MARCO ISLAND — It’s been a bumpy road for residents hoping to keep their shell and gravel driveways on Marco Island. However, after at least 18 months of debate, Planning Board members decided to allow the materials, as long as council will also approve the ordinance.
Fire Chief Mike Murphy coordinated a demonstration of how unsafe rolling a gurney on loose gravel could be by having volunteer Councilman-elect Larry Magel play victim while Planning Board members rolled him on a gurney through loose gravel located between bushes and the side of a building in City Hall on Friday morning.
“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.
Murphy maintains that the demonstration was to address an earlier draft version of an ordinance that did not specify that gravel and shell needed to be compacted. He said the path used was demonstrative of several current gravel driveways on Island that are not properly installed and maintained with loose gravel four inches thick causing emergency responders to lift the gurney for several feet adding risk to the injured person they’re attempting to help as well the backs of the responders.
“We do not object to compacted shell. Loose gravel is the issue,” Murphy said.
Marco resident Fay Biles and Planning Board member Irv Pavlow said aesthetics was the issue.
“All the gravel driveways on the Island are dirty. They look awful. They need to do something about it,” Biles said.
Residents Ann Sepe and Al Marchand, who installed a shell driveway in their then-new home in April 2008 because a building official said it was OK, 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 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.
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.
As they watched the demonstration, they said the conditions of the gravel used did not mirror their flat, compacted shell driveway and they didn’t believe untrained personnel rolling the gurney on landscaping gravel around bushes presented a level playing field for comparing conditions.
Murphy agreed that the demonstration was not to prevent the couple from getting their C.O. Although he hasn’t seen the couple’s driveway on Piedmont Circle, he has seen a driveway on Shadowridge Court as well in other locations that do not fit the bill of being compacted.
Not all members of the board wanted to see the demonstration, but they allowed it.
“I’ll take the Fire Chief’s word for it (that gravel is dangerous). I don’t need to see,” said Pavlow.
During her first meeting as a member of the board, 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.
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 an already agreed-upon aspect of the regulations. He called the demonstration a “circus side show.”
The board members could not easily push the gurney near the bushes or drag it back out.
After the rough ride, Magel said his back hurt, which was part of the show set up by Murphy and Emergency Medical Services officer Cherie Wilson-Watson. Magel added that it was clearly difficult to roll the wheels through the rock.
The board voted 5-1 to move the ordinance to allow shell and gravel driveways forward to council as long as the material was compacted and the driveway was sloped by no more than 12 percent. Property owners who have shell or gravel driveways with a greater slope will have two years to come into compliance.
Chairman Jim Riviere said he voted against the ordinance because he didn’t think it properly addressed existing driveways that don’t meet the code as written.
City Planner Kris Van Lengen assured Sepe and the Planning Board that the couple’s driveway met the conditions in the ordinance and that as long as council also approved the ordinance, their permanent certificate of occupancy for the home would be granted.
Murphy’s concerns may still be dangling because Van Lengen said testing compaction of shell and gravel was not something the city staff would be able to do. So, the driveways that exist with heaps of loose gravel material, may remain.
“Sure, there are conditions that are more difficult than others, but I want the city to show respect for private property rights,” Marchand said.