Marco Island looks to ease foreclosure crunch, lower fines with new code regulation proposal

— Fines for code violations have continued to mount in Southwest Florida cities such as Marco Island and Bonita Springs, particularly on foreclosure properties.

Marco Island officials are seeking to ease the struggles banks and real estate professionals are having in selling those properties as fines mount to the hundreds of thousands of dollars, often exceeding the property value and growing at rates of hundreds of dollars every day.

They also say they want to get rid of any blight popping up in their communities.

“Our objectives were to come up with a mitigation plan to rehab these properties and get them into compliance,” said Marco Island Code Enforcement Board member Richard Adams.

“We needed a vehicle to ease the burden on the property owner,” he said, adding that the ordinance will do just that.

Marco’s code board unanimously approved an ordinance on Tuesday evening that would allow code fines to be lowered before a property is brought into compliance, particularly if doing so would encourage compliance. Code board members Joe Granda and Carol Glassman were absent.

The proposed ordinance, which will also have to be approved by City Council on two readings before taking effect, comes after months of debates about how best to deal with the situation.

City Council Chairman Frank Recker was among the lead proponents of giving the code board the authority to mitigate fines before compliance — something that board members currently can only do if the violation has already been corrected.

After the meeting, Recker said he was supportive of the draft as considered Tuesday with key elements as proposed by code board members Granda and Adams.

The new regulations would allow the code board to lower fines before compliance subject to “any conditions deemed appropriate,” per the current draft.

The proposed ordinance reads that such conditions include, but are not limited to:

■ Correcting code violations within the time frame set by the board.

■ Paying the lowered fine within the time frame set by the board.

■ Making a deposit with the city of an “amount estimated in good faith” that would pay to make that correction. The city would hold the money and it would be paid to the contractor hired by the person seeking mitigation.

■ Waiving any right to appeal the board’s mitigation order.

Some portions of the ordinance were ambiguous, said Recker. However, he added, he didn’t have any problem with it.

The ordinance will also require any appeals to go to circuit court rather than city council — something Recker said he also supported.

The change to appeal to a circuit court and the requirement to waive any rights to appeal are the elements Recker supported most about the proposed ordinance.

“If they’re going to put the board through all this time and effort, I think that’s important,” he said.

Code Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun said the ordinance fit his wishes perfectly.

“We just hope it is not changed and it is accepted as it is,” Ayasun said.

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