on Thursday night that he would allow the demonstration, said he was less amenable to the idea this morning.
City Council-elect Larry Magel volunteered to be the person on the gurney.
Magee said he didn't understand why Murphy would bring up non-compacted gravel material to slow down the board's review of the ordinance because compacted gravel and shell was always an agreed-upon aspect of the regulations.
Murphy said there are gravel driveways on the Island where the gravel was loose and four-inches thick making rolling the gurney wheels difficult and unsafe for the patient as well as the rescuer.
The Planning Board members, audience, Fire Chief, several firefighters and Collier County Emergency Services Personnel gathered outside the City Hall complex as Magel was put into a gurney. Planning Board members pushed Magel on the gurney through gravel that was put on the ground between the building and some bushes. The gravel was not compacted because it's not a walkway or driveway, but a decorative part of the city landscaping.
The board members could not easily push the gurney near the bushes or drag it back out.
The board voted 5-1 to move the ordinance to allow shell driveways if compacted and sloped by no more than 12 percent.
The Planning Board, by request by City Council Chairman Rob Popoff, is considering an ordinance to regulate all restaurant parking requirements on a similar basis. Currently, parking requirements are more strict for restaurants in stand-alone buildings and small plazas compared with restaurants in large plazas.
Also, the measurement for these free-standing restaurants is based on a ratio of seats to available parking spaces while eateries in large plazas are based on restaurants' square footage.
The Planning Board is looking at an ordinance to regulate both by square footage.
The Marco Island Restaurant Association is seeking an ordinance that will not limit their ability to obtain a state liquor license and will also be more equitable between the two building types.
The city implemented a pilot program to remove restrictions on the number of seats allowed until April. So far, one restaurant, Capt. Brien's, applied for that no-cost permit.
Members of the Restaurant Associations said the pilot program didn't help because they needed the rules to change permanently to get their liquor licenses.
Community Development Director Steve Olmsted and City Planner Kris Van Lengen offered several options based on size, seats and other factors.
Planning Board member Monte Lazarus said not counting outside seats in the 4:1 seat to parking requirement, as well as free market economics were additional options.
"Sometimes the simplest option is the best solution," Lazarus said.
"We've always recommended you take a conservative approach," Olmsted said.
State requirements for a liquor license are based on additional seats while currently city requirements limit restaurants' ability to add seats based on their parking.
The Planning Board is balancing their needs with the challenge that parking on-Island is limited and without restrictions, patrons may end up using or abusing adjacent properties if parking is not available.
Van Lengen said if the city chose to reduce requirements for restaurants in plazas of 16,000 square feet or less from the four seats per space requirement to the one space per 200 square feet is an approximate 42 percent reduction in required spaces.
Joe Oliverio, president of the Restaurant Association, said even so, that change would be more fair by making the requirement for restaurants in small plazas or free-standing buildings 20 percent more restrictive than for restaurants in large plazas.
Walsh said there is no solution and such suggested no change be made since parking requirements have been made more lax three times in the last four years.
"Doing nothing isn't always an option... Over the last 10 years we've had a series of relaxing the parking and obviously it's not enough because restaurants keep asking," Magee said.
This entire discussion illustrates the absurdity of trying to create this kind of regulation, Lazarus said. "This solution, ladies and gentlemen, is the market place... There is no problem here," he added.
"Once you liberalize parking standards, you can't put the genie back in the bottle," Van Lengen cautioned of the board.
Lazarus said if the policy had a sunset than the "genie in the bottle effect" could be avoided.
There are about 100 restaurants on Island. All are members of the association, but only 25 of them are active members, Oliverio said.
He added that the temporary pilot program isn't attractive because restaurant owners don't want to buy more seats to use for just two months and still not be able to get a liquor license.
"Not one person in this entire community is here to say there is a parking problem at free-standing restaurants," Oliverio said.
"One to 200 square feet and you're not going to see anybody here anymore asking for more... That solves it," he added.
President of the Marco Island Taxpayers' Association Fay Biles said the only time there is limited parking is in-season. "I think we're going after a seasonal problem... I would listen to the Restaurant Association. I think they know more about what's really going on," she said.
Resident Bob Olson agreed. "There aren't many times when I stand up and agree with Monte (Lazarus)... Let's be pro-business... Make it easier for someone to come in and open a restaurant... Let's keep it simple. Let's keep it a market-driven issue," he said.
Olson said the regulations should be eliminated, but at minimum, follow the association's recommendation, he suggested. Olson is not a restaurant owner.