MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board has been hearing hard luck stories. With mounting fines for failure to connect to the city’s sewer system, the depth of financial loss weighed so heavily on petitioners Tuesday their voices cracked.
Times have been tough for Pedro Torres, a developer who came before the board seeking mitigation for more than $175,000 worth of fines.
Torres bought a home at 224 Geranium Court hoping to move to the island some day. His years as a contractor in Miami had been good ones, amassing more that $3 million to support his business and family. He wanted to enter a new phase in his life as a developer. Marco Island looked like the land of opportunity.
The stars did not align for Torres, and as the economy tanked, he took the tumble many aspiring entrepreneurs experienced. At Tuesday’s hearing, Torres stared out the black hole of financial catastrophe.
“I wanted to build a nice home on that site,” Torres said. “I’m so sorry for the eyesore I left there. I invested all my assets in my new development company and was wiped out financially losing $3 million in two years. Have pity on the neighbors of that eyesore, if not on me.”
Torres tried selling the home, then renting it until it fell into disrepair. He borrowed $1,500 to connect to sewer. His mortgage lender held up any sale of the property because the city held a lien to collect the “failure to connect” fines. Prices on properties plummeted. A home and lot that could have sold for $550,000 sat vacant.
A glimmer of relief brought Torres before the Code Enforcement Board to beg for help. He had a buyer and thought he can sell the home for $250,000, but the city’s lien made selling the property impossible.
By connecting to sewer, Torres said he made a good faith gesture. The bank told him to reduce the fines to a reasonable level, but didn’t tell him what that amount should be.
“He has to come up with a number for the bank,” board member Tarik Ayasun said. “It’s a property owner’s problem.”
Board member Dick Adams made a motion, unanimously passed, to reduce the fines from $250 a day to $10 per day for the non-compliance period. The city’s hard costs to serve papers and cite the property remained, bringing the new total to $8,322.04. The mitigated amount will only stand if the property sells and the fine is paid within 90 days. After that time, fines revert back to the original amount.
“We’re not here to make Marco Island a hard place to live but a better place to live,” Chairman Lou Prigge told Torres.
Three other cases took on similar tones. Dana Brunet of 1641 Galleon Court did not appear for her failure to connect hearing, but her neighbors did.
“It was a beautiful property four years ago,” said Gary Pritchard who lives next door. “We’ve been watching it deteriorate. It has rodents, insects, a blue tarp on the roof that may indicate its leaking, and the pool water is black.”
With no owner testimony, the board unanimously began the process of daily fines and asked Liz Carr, code compliance supervisor, to look into other violations.
Timothy Burke of 1267 Mistletoe Court testified his problems became ensnarled when he thought one bank held his mortgage and learned three years later it was in the hands of another bank.
Board members unanimously moved to defer Burke’s case to July 10 until he could straighten out his bank problems. They also urged him to connect to the sewer as soon as possible.
Philip Pierne, 107 S. Heathwood Drive, threw his hands up in despair as the board decided to fine him for failure to connect.
“You can fine me, but I can’t pay it,” he said.
In other business, the board tweaked some language in its proposed Code Enforcement Manual and agreed to send it to the city manager and city council. The board meets again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, in the Community Meeting Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.