MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island and Conservation Collier are in the bidding to take the well-known parcel, Tract K, off the hands of the Collier County School Board.
The school district has no use for the property and both government agencies are seeking to preserve it from development, officials said.
Marco Island has wanted to acquire the 11.6 acres for years.
On Monday, Interim City Manager Jim Riviere advised City Council of an offer he negotiated with schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson earlier this month to pay $360,000 per year for 10 years without interest to purchase the land.
Council advised Riviere to negotiate that price down.
Conservation Collier also expressed interest in the residentially zoned land, which is vacant other than nesting bald eagles.
Some Marco Island residents, including Frances and Doug Enman, urged Conservation Collier to consider purchasing the property.
Tract K was set aside in 1989 through a $10 sale from the island’s developer, Deltona Corp., to the school district as a community resource, Doug Enman said.
“Based upon the track record of both the city and the School Board, I do not have a lot of trust in either party,” Enman said.
He cited the following examples regarding Tract K’s history:
** In 1999, dredge material from Collier Bay was to be dumped there.
** In 2003, it was to be listed for sale on the open market.
** In 2008, island businessmen were to use a portion of the land for a solar demonstration farm.
In each case, Marco Island residents urged public officials to stop the endeavors.
The Conservation Collier Land Acquisition Advisory Committee reviewed the application to consider purchasing Tract K on May 11. A decision was tabled pending recommendations from the Marco Island City Council and the Marco Island Civic Association.
The property must meet two of six criteria before going to Collier County commissioners in December for final purchasing approval.
Tract K minimally met requirements by providing social services through its potential for public access to nature and biological values through its active eagle nest, program coordinator Alexandra Sulecki said.
“How significantly it met these criteria was questionable, however, as the parcel is not especially environmentally sensitive and there is not much to conserve there,” Sulecki said.
The city’s potential use remains somewhat unclear.
The MICA board hadn’t yet voted on the issue, Vice President Steve Stefanides said.
“Unless we saw a definitive idea on what the use is going to be, we can’t really take a stance on it,” Stefanides said.
A passive park, or green space with little development, is among the possibilities, but there is no set plan, Marco Council Chairman Frank Recker said.
“As long as it’s preserved for years, I don’t care who owns it,” he said.
There has been much debate in the past about whether the Tigertail Court property was deeded for educational use only. However, Stefanides confirmed that MICA has no deed restrictions on the property.
Proponents for a charter high school on the island once sought Tract K but chose to partner with the Marco Island YMCA instead, confirmed Jane Watt, president of the Marco Island Academy.
Price, land-use and protected bald eagles are among the key negotiating points.
A pair of bald eagles have nested in a tree on Tract K for three consecutive seasons, reported City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie.
Each of the past two years, the pair produced two eaglets, Richie said.
Development within 330 feet of the nest is prohibited by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until it’s inactive for five consecutive seasons, said Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, the FWC’s bald eagle coordinator.
The species is still protected, but is no longer listed as threatened or endangered, Kirkpatrick said.
Despite development restrictions, approximately $4 million is a good deal for the property, Stefanides and resident Paul Meyer agreed.
“I was a little shocked by that figure,” Recker said.
Especially given that then-City Manager Steve Thompson reported an offer to sell for $2.5 million in 2009, Recker said.
“I am not fond of the School Board selling a parcel that was, in effect, donated to them,” Enman said. “But if that’s what it takes to get this parcel out of harm’s way, I am for it.”
A joint purchase with the city and Conservation Collier could get community support, he said.
Councilman Chuck Kiester opposed a city purchase, citing a lack of money, but supported Conservation Collier protecting the property.
Meyer opposes any government purchase.
“I’d rather have someone personally buy it than pay for it through taxes,” he said.
Marco residents won’t let that happen, Stefanides said, adding, “The school (system) could sell that property to anyone they wish, but they’d have such a fire storm.”
The district has no use for the land outside of a sale, said Michele LaBute, the district’s chief operating officer.
A price hasn’t been set and if Thompson finds an offer acceptable, then he will bring it to the School Board for the ultimate decision, she said.
“It’s one of the last, if not the last large piece of property on island. We wouldn’t want to see a major impact to that neighborhood,” Stefanides said.