Marco Island City Council shoots down reconsideration of assisted living facility

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
The Marco Island City Council has voted down reconsideration of an assisted living facility rezoning that failed at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The rumors were true, but it didn't matter in the end.

In the buildup to Monday's Marco Island City Council meeting, rumors swirled that a city councilor would ask the council to reconsider an assisted living facility rezoning proposal that failed at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Opponents of the project were ready from the get-go, assembling to pack City Council chambers and patiently waiting out another long meeting to voice their concerns once the rumors became a reality.

As was the case with the Jan. 22 meeting, council listened and voted 5-2 against reconsideration of the assisted living facility proposed for the corner of Heathwood Drive and San Marco Road.

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The proposed assisted living facility, which would have been managed by Watermark Retirement Communities, was a three-story, 143 unit facility on five of the nearly 12-acres of NCH's property.

NCH guaranteed that it would use the proceeds from the sale of those five acres to build a new 12,000-square-foot urgent care facility on one of the remaining tracts. With developers looking to rezone the property to a planned unit development, the overall vision was to create a medical campus.

Councilor Jared Grifoni, who voted to deny the original proposal at the Jan. 22 meeting, asked the council to reconsider for the sake of giving the developer an opportunity to come back with a different proposal that addressed concerns voiced by citizens and fellow councilors.

Due to the ordinance failing last month, the developer would have been required to wait one year to reapply. Grifoni questioned the one-year rule, but stated that if the developer wished to comeback with substantial changes, it should have to be during season when plenty of residents are on the island and with ample notice.

"I think the idea of forcing someone to come back in 12 months and one day with a plan that could be ready in 11 months and 29 days just doesn't seem like the definition of good government," Grifoni said. "It just seems like an arbitrary rule. There's no need or guarantee that anything would be approved and that the plan would be acceptable in any form or fashion."

Grifoni said that applicant would have to address concerns from the public and council regarding traffic flow, financial commitment to the nearby intersection, a start date for the urgent care facility before he was cutoff.

Councilor Larry Honig supported Grifoni's motion and stated that the applicant did not feel as if it was treated fairly by city staff.

Honig conceded that the last minute changes to the proposal were not appropriate given that it did not give citizens or staff time to review them. 

Councilor Howard Reed, however, disagreed and stated the applicant probably had been treated more fairly than anyone else as it had multiple opportunities to receive feedback from city staff and the Planning Board.

"This thing didn't show up two or three months ago," Reed said. "It's been on the drawing board for many, many months."

Marco Island resident Mark Greis, who spoke at the Jan. 22 meeting against the proposal, reiterated many of the concerns that had yet to be addressed.

In addition to disagreeing with the developer's traffic assessment, Greis said the marketing study completed was not reflective of Marco Island's demographics.

"We support a totally new plan in a different location for a smaller ALF and memory care with no independent living and closer to a hospital," Greis said. "Please start over from scratch."

With the reconsideration failing, Councilor Sam Young initially made a motion for City Manager David Harden and City Attorney Alan Gabriel to inquire about purchasing NCH's property in parts or in whole.

Gabriel advised the City Council to hold off on any discussions about purchasing the property as the ALF discussion included the developer buying a portion of that property as part of its proposal.

Taking Gabriel's advice, Young advised that he would bring up purchasing the property next month.

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