MARCO ISLAND — Despite residents’ vocal opposition to a Community Redevelopment Area on Marco, City Council approved appointing themselves as the governing board of what several Islanders called “CRAP,” on Monday night.
Island resident Bill Flasche used the “CRAP” acronym for Town Center’s Community Redevelopment Area proposal, as was coined by resident Russ Colombo at an event to share the idea earlier in March.
“The northern barrier of the CRAP area is Rose Marina ... Veterans (Community) Park is also in the CRAP area ... I find it very convenient that this is in the CRAP area because we can spend above the (city's spending) cap and make improvements by floating more bonds,” Flasche said.
The city held two meetings last spring and invited business owners located within the approximate 250 acres surrounding the Town Center shopping center to discuss the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) proposal. The public was also welcome.
“Nobody knows what this is about ... none of these people (complaining) were at the charrettes,” Gibson said.
He said people complaining Monday and at the recent In the Round event held at Iberia Bank about the proposal waited to the last minute to get involved with the proposal.
“People are showing their lack of trust of government ... Watergate is long over. I think it’s time we moved on from that deal,” he said.
Council voted 5-2, with new Council Chairman Frank Recker and newly seated Councilman Joe Batte dissenting, to appoint themselves as the board overseeing the area, which is called a Community Redevelopment Agency, per the ordinance.
Council adopted the finding of necessity, or blight, as prepared by Marty Black, the city-hired consultant with Kimley Horn and Associates, to create the CRA on March 1.
Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association, which supports CRAs and the people, including contractors, who benefit from them, said when discussing CRAs people are often using the wrong definition of blight.
She said the state statute definition is the one to be used, not the Merriam-Webster definition.
Per state statute: “ ‘Blighted area’ means an area in which there are a substantial number of deteriorated, or deteriorating structures, in which conditions, as indicated by government-maintained statistics or other studies, are leading to economic distress or endanger life or property, and in which two or more of the following factors are present ...”
The statute goes on listing 13 factors, nine of which, Black and city officials have reported are met by Marco’s business area. The executive summary of Black’s finding of blight study specifically lists at least these seven conditions, of which only two must be met: n Defective or inadequate street layout, parking facilities, roadways, bridges, or public transportation facilities
- Faulty lot layout
- Unsanitary or unsafe conditions (as evidenced by flooding and high accident rates).
- Deterioration of buildings.
- Inadequate density patterns.
- Vacancy rates higher in the area than in the remainder of the city.
- Fire and emergency medical service calls to the area are higher than in the remainder of the city.
City Councilman Larry Magel asked Black if the city would condemn a blighted property.
Black replied that he didn’t hear any reason to think that was a goal of the city.
“We can loan money to businesses in the CRA to incentivize them to improve their properties,” Magel said.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is to allow the CRA to capture their increased taxes, which are supposed to increase due to improvements made in the area that created or accelerated the property value increase.
“When in the process do we get to see the financial impact of all of this?” Magel asked.
The financial study that the consultant will be hired to complete will cost in the range of $16,000 to $50,000, depending on which city official you asked, as of Monday night.
Councilman Bill Trotter, a lead advocate of the CRA, suggested a “minimalist approach” to the redevelopment plan, which will be paid for by the TIF once it’s created and the values appreciate.
He added that with property values reaching their minimum, the level of appreciation will likely be greater.
“I’m amazed at how ill-informed people are,” Gibson said.
“This concept may be fantastic. Maybe I’m just not astute enough to see ... The Esplanade is gorgeous. It’s also half-vacant. It has nothing to do with sidewalks or sewers. It’s the economy,” Recker said.
Batte had other problems.
“I’m troubled by what I see as a very unclear view of public support ... I’m also concerned about the view of public support from outside the area,” Batte said.
He proposed creating a committee with people from the area before moving forward.
“Let’s not make mistakes that we’ve done in the past ... Mistakes that I think were done for the right reason,” he said, indicating the Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP).
“We don’t have to spend a dime until there is money in there,” Gibson said.
“I don’t want the city to get in the business of being in business ... It’s no money out of our pocket. It’s money out of the county’s pocket,” he added.
Magel supported moving forward with the CRA for Town Center because while he served on the Collier County Productivity Committee, the committee reported that the county looked to lose $50 million in 30 years.
Councilman Chuck Kiester said residents don’t understand yet, but when they have something real in front of them, they might change their mind.
“How do I answer a constituent when they say ‘why would you educate me? You already approved it,’ ” Batte asked rhetorically.
About $25,000 has been spent to-date for the feasibility study, City Manager Steve Thompson reported.
Marco resident and member of the Marco Island Civic Association board Steve Stefanides opposed the idea.
“Yeah. We do have a light industrial area and it’s not going to look any different if you ever want to get your car fixed.”
The rest of the residents will pay for the redevelopment until a return on the dollars comes in, Stefanides said.
“I just don’t think we have the problem that you envision,” he continued.
There is about a 38 percent vacancy rate on commercial property on-Island now, he said.
“Islanders are constantly talking about wanting some relief from the construction.”
It’s hard enough with the STRP and Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge construction, he said
“As much as I’m known as Santa Claus, there is no Santa Claus out there except for the taxpayer. The city isn’t a donor Island. The taxpayers are the donor here,” concluded the Christmas Island Style chairman.
Collier County cannot prevent Marco from creating a CRA because it is not a charter county, said attorney Alan Gabriel, of the Weiss-Serota lawfirm, which represents the city.
Resident Richard McGuinness opposed the CRA.
“It (Town Center) is empty. You know why? ‘Cause nobody has any money,” he said of the shopping center within the larger CRA area by the same name.
Bill McMullan, a government watchdog on-Island, disagreed with the “blight or slum areas” within a block of his home.
“I don’t know how many flop houses and prostitutes we have over in Town Center. We ought to look into that, I guess,” he said.
The comment drew laughter from an audience of about 50 residents.
“Why do we wordsmith?
“Why don’t we say we’re keeping money from going off the bridge instead of calling it an economic blight or distressed area?” McMullan asked.
He also asked why this area was singled out.
“The whole United States is economically distressed right now.”
Ken Honecker of Marco didn’t care for the process.
“We’ll pass this tonight and worry about the details later ... I like to have the details first,” he said.
“You’re right this is probably the greatest time to freeze the tax assessments. It’s also a perfect time to buy a property on Marco Island because it won’t go any lower ... the problem is you don’t because you don’t have any money,” Colombo said.
“Put the horse before the cart.”