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Marco Island Planning Board against manufacturing seawalls within city limits

Daniel J. Smith, director of Community Affairs, speaks during a Marco Island Planning Board meeting on July 5, 2019.

Marco Island Planning Board members agreed last week that manufacturing seawalls should be prohibited within city limits.

The city's Land Development Code (LDC) currently allows making concrete seawall panels and boat docks on residential lots, not in commercial districts, for a maximum of 100 consecutive days, according to a staff report.

"The lot can be used again for seawall/boat dock manufacturing 365 days after the expiration of the permit," according to the report. "The manufactured product is not required to be used on the permitted lot for which the fabrication occurs, and may be used on other lots requiring seawall replacement/construction."

Daniel J. Smith, director of community affairs, said during a board meeting on March 6 he spoke with people who make seawalls outside of the city limits.

"They don't see a difference in costs," Smith said. "As a matter of fact, they have actually told me that the quality control on how the seawalls are built are better than what happens on a vacant lot."

Staging for any kind of construction would still be allowed, according to Smith.

"I'm not eliminating any construction sites for staging," Smith said. "My goal was to discuss the manufacturing of seawalls, period."

City Council previously instructed staff to evaluate possible changes to the LDC based on residents' feedback and violations regarding concrete seawall panels fabricated on residential lots.

Tonia Selmeski, environmental planner for the city, said one of her responsibilities is to do pre-permit inspections for staging lots, seawalls and family homes.

"There have been multiple violations in situations where there has been seawall manufacturing on a lot where they have [...] started curing seawall panels without a permit," Selmeski said.

 "At that point we don't know if there were any gopher tortoises or burrowing owls [...] on that lot and there is no way to check because that lot [...] now [...] has numerous panels, and the lot is filled with debris (and) construction equipment."

Selmeski said it is easier to inspect other types of construction.

"In situations where [...] there may be [...] a trailer or a truck (on an empty lot), it's easier to fail an inspection and then ask them to remove it, hoping they didn't run over a burrow," Selmeski said. "It's easier to notify them and have Code (Enforcement) [...] remedy the violation quickly so we can then quickly evaluate and inspect the lot."

It's a bigger issue when it comes to seawall manufacturing, according to Selmeski. 

"You can't just ask somebody to go out and remove panels [...] the next day," Selmeski said. "If we weren't out there prior, we don't know if any species (or their burrows) were harmed."

"We wouldn't even know what was there."

Edgar "Ed" Issler is a member of the Marco Island Planning Board.

Board member Ed Issler said the city should also consider raising fines against people who manufacture or stage seawalls without permits.

"This is totally worthless without significant fines," Issler said.

Property owners and contractors could both be liable for manufacturing or staging seawalls without permits depending on the facts of the case, according to Capt. Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department. The department oversees the city's Code Enforcement division.

"The fines are up to the magistrate," Baer wrote in an email on March 11. "Generally speaking they would start at $250 and would increase based on circumstances including if the respondent is a repeat offender."

Steven Sokol of Blue Marlin Marine Construction said he supported the proposed prohibition.

"I think it's gonna be a lot easier to distinguish whether somebody is doing something wrong on a lot if you just don't have the manufacturing going on there," Sokol said.

"What our customers like about us is [...] that we don't do it on the island," Sokol said. "Not only don't we do it on the island because of the disturbance but we also don't do it [...] because we believe there is a far better product that comes from a fabricator that only do(es) this in a controlled environment."

Sokol, a Marco Island resident, spoke against allowing the manufacturing of seawalls in the C5 heavy commercial zoning district where he owns property. 

C5 encompasses the area from Rose Marina in Bald Eagle Dr. to Walker's Hideaway Marina in E. Elkcam Circle, according to the city's zoning map.

"It would be to my advantage to be able to have it done on a C5 lot but I don't think it's in the interest of the community as a whole," Sokol said.

Sokol said the price of making seawalls away from the island is about the same as manufacturing it on an empty lot in Marco.

"It's about even, including transport," Sokol said.

The board instructed city staff to present an amendment to the LDC during its next meeting.

The C5 heavy commercial zoning district encompasses the area from Rose Marina in Bald Eagle Dr. to Walker's Hideaway Marina in E. Elkcam Circle, according to the city's zoning map.

From 2019:Planning Board considers costly new rules for contractors

The board considered a different LDC amendment back in July that would have prohibited any type of construction staging on vacant residential lots unless it had an active construction permit. It would have also limited the manufacturing of seawalls to C5. 

The amendments would have increased the construction costs in the island, according to three contractors who spoke at the board meeting on July 5.

"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 & 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 so manufacturing them closer to where they are needed is the best way to prevent it from happening. 

"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."

City Council did not vote on the proposed LDC amendments of last year.

"The Planning Board did not believe at that time any changes to the existing ordinances should occur," Smith said. "City Council did not initiate the change so it never went to council."

The recent board discussion on seawall manufacturing was initiated by City Council so it will eventually go back to council, Smith said.

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.