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For 18 months now, the creation of a Planned Unit Development at the busy corner of Bald Eagle Drive and North Collier Boulevard has been vetted by city staff and the petitioners. Some call the immediate area of the project the “gateway” to Marco Island.

The area includes Island Plaza and properties at 720 and 740 Bald Eagle Drive, known as the Progressive Auto Storage and Progressive Auto Care Center.

Island Plaza Investments, LLC, part of Hendricks Commercial Properties Group headquartered in Beloit, Wis., bought the Island Plaza retail/office center in July 2013. Hendricks specializes in the purchase and operations of shopping plazas around the county and has indicated a desire to rehabilitate the plaza with a major infusion of cash — a $2.5 million investment — if the PUD is approved.

This would include a new look for the exterior of the building, improvements in landscaping, better storm-water management, pedestrian walkways and an expansion of available parking.

Progressive and Hendricks would invest in re-engineering the parking and right-of-way issues between their two buildings to allow for the expansion of available spaces for the general public. Progressive is considering installation of a 7-foot-high sound barrier wall at the rear of their property to address noise issues with the owners at Smokehouse Bay Club behind their property.

At the December Marco Island Planning Board meeting, the panel requested that the details found in both the petitioners’ documents and city staff presentation be used as a framework for a more simplified and cohesive plan for the board to consider.

On Jan. 8, a grueling session was held that did not bring the board any closer to a resolution on the process for the major renovation.

Planning Board member Frank Mulligan was astonished with what had been brought back to the board.

“Last month we had two different documents, one of about 19 pages and another of about 24 pages. What you’ve brought to us has now grown to 121 pages. Shame on you, shame on the attorneys for both sides,” said Mulligan.

Mulligan also inquired about what costs have been incurred during the process.

“How much has the city spent and how much have the applicants spent working on this,” asked Mulligan.

Tammy Scott from the city’s growth management department estimated the city’s cost to be near $42,000, while Pat Neale, the attorney for one of the applicants, estimated that they jointly had spent about $7,000.

The city is especially sensitive to the nature of this application, as several proposals have come before both the Planning Board and Marco Island City Council over the years from Progressive to allow interior self-storage within their facilities. Those proposals have consistently been turned down by council and were part of another controversy that eventually cost former Planning Director Bryan Milk his job more than two years ago.

The city had contracted with LaRue Planning and Management services to conduct an independent review of the Island Plaza PUD petition and the petitioner and city staff have been working through those items in an attempt to find the necessary common ground.

Attorney Richard Yovanovich, representing Progressive, explained that they have removed any request for the inclusion of self-storage within their petition and were only seeking the return of their original rights for uses, which were taken from them due to previous council decisions.

Yovanovich has previously alluded to the fact that this “taking of property rights” from Progressive might fall under the guise of the Burt Harris Act. That legislation provides protection to property owners from the loss of property rights by governmental bodies.

The petitioners pointed out six areas of disagreement within the ordinance establishing the PUD and another 35 areas of dissatisfaction with the language and requirements within the PUD itself. When the attorney for the petitioner was asked outright what their stance would be if all of the areas in dispute were approved, Neale simply responded that they “would reserve judgment.”

Enforceability of the PUD provisions was another stumbling block, with the city wanting to have strict language and definitions and to have the petitioners pay to defend the legislation if eventually approved. That provision was described as a “deal breaker” by Rich Yovanovich.

The one question consistently asked by board members is “why the need for a PUD?”

“We want some assurance that we will be able to have our rights for conditional uses protected,” said Robert Mulhere of Hole Montes, professional planners representing the petitioners. The PUD process would not require petitioners to appear for additional considerations so long as the usages are consistent with those permitted by the codes in the C1 to C4 zoning districts.

What’s next?

The next scheduled meeting of the Planning Board is Friday, Jan. 22, at 9 a.m. in the council chambers, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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