The problem of nuisance, swale parking by restaurant patrons in Olde Marco is not a new one. In the early '90s the Snook Inn expanded it's outdoor seating and the Old Marco Pub opened.
Patrons of the Snook Inn and Old Marco Pub began parking on the swales in front of residential condos and houses as well as in the condominium private parking lots. The city responded to the resident's complaints by making the Snook Inn install diagonal parking along Bald Eagle Drive and gave nearby condos "No Parking" signs in their swales. Marco Vista Condominium was allowed to install "no parking" signs along their hedge which are still there today.
Both actions solved the problem and businesses and restaurants have lived in harmony until a year ago when both Marek's and Old Marco Pub were allowed to expand under the new, more lenient restaurant parking requirements recently established by the City of Marco Island. These more lenient parking requirements are a big mistake for free standing restaurants with no place for their patrons to go except residential properties nearby.
While the swale areas are actually public property they are the front door, or curb appeal, of our homes, condos and businesses. Having been in the landscape business on Marco for the last 30 years, I can attest to the fact that most people take great pride in maintaining the grass on their swales since this is the first impression people have of their property. It is an integral part of their property's appearance and if it doesn't look good the whole property seems shabby and not well maintained.
Realtors always site front door or curb appeal as the most important factor in selling a property. Imagine the dismay of the residents of Marco Vista Condominium as they began to see their swale used as the parking lot for the newly expanded restaurants across Bald Eagle Drive. The neighbors in Olde Marco had never received notice of the enormous changes taking place in both of these restaurants. Shouldn't they have had a notice of change sent to them so they could have some input into planned changes this serious? We get notices when someone is expanding a dock in our neighborhood.
As I waited to speak at a recent Planning Board meeting, they discussed a man who wanted to install a flag pole on Shores Court. They wanted to know if the neighbors had been notified and if any were against it since a rope on a flag pole could cause annoying noise. Marek's has added a bar and outdoor seating as well as live music outside. The Old Marco Pub has added a bar and is advertising itself as a rock and roll bar. Their employees sat in front of me at the recent Planning Board meeting with t-shirts that noted them as "Stage Crew." I can only assume this means live bands are part of the expansion.
Marco Vista went from living across from two indoor, quiet restaurants with adequate parking to having to listen to the clanking of silver and plates from outdoor dining, being serenaded with "Cheeseburger in Paradise" from the outdoor entertainment at Marek's and the boom, boom, boom of relentless rock and roll music from Old Marco Pub. All at once and with no notice!
They now have to close their doors at night rather than enjoy the beautiful breezes blowing through their units. One owner had to twice get up after 10 p.m. and get dressed and walk over to the pub and ask them to close their door and turn down the music. His bedroom is on the back of the building. There are ordinances making it illegal for cars to have their stereos so loud you can hear their bass music. Just imagine a boom, boom car outside your house for hours every night! Welcome to the new reality for Marco Vista Condominium residents. Gee, I wonder where their property values are going to go?
Now add the insult that their swale is intended to serve as the new parking lot for these restaurants. In addition, their patrons are parking in the condominium's private lots. Riverside Club across the street had to install a gate to stop this trespass of their property and Marco Vista residents had to patrol or consider a gate as well. No Susan, the problem hasn't been brought on by Marco Vista condominium, the problem had been brought on by business expanding where it isn't appropriate and doesn't have room.
Susan Ackerson, the owner of the Old Marco Pub, says in a recent guest commentary that the swales are wide enough to safely park cars, are flat and easy to maneuver on and considers them an existing parking resource. In realty the swales of Olde Marco are some of the most narrow. Night after night the police were called to report people parking with their cars extending into traffic as the area is not adequate to completely get off the road. This area is also full of deep drainage grates for unsuspecting patrons of the restaurants to fall into and break a leg as they exit their cars onto the uneven swale surfaces. A nice lawsuit for our self-insured city.
The Marco Vista swale has irrigation along the sidewalk and before the city had them plant the palm trees the cars would try to maneuver and park while going up onto the sidewalk and across the irrigation lines, breaking the pipes and causing constant damage that had to be repaired and paid for by the condo. She talks about their "as-is" condition not incurring any cost. This condition will change rapidly as night after night with multiple seatings cars come and go, twisting and turning their wheels to parallel park. The swale will quickly become a rutted, dirt mess and the trees planted will quickly die as their roots are driven on. The irrigation will have to be abandoned assuring the death of anything alive that now exists on the swale. The cost? The property values of Marco Vista Condominium owners and the safety of our residents and visitors.
It was the City of Marco Island who had the condo plant the palm trees with the explanation that this would prevent the parking of cars on their swale. The "No Parking" signs were put in many years ago and have been allowed to stay in place to prevent swale parking in front of this condominium. A year ago when Jack Barter, the president of Marco Vista Condominium, and I went before the planning board about the problem several members of the board mentioned having made a mistake in changing the parking rules for restaurants. The original Comprehensive Parking Plan, Goals and Projects now being discussed included prohibiting swale "on-grass" parking within the Old Marco Overlay District along with the swales in the south beach area. The Old Marco Overlay District has been crossed out. Why? It is just as egregious in Old Marco as it is in the south beach area for people to use residential swales as parking lots. The Snook Inn had to pay to install more parking, Arturo's had to buy a vacant lot next to their restaurant for additional parking when they expanded and so should these restaurants have to pay to have additional diagonal parking installed along Bald Eagle Drive for their additional parking or remove some seating until such a time as they can afford to properly expand. It is not right that they can expand their businesses on the property values of the condos nearby or the safety, of not only their patrons, but every driver who has to maneuver Bald Eagle Drive when both sides of the street have become a parking lot with the tail ends of cars in the right of way and someone opening their car door right in front of you resulting in their death or serious injury.
Our city knows it made a mistake and it needs to take action to protect these residential properties, unsuspecting restaurant patrons and the public driving along Bald Eagle Drive in Old Marco. Stop this double standard for swale parking now and install "No Parking" signs on the residential swales of Olde Marco. The restaurants can either pay for diagonal parking in the area, remove some seats or move to a location that will support their expansion.
Since the City of Marco Island caused this problem maybe they should pay for the new parking.