MARCO ISLAND — A plan to transfer waterfront commercial density to any commercial property within Marco Island’s Midtown District has passed an initial hurdle.
At the first reading of the proposed ordinance, council members voted 4-to-3 Monday night in favor of the plan.
Late last year, City Council asked the Planning Board to review development standards in the Midtown District (also known as the Town Center district) to determine whether existing codes inhibit private development. At council’s request, the city sought the expertise of Dr. James Nicolas, a well-respected urban and regional planning expert and professor emeritus at the University of Florida, who concluded that waterfront density transfers are a viable consideration for a small city like Marco Island to create diversity in the Midtown district which could enhance its vitality.
A maximum of 200 credits could be transferred from one waterfront area to another waterfront area within the Midtown District to allow for one to two limited-use hotels with no more than 150 rooms. Planning officials reason that new hotels could stimulate re-development in the District and create a pedestrian friendly environment while ensuring that any development plans gain City Council approval. During its April 1 public meeting, the Planning Board recommended approval of the ordinance to allow waterfront credits to be used at any location downtown, but removed wording that specified hotel use, with the reasoning that the imagination of developers and market demand will ultimately decide the best land use.
“This adds a tool to the city’s tool box,” City Planner Kris Van Lengen told councilmen at Monday’s meeting.
City Councilors had mixed opinions on the issue, with Joe Batte, Larry Magel and Chuck Kiester voting against the measure. They cited concerns among hotel owners both large and small that existing properties are having a difficult time filling rooms and that the added competition would only make the issue worse.
Councilman Batte expressed concern that the ordinance is unnecessary.
“I see government getting involved in something that the private sector already does well,” he told fellow councilors.
“If it were left to me, I’d take out the wording that allows the exchange of units from mixed use,” added Kiester.
But other council members argued that future development is limited by the island’s comprehensive plan, the proposed ordinance is a conservative measure and that the board would still have to approve any future development plans.
“What I am fearful of is the other side of government telling someone they can’t come and put up a hotel,” stated Chairman Jerry Gibson. “Do we say we can’t have more restaurants or more churches because there are already empty tables and empty pews?”
“It’s a very controlled approached,” added Councilman Bill Trotter.
With council’s initial approval, the public will have a chance to express their opinions during a future meeting.