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Incremental change is preferable to no change at all, especially when it comes to beautification of the island.

That was the feeling of the Marco Island Planning Board on Friday during its land development code workshop, which clocked in at a relatively swift hour and a half.

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When the final gavel had fallen, and by a unanimous 6-0 vote, the planning panel had instructed city staff go work up language for the LDC that would allow for site plans with deviations.

The new language would permit business and homeowners to bring structures up to code piecemeal, rather than being forced to undertake costly, full-structure renovations all at once

Any permanent change to the LDC would need ultimate approval from the Marco Island City Council, so a final resolution to the issue will take some time.

City staff liaison Daniel Smith said the current code language dissuades many property owners from undertaking any renovations at all.

“We’re talking about buildings that met code 25 years ago, and now the owners may want to make renovations – a new sign, a new façade, a breezeway in front,” he said. “Little things they may want to do, right now it generates a new site plan where everything has to be brought up to code. If we can get some of these owners to not have to go through those processes, they may invest in that.”

Smith said the problem isn't a new one.

“Redevelopment is an issue Marco Island is facing right now, and has been for a while now,” he said. “The codes have changed over the years, so applicants have to go through multiple deviations and show hardship to make any changes they may want to make. Site plans with deviations are redevelopment codes that allow for multiple changes all at once.”

Smith said Collier County and the city of Naples have already addressed the problem.

“Because they understand that if they don’t do something now, some buildings may become blight,” he said. “This gives owners the opportunity to make renovations in one swoop instead of doing it individually though multiple different variances.”

Planning panel Vice Chairman Ed Issler directed questions on the issue to Marco Island Police Captain Dave Baer, who oversees code enforcement on the island. At one point, Issler asked Baer if his officers encountered obvious code violations around the island on a regular basis.

Baer answered in the negative.

“No, that’s not a frequent thing,” he said. “It generally happens when a new business comes in and the department gets a complaint about parking or something similar. Where the business might have been a shoe store, now they’re a restaurant kind of deal.”

Baer assured the planning panel that the police department shares its concern about blight on the island.

“We want to avoid blight, because blight brings crime,” he said. “But the truth is that we tend to see more residential properties I would call blighted than commercial properties. It’s regrettably the homes where it’s been in the family 20 or 30 years and no one lives there or the person living there isn’t capable (of maintaining the property).”

Whether commercial or residential in nature, Issler said the planning panel would take a proactive approach regarding current or potential blight on the island.

“The goal of this (new language) is to try to encourage property owners to bring their property a little more forward without having to tear it down and rebuild it,” he said. “If we can encourage people to make small improvements to properties heading in the wrong direction, I think that’s a great thing.”

For more information or to watch the meeting in its entirety, see cityofmarcoisland.com.

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