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MARCO ISLAND — At Friday’s meeting of the Marco Island Planning Board, there were enough city councilors present that it could have been a city council meeting, too. With councilors Larry Honig, Larry Sacher, Ken Honecker and Amadeo Petricca all sitting in the audience at the council chambers, there were enough councilors for a quorum. Throw in Planning Board member Bill Trotter, who left the council last fall, term-limited out after eight years, and you had enough for a supermajority.
Dr. Trotter wasted no time, though, calling foul on the City Council, or at least the orderly process and workflow of city business, concerning the proposed Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort convention center. Plans for the center, he noted, had been presented individually to most or all of the council members, without the planning board being notified or having a look themselves.
“Those are public records. We should be involved with this ahead of time,” said Trotter. “This is out of process. It creates the illusion, or suspicion or impression, that this is being done behind closed doors.” He requested that Marriott representatives present the plans to the planning board at their next meeting.
“I think it’s premature,” said Community Affairs Director Bryan Milk, “but I’ll invite them.” Bob Olson, arriving late, once again covered the discussion on the convention center, and his opposition to it. He also faulted Milk for not advertising a public meeting, causing it to be canceled, “after 200 people flew in for the meeting.”
“I take exception to that,” said Milk of the lack of advertisement for the meeting. “Don’t pin that on me.”
“It seems to me you’re just repeating what we just said,” board member Monte Lazarus commented to Olson.
The bulk of the planning board meeting, though, was taken up by discussing parking on the Island, including beach parking, swale parking, and requirements for businesses, specifically restaurants, to provide parking for their customers and staff.
Regarding beach parking, board member Frank Mulligan suggested that Marco Island could take a hint from the experience of beach communities further north.
“I know you don’t like to hear how we do it up North,” he began. “In New Jersey, we have signs 16 miles out” from beach parking lots, “saying ‘parking is available’ or ‘parking is not available.’
City Councilor Honecker spoke to advocate a two-tiered pricing setup for beach parking, charging more for South Beach, which tends to fill up, and less for Tigertail Beach, which has more space available.
Concerning parking for restaurants, Zoning Administrator Joe Irvin took the board through a “little history” on Marco Island parking regulations. He pointed out that when the city was established, the code called for restaurants to provide one off-street parking space for every 60 square feet of eating area, or one space for every two seats in the restaurant, whichever was greater.
Since then, he said, the requirements have been lessened, and as of 2010, restaurants must provide one space for every 200 square feet of eating area, or for every four seats, inside or outside. The board discussed various options for eateries to meet that requirement, including shared parking agreements, whether immediately contiguous or not, as well as swale parking.
The approximately 80 restaurants currently operating on the Island, said Irvin, would be “grandfathered in” if more stringent regulations were adopted. This would be true even if a restaurant changed hands, but if an eating establishment closed for 90 days or more, it would be required bring parking “up to current requirements,” to meet the new standard.
Planning Board Chairman Jack Patterson cautioned against a “wild west” approach to zoning.
“There is no zoning in Houston. If you own a lot in Houston, you can do whatever you want,” he said. “I don’t want to be Houston, where everything goes.” He also moved up the community forum to the beginning of planning board meetings, so members of the public would not have to sit through hours of unrelated discussion to have their say.
Eileen Ward presented a letter from the law firm representing Marco Vista Condominiums supporting new, stricter restaurant parking regulations tothe board.
Old Marco Pub owner Susan Ackerson showed photos to demonstrate there is not a problem with restaurant patrons parking in the swales, which are city property.
“I hear about the ruts we’re creating,” she said. “Look at those swales — they’re in great shape.”
After a break, Lina Upham of the Community Affairs Dept. led the board members through a lengthy review of commercial zoning classifications in the city. Her presentation specifically included the zoning for homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and gambling casinos, although there was no mention of any such establishments seeking to locate on Marco Island.
The next scheduled planning board meeting is at 9 a.m. July 5 in the Community Room at 51 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island.