‘In the weeds’: Planning Board gets technical in involved storm-water management discussion

Lance Shearer

As it did a month ago, a proposed storm-water management ordinance dominated the Marco Island Planning Board’s attention during their meeting Friday morning.

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It wasn’t up for a vote, was only included as a presentation by Waterways Advisory Committee Chairman Phares Heindl, and almost didn’t get discussed at all. Approving the agenda, normally a routine item, became contentious due to the inclusion of Heindl’s presentation, and passed on a narrow 4-3 vote, with board members Joseph Rola and Ron Goldstein, along with Vice Chairman Ed Issler, voting against it.

Marco Island Planning Board Vice-Chair Ed Issler makes a point in this file photo.

Other than Heindl, there were no members of the public in the council chambers for most of the meeting, until former city councilor and former planning board member Bill Trotter showed up to speak after monitoring the meeting from home, and current city councilor Victor Rios also weighed in.

Rios made clear his opinion that the storm-water ordinance, due to be taken up by City Council during their meeting Monday evening, should be rejected.

“It’s better to have no ordinance than a bad ordinance. This is a very bad ordinance – it should not pass,” said Rios. “My recommendation is we get an extension.” Marco Island is the only entity in the county that does not have an illicit discharge ordinance in place, and is under the gun from higher levels of government to enact such a bill.

In his comments, Trotter suggested a joint workshop between planning board and the waterways advisory committee.

“At least have a joint workshop tied to an engineer’s study. This is a most important quality of life issue for our island,” he said. “A few thousand dollars (for a study) is not a big deal.”

Without having the entire waterways group present, a workshop is sort of what Friday’s planning board meeting became, with Heindl, an attorney and chemical engineer in private life, giving what amounted to a lecture on the finer points of storm-water management and the proposed ordinance.

Waterways Advisory Committee Chairman Phares Heindl addresses the board. Marco Island's Planning Board approved  ordinances changing the status of Veterans' Community Park, and discussed storm-water management at their meeting Friday.

“I’m not going to get in the weeds” on the issue, he said, before wading in. He laid out some of the parameters of an MS4, a municipal separate storm sewer system, as mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Heindl said the WAC had been pressured to approve the proposed ordinance.

“We were told back in March we had to pass the storm-water ordinance – we have to move it through,” he said. For the previous four years, the committee had “been effectively under a gag order,” and not permitted to talk about water quality.

“You cannot reconfigure swales through ordinance,” he said. Board members expressed concern about the cost to homeowners and builders, without necessarily seeing any benefit in return.

“It would be great if we could have Mr. Pinter here, or somebody from Public Works, who could address us if there’s the potential for an extension,” said Brechnitz at the end of the storm-water discussion, echoing Issler’s earlier comment.

The series of ordinances concerning Veterans’ Community Park rezoning and designation under the city’s comprehensive plan, and repealing transfer of density credits, all passed unanimously with little discussion. The ordinances, which city staffer Lina Upham announced she was going to read into the record “by title only,” had titles that stretched on for several minutes, almost longer than the subsequent debate.

The one exception was when Rola noted that Veterans Community Park had started out at five acres, and now, with the addition of vacated streets and alleyways, was up to 7.35 acres.

“I’m looking for detail. I’m looking for tracking,” he said. Rola also spoke up for everyone who glazes over and has trouble following some of the arcane points, particularly as regards density credits.

“This is very deep and very confusing to someone like me. I’m an engineer, not an attorney,” he said. When I see all this extraneous verbiage, I don’t know what to do with it.”

The planning board opted not to hold a second meeting in August, so their next scheduled meeting is Sept. 1.