Marco Island City Council: Seawall ordinance lags behind technology

— Marco Island’s seawall ordinance is as clear as a bell to Bob Mahar, the city’s building services official, but to petitioners from Tropical Isles condominium at 845 Collier Court, it appeared as clear as mud.

On Monday, the condominium association appealed the denial of its seawall replacement permit. Marco Island’s City Council acted as the judiciary body for the city to determine if the building department’s denial was fair and correct based on city ordinance.

The outcome will affect about one-half of the city’s seawalls.

At the heart of the matter was a six-inch difference, part of the condominium’s required engineering to repair an old and questionable seawall with a newer technology: vinyl sheet pile seawall panels.

In the city’s ordinance, new seawalls can be placed in front of existing ones but can only extend 12 inches from the waterside face of the standing structure. The extension allows for a new six-inch seawall and six inches of fill in the space between the existing wall and the new one.

The six-inch space provides a gap where “walers,” intermittent horizontal support structures, can remain on the old seawall without being removed when the new seawall is constructed. Walers can be part of the original seawall or could have been added for reinforcement at a later date and are used to securely straighten concrete panels.

When engineers for Tropical Isles designed its seawall replacement, they included the width of the walers in their calculations as part of the waterside face of the existing seawall. The condominium’s walers protrude seven inches from seawall panels. The vinyl replacement seawall is 10 inches wide resulting in an overall replacement width of approximately 18 inches.

The State of Florida allows replacement seawalls to extend into waterways by 18 inches before special permitting is required, but city rules only allow for a 12-inch extension.

“If the ordinance says 12 inches, then what can we do to change that?” Councilor Frank Recker asked the city attorney during the petition hearing.

Councilors discussed making changing to the ordinance or adopting the state’s 18-inch allowance.

Chairman Jerry Gibson cautioned councilors that a discussion of the state’s 18-inch allotment and the ordinance appeal were different things. Council must first determine if the city department was correct in its denial, he said.

Local attorney Craig Woodward, representing the condominium association, saw the matter as one of interpretation.

“I would argue it on logic,” he said. “Clearly this is an interpretation question. Waiting to change the code is not the right answer.”

City staff redirected the conversation to the existing ordinance suggesting that the walers could be removed prior to new seawall construction if work was completed in smaller sections.

But opponents argued that if walers were knocked off before construction, the seawall’s integrity could be compromised even before a new wall could be attached. They noted that the Tropical Isles seawall is an “old Deltona wall” that is deteriorating.

“Half of Deltona’s walls have waler systems,” Robert Devlin of planning and zoning said. Those seawalls will need to be replaced as they fail.

Council Bill Trotter suggested, that based on the number of possible similar situations, the city take a look at the issue and come up with solutions for those facing the same problem.

That prompted two motions by Councilor Joe Batte. First, he asked council to confirm city building officials’ interpretation of the ordinance and deny the appeal. The motion carried 6-1 with Councilor Chuck Kiester dissenting.

Batte then moved the matter be sent to the Waterways Advisory Committee and Planning Board so the Tropical Isles condominium issue and others like it could be resolved.

That motion passed unanimously.

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