Planning Board considers costly new rules for contractors

"I can foresee that if you are not allowed to cast panels on a single family lot at all, not even in one that is close by, that your prices are going to really escalate," said Joshua W. Maxwell, chief engineer of Turrell, Hall and Associates.

The Marco Island Planning Board considered Friday new rules for contractors that may increase construction costs in the island

The proposed Land Development Code (LDC) amendments would prohibit any type of construction staging on vacant residential lots unless it has an active construction permit. It would also limit the manufacturing of seawalls to the Heavy Commercial District (C5)

"The city of Marco Island does not allow manufacturing on the Island at all, even in the most intensive zoning district of Heavy Commercial (C-5)," said Daniel Smith, director of community affairs, in a report submitted to the board. "As the island becomes developed, these construction areas are getting closer and closer to homes." 

More:Marco Island Planning Board passes LDC ordinance

The amendments proposed will increase the construction costs in Marco Island, according to three contractors that spoke in Friday's meeting.

"We understand the good intentions [...] but some of the effects that this new language will cause is an increase in cost in every seawall on the island," said Joshua W. Maxwell, chief engineer of Turrell, Hall and Associates. "The contractors will accommodate (to) this changes but it's gonna cost everybody." 

Maxwell said that every time somebody lifts a concrete panel they run the risk of cracking them; therefore, manufacturing them closer to where they are needed is the best way to prevent it from happening. "And since you guys have a very competitive seawall market, contractors don't typically build them super robust because, if they do, they may lose the job to other contractors," Maxwell said. "So the concrete seawalls may become not cost justifiable."

"We do allow vinyl walls here and throughout the island and throughout Florida, they are a good product, but generally concrete seawalls is the most cost effective solution," said Maxwell of Turrell, Hall and Associates.

Maxwell also said that many C5 waterfront properties are marinas or other waterfront properties that will most likely not allow contractors to use them for seawall construction. Even if the owners of these lots agree to allow the construction of seawalls on their property, the construction costs are still likely to increase depending on what part of the island the seawall is needed, according to Maxwell. "You got more marinas on the north side [...] so trying to do construction on the north side is much more easier," Maxwell said. "The south of the island, you guys don't a have a lot of commercial waterfront properties [...] so I can see it adding anywhere from 20 to 50 percent for seawall construction costs just because of the added mobilization time."

Nancy Sciog, general manager of Duane Thomas Marine, said Marco does not have a place where contractors like her can load up their barges with materials to take to a client's house. "It is something that we have tried to work with the city, finding a location, and the only location they could find was under a bridge that you only have access to at low tide," Sciog said. "So it is not going to work."

Sciog said her company sometimes violates the law because there is no specific place set to load barges in Marco. "What happens is that [...] we are trying to sneak up on a lot and we are trying to load our barge quickly and get the heck out of there before Code catches us," Sciog said referring to Marco Island's Code Enforcement. 

Nancy Sciog, general manager of Duane Thomas Marine, said that the list of violations that the Marco Island staff shared with the Planning Board were mostly done by people who are not seawall contractors.  She said that her company appears 10 times in the least. "Of the 10, eight of them were not for staging or manufacturing seawalls, it was for trespassing," Sciog said.

At one point during Sciog's testimony, she asked point blank to board members and Marco staff why can't she manufacture seawall panels in or next to the lots where they are needed. "Just give me one reason why we can't manufacture the panels on site," Sciog said. "Why? Anybody?" she said but nobody immediately responded.  

"When you are manufacturing seawalls on the subject's property it does not create any dust or any fume no more than pouring a concrete slab," Sciog said. "Are we going to remove that and not be able to pour concrete slabs now?"

Sciog said she estimated that the proposed changes to Marco's code would increase construction costs by approximately 35 percent.

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Panning Board member Ed Issler argued most empty lot owners do not live in the neighborhood and give permission to use their lots without considering their neighbors. "Our Comprehensive Plan talks about Marco Island being a small, residential community, a peaceful community, a quiet community," Issler said. "There are lots that are getting used multiple times because they are the only lots in a certain area and you have people that either live there or come back for the season and every time they come all they have is dust and concrete trucks pouring (cement)."

Interim police chief, Captain David Baer, said that as less vacant lots are available for all stages of the construction process there are less people willing to let their lots be used for any purposes. "Most of the people that are letting their lots be used are doing so for a commercial gain," Baer said. "That's just how it works."

Marco Island Police Department Capt. Dave Baer speaks during a City Council meeting in 2020.

"When somebody, specially a seawall or dock manufacturer, wants to use a lot, usually, the land owners are getting paid to do it. [...], Baer said. "So they are financially compensated in some way, shape or form but there is the neighborhood that has to deal with that."

Baer said he doesn't know of any local seawall manufacturer that hasn't had at least one offense and that they just pass the costs related to citations or violations to their customers, up to $500.

"This is a quality of life issue, it is a safety issue," Baer said. "I do not know if there is an all in one solution."

The Planning Board did not vote on the proposed LDC amendments and it is likely to bring up the matter on upcoming meetings. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2.