MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island’s Police Department is serious about code enforcement, Assistant Chief Dave Baer told Planning Board members Friday. It’s a 24/7 job for us, he said.
Baer spoke at the request of board members looking for reassurance that city ordinances approved by Marco Island’s City Council would be enforced. Monte Lazarus, newly appointed board chairman, also wanted to urge the city to be clear on issues when responding to resident questions or complaints.
He used as an example the legality of a political group demonstrating near the sidewalk at the Marco Island Post Office. He was curious if the group needed a city permit and called the police department.
“They answered they were on federal property,” he said.
On a second inquiry, he was told it was not federal property because the city owns the swale and leases the building. Next, he called Liz Carr, the city’s code compliance officer, to clear up the confusion about jurisdiction.
He was told the group was exercising its First Amendment rights and did not need a permit.
“Citizens could get any one of three answers,” Lazarus pointed out. “Can the city speak with a single voice?”
Baer apologized for the confusion, saying the third answer was correct.
“If they are demonstrating on the public right-of-way and not blocking traffic or the sidewalk,” he said, “they can stand out there day or night. It’s a First Amendment right.”
Charlette Roman, a board member, asked if police had adequate resources to enforce city codes.
“It depends on the level of enforcement you want,” Baer responded. “We are an exceptionally lean police department and code enforcement department.”
Baer reported that violations are decreasing and police are looking at several ways to continue improving enforcement.
“Officers are working from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and weekend day shifts,” he said. About 80 percent of all investigations are initiated by code enforcement officers while on patrol. The rest come from complaints made by residents or non-police government entities such as the building inspection department.
Prior to police re-inheriting code enforcement, code compliance took place during business hours Monday through Friday with police responding nights and weekends if a complaint reached their office.
Although the presence of police at violators’ doors will put stronger “teeth” in enforcement, Baer assured the board voluntary compliance was still the goal.
Board member Irv Povlow asked Baer to name the biggest problem code enforcers face.
“It’s what your neighbor or the community thinks is the biggest problem,” he said, but reconsidered his answer. “Life or health safety is the biggest thing. The home with fire explosion damage (32 Gulfport Court) is the biggest thing right now.”
City Attorney Burt Saunders warned the Planning Board not to stray too far outside its jurisdiction in discussing code enforcement.
“It’s fine for the board to have a conversation on the topic of code enforcement,” he said. “It’s not okay to direct staff to look at something outside of land use ordinances. You can take no official action. You can make suggestions but cannot direct.”
The board also heard a report from Joe Irvin, zoning administrator. During 2013, the Planning and Zoning Division of the Community Affairs Department reviewed 1,259 building permits, five site development plans and 1176 land use petitions or applications.
Irvin reported he was in preliminary talks with Collier County personnel on the design and placement of signs on-property at Tigertail Beach. The board asked to be updated on a continuing basis on signage plans for the beach.
The Planning Board will meet at 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 20, to revisit reducing the duration of seawall building permits from 180 to 100 days. The board also will hold a public hearing for a boat dock extension at 595 Inlet Drive. It will be the first boat extension to come before the board in several years.