Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo
MARCO ISLAND — At their meeting on Friday, the City of Marco Island Planning Board went to town. Physically, the board met, as always, in the City Council chambers downstairs from the police headquarters at the government center on Bald Eagle Drive, but the focus was on midtown redevelopment.
While only the one topic was discussed, the importance of the issue to the city was underscored by the presence of three city councilmen, Larry Magel, Joe Batte, and Chairman Jerry Gibson in the audience. Downtown redevelopment is an idea that goes back at least as far as the time of former city manager Steve Thompson, who spearheaded a CRA, or community redevelopment authority, for the area.
Bryan Milk, newly shifted to community development and city planner, from his former role as parks and recreation director, led the Planning Board through a discussion of possible governmental actions the city could take to help revitalize its central business district.
Proposed improvements included providing landscaping and buffering adjacent to the north utility plant, adding a streetscape to Bald Eagle Drive and Elkcam Circle, with sidewalks, lighting, “street furniture,” and landscaping, burying overhead utility lines, and creating public spaces and pedestrian connections to facilitate people walking through the area.
“It’s amazing, at Mackle Park in the morning and the evening, how many people use those pedestrian walkways,” said Milk. One vehicle for redevelopment he mentioned was the concept of smaller, “boutique” hotels in the area, along with the development credits that would be required to make the proposal attractive to an investor.
“We’re actively engaged with a gentleman who wants to develop hotel sites,” he told the board. Another idea floated was to revise development standards in the area.
“Along Elkcam Circle, we might want to revise those architectural guidelines,” said Milk. “Quite frankly, they might be a little rigorous.” During his tenure with the city, he said, they have had to provide three variances.
“Landscape buffers need to be 20 ft. deep” under the current code, said Milk. “On a corner lot, there’s not much developable property left” once the setbacks are accounted for.
Milk said there is a need for a connection from Veterans’ Community Park to the Esplanade, with all the community events going on. The fishing pier and walkway envisioned as part of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project were mentioned as an additional enhancement.
“We’re in the special events business now,” he said, mentioning the Farmers’ Market, the carnival held that weekend, and the traveling veterans’ exhibit due to arrive this fall.
Many provisions of the city’s land use code predate the city itself, he said, going back to the 1980s, and need to be reconsidered. He said he and city staff would do all they could in the way of planning, without hiring an outside consultant, which brought comment from the board.
“Bryan, you brushed aside the idea of a consultant,” said board member Monte Lazarus. “This is a very long-term benefit to the city, I believe, and we need to look long-term.” He also spoke up for soliciting public input through citizens’ committees, as was done with Mackle Park and other projects. “I know I’m not an expert on planning this kind of thing. The more help we get, the better.”
The midtown area, said board member Bob Brown, “is an obvious centerpiece” for the city. “We need to get people through without a bottleneck. I’d like to spread around the traffic flow, and filter into the commercial district and the parks.”
Board chairman Dick Shanahan spoke up for reviewing architectural guidelines, and moving forward on pedestrian walkways.
“We’ve been talking about developing Baywalk for maybe 10 years. This will be a major enhancement to the environment of the city,” he said.
Fay Biles of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association spoke up.
“Density is a very big word on this island,” she cautioned. “You need to be very careful.”
Dick Adams of MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association, cited a study done by his group, but Lazarus questioned the objectivity.
“With all due respect,” said Lazaurs, “in some MICA surveys, the answer is part of the question. “I don’t see the neutrality, or the validity.”
The regularly scheduled for Nov. 11 was canceled due to falling on Veteran’s Day, and the Planning Board’s next meeting was scheduled for Oct. 28.