MARCO ISLAND — Magical chairs is played a bit differently on Marco Island where instead of taking seats away, more seats are continually being added to restaurants.
Now, it’s open season for at least the next two years as restaurants can add as many seats as they can fit, as long as fire codes are followed.
Council, in a 5-2 vote with Councilmen Chuck Kiester and Wayne Waldack voting “no,” approved an ordinance revision to once again relax restaurant parking and seating requirements for restaurants located in buildings or plazas smaller than 16,000 square feet.
The decision came after significant debate and was followed by some fuss by retailers after it was approved.
“I’m putting a fence up around my business,” said Maria Schilke, owner of Marco Island Rental Properties.
The ordinance approved by council on first reading will require restaurants to supply one parking space per 200 square feet. This is less strict than the current ordinance, which requires stand-alone restaurants to provide one parking space for every four seats.
The less restrictive rules will allow restaurants in many cases to get their state liquor licenses because the state requires the restaurants to have 150 seats to get the annual license.
It also will allow additional outside seating, which Brien Spina of Capt. Brien’s, says is an attraction to many visitors.
Schilke opposed the change because she believes it will infringe on businesses near restaurants, including Marco Island Rental Properties, which she operates in the Sand Dollar Plaza.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker said the adjoining property owners and plaza associations can handle the conflicts privately by putting up no parking signs and towing.
“The private market place isn’t stupid. It’s the government that’s usually stupid ... Let’s try this free market experiment,” Recker said.
Kiester, Waldack and Planning Board Chairman Jim Riviere were among the people to disagree.
“Where ever you’re going to tow the cars to, let’s just take them there to start with,” Riviere said.
He also said the provision to allow more compact car spaces may not be reasonable.
“The citizenry here still drives Lincoln Town Cars and Mercury Marquis,” Riviere said.
Waldack said he was concerned that the lack of parking might get the city in the position to have to build a municipal parking garage — something he wasn’t sure anyone was willing to commit to do.
Planning Board member Marv Needles didn’t vote on the ordinance but he did share with council on Monday that as an owner of a plaza on Island, he says there are already parking problems and they’ll get worse.
He said all businesses’ parking should be considered not just restaurants.’
“You’re looking out for restaurants. You’re not looking out for the little retailers. I think you should be looking out for everybody,” she said.
Planning Board member Monte Lazarus said there weren’t any parking shortages and if there were to be any it would be during the winter tourist season.
He said the two-year sunset provision would take care of opponents’ “imaginary horribles.”
“The free market is the best governor. Mathematical figures do not really apply to economic situations,” Lazarus said of the seat counting.
Joe Oliverio, President of the Marco Island Restaurant Association and owner of Joey's Pizza, said the requirement of one parking space per 200 square feet is what the association has wanted since the beginning.
"You won't hear from us again," he said.
In other business, council ...
- Approved utility rate increases, including a 10.5 percent increase in revenue needed by October 2010. Each increase will be voted on later but the intent to increase income to the utility was needed to acquire bonds for continued utility improvements.
- Made proclamations to honor the YMCA, Collier County Foreclosure Taskforce, Marco Island Area Association of Realtors and Marco Island Historical Society. Symbolic keys to the city were given to former City Councilwoman Terri DiSciullo, Marco Island Historical Society President Craig Woodward and Popoff’s mother. View photos online.
- Approved, on first reading, an ordinance that defines seawall failure and will allow a new seawall to be placed in front of an existing failing wall. The seawall regulations will become law on second reading.
- Tabled an ordinance to allow the Code Enforcement Board to mitigate fines when a property is still out of compliance. The goal was to give the board the power to help Realtors and banks sell foreclosed properties and getting those code violations repaired, Thompson said. Joe Granda and Tarik Ayasun, members of the code board, said such ability to lower fines in advance of coming into code compliance wouldn’t work unless the prospective owner was known, named and held liable for correcting the problem in advance of the mitigation.
- Approved the finding of necessity report that indicates the 250-acre area around Town Center legally meets the standards for the creation of a Community Redevelopment Administration to make improvements in the area.