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The Marco Island Planning Board is not opposed to having assisted living facilities in the city but has rejected a request to facilitate proposals through an amendment of its land development code.

The Board denied an application Friday to remove parameters of density for group housing within commercial zones by a 4-1 vote.

“We’re talking about changes to our land development code that opens the door to any property on Marco Island to build basically 81 units on one and a third acres,” board member Ed Issler said. “No matter what changes you make or how you cut the mustard, I just feel that we need to turn down this ordinance change and deal with this project on its own merits.”

More: Planning board delays decision on proposed assisted living facilities on Marco Island

In June, the board heard two seperate proposals for assisted living facilities in the city but held off on making a decision and asked the developers to work with city staff on an equivalency factor for assisted living facilities because it believed the use was residential.

One of the proposed projects is The Watermark of Marco Island, a 203 unit facility comprised of assisted and independent living and memory care located at the corner of Heathwood Drive and San Marco Road.

The NCH Marco Healthcare Center is selling five of its 12 acres of property and using all of the proceeds to expand its urgent care facility.

The other is an 81-84 bed facility for assisted living and memory care at the Sanitasole property on Barfield Drive.

The Watermark project was not associated with asking for the land development code changes and is working with city staff on a planned unit development application. Walt Chancey, owner and developer of that project, said it was important his project gain approval from city staff and address concerns raised by members of the planning board.

In recommending denial of the land development code changes, city staff wrote: “these large facilities, with a large ambulatory care population, was not anticipated and may have unintended consequences of the health, safety, and welfare on the community, especially as a barrier island, during an emergency evacuation.”

Bob Mulhere, who represents the Sanitasole project and presented the application to the board, argued that assisted living facilities were an institutional use and only quasi-residential.

“People live there so they can get assistance with daily living and all of your needs are met as you move through the aging process,” Mulhere said. “In terms of memory care, a much higher need of care is required.”

Mulhere also noted that the Florida Building Code classifies assisted living as institution use.

With regards to the safety of placing assisted living facilities on barrier islands, Mulhere said there were 22 already in Florida. Mulhere also proposed that evacuation plans be also run through the county for approval.

Win Porter, the developer of the proposed Sanitasole project, said in order to make his project break even, it would require around 72 beds. Using the current density allowance, only 16 units would be permitted on the property if it were deemed residential use. 

While Issler said he would be open to the project through a planned unit development application, Mulhere said that the property was not large enough.

Agreeing that the issue was residential, Dr. Ron Goldstein said they he believed Marco Island, in general, would like to decrease density, not increase it.

“This is better built inland, not on a barrier island,” Goldstein said. “In my mind, we need more community involvement and I would want to see the comprehensive plan changed accordingly, not just tweaking the LDC.”

Board member Dick Adams cast the lone dissenting vote. Board members Frank Mulligan and Dave Vergo were absent from Friday’s meeting.

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