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Marco Island City Council votes to prohibit seawall manufacturing on the island

Workers build a new seawall at Marco Island Yacht Club on Jan. 6, 2021.

Marco Island City Council voted 6-0 to approve on first reading a proposal to prohibit seawall manufacturing on residential lots, as it already is banned in commercial districts, effective July 1.

Council must vote in favor for a second time at a future meeting before the prohibition becomes law.

"There were complaints that the seawall manufacturing was causing problems within the community," said Daniel Smith, director of community affairs of the city's growth management department.

Seawall manufacturing is the process of making concrete panels that make up a wall to protect coastal property from erosion. This process can be laborious, messy and loud.

Seawall staging, on the other hand, is the process of bringing prefabricated seawalls and other supplies to a location to be installed or be transferred to a barge to be installed somewhere else. Seawall construction also requires staging.

Smith said the city found 69 staging lot code violations in 2018 and 67 in 2019 which resulted in the city collecting almost $7,000 in fines. These violations include but are not limited to seawalls.

"The (code enforcement) magistrate has been a lot more aggressive on the fines because she was seeing a lot of repeat offenders," Smith said.

Last year, the city found 17 violations, 50 fewer compared to the previous year, resulting in close to $17,000 in fines.

Smith said the fines may have encouraged contractors to stop breaking the rules.

"During the coronavirus, construction is actually going up," Smith said.

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

Smith said the most common violations are working without a permit, potentially destroying wildlife habitat, or poor site maintenance to control erosion. 

Staging on lots is sometimes necessary as barges used by seawall contractors do not fit under the city's bridges, particularly during high tide, Smith said.

Smith said 3,053 lots, of which 508 are vacant, are in areas that are "internal" or not easily accessible by water compared to 2,652, of which 447 are vacant, that are easily accessible or "external."

Smith said Collier County has a staging lot just north of Marco next to the Judge S. S. Jolley Bridge that the county may develop to allow contractors to use it for a fee.

"The external lots would be able to use this site," Smith said.

Councilor Becky Irwin said she is concerned the proposed changes would slow down seawall construction on the island as old seawalls need to be replaced quickly.

"They don't need it in six months, they need it now," Irwin said.

Irwin said the construction of seawalls should not be arbitrarily interrupted just because it may inconvenience some people.

The proposal would also add new rules for staging seawalls on empty residential lots like allowing equipment, materials and supplies to be delivered to them for actively permitted marine construction sites for not more than 10 days, according to the proposed ordinance.

Contractors would be able to request this permit up to four times per lot in a calendar year, and they would not be required to install a construction fence.

Steven J. Sokol, owner of Blue Marlin Marine Construction & Services, speaks during a Marco Island City Council meeting on Aug. 17, 2020.

Steven J. Sokol, owner of the island-based company Blue Marlin Marine Construction & Services, said 10 days is suitable for dock construction, which makes up half of his business.

"That's where you need a rapid deployment," Sokol said.

A staging lot exceeding 10 consecutive days would require a 6-foot chain link fence with a green or black fabric to be maintained in good condition along the front and both sides of the lot.

Irwin said this will cause contractors to pass to their clients the costs associated with renting and installing the fence.

"I want to be careful," Irwin said.

Contractors would also have to submit a staging plan that includes the location of the lot, an erosion control plan, temporary fence location, and animal burrow protection and dumpster location, if applicable.

Other rules that currently apply to seawall manufacturing would apply to staging.

For example, contractors would be allowed to do marine staging activities on a vacant lot for up to 100 consecutive days while an associated permit is active, and more than one permitted marine construction activity may be staged at the vacant lot concurrently.

Upon completion of the use and prior to the expiration of the approved activity, the contractor would have to restore the lot to its "pre-use condition."

Contractors would also have to provide written permission from the property owner of the vacant lot and submit it to the city as part of their temporary use permit application.

The city would also require a signed document holding the city harmless from claims for damages to the vacant lot or seawall. In addition, city staff would provide notification of the proposed temporary use to all property owners within a 300-foot radius.

Seawall demolition will continue to be allowed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and demolition material must be removed from the lot or placed in a dumpster within five days.

Under certain conditions, contractors will continue to be able to request a time extension to operate on the lot but city staff would only be allow to grant it for a maximum of 10 days instead of the old 45.

Councilor Claire Babrowski takes her seat on the dais for the first time after being sworn in during a Marco Island City Council meeting in the community room on Monday, December 7, 2020.

Councilor Joseph Rola said the changes seem reasonable but that the city should also plan into the future.

"But we know eventually the city is going to have to face how we are going to repair and replace seawalls," Rola said.

Rola said the city may need to purchase a staging lot.

Councilor Claire Babrowski said the rules will be good if the code enforcement division is able to enforce them. She recalled one contractor who previously said that sometimes it is worth staging without a permit because the risk of getting caught is low.

"If we can't enforce it, which is what many residents came to testify to the planning board, why bother?" Babrowski said.

Rola and Babrowski were members of the board until they were elected to City Council in November.

Smith said Marco Island Police Department Capt. Dave Baer said the proposal is a move in the right direction.

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.

Going against city staff recommendation, City Council rejected a portion of the proposal which would have allowed seawall manufacturing on the island's heavy commercial district C-5 under a conditional use permit.

This permit would mean that anyone wanting to manufacture seawalls on C-5 would first need the approval of City Council.

Chairman Jared Grifoni asked if the plan to allow seawall construction on C-5 was studied thoroughly or if it was "swept up" as a quick way to find an alternate location for this type of work.

Smith said doing seawall construction on C-5 under a conditional use permit is appropriate.

Grifoni said there are factors that would have to be considered like traffic, dust and debris.

Smith previously said the nearest seawall manufacturing company is nine miles off the island.

Councilor Richard Blonna listens to speakers during a Marco Island City Council meeting in the community room on Monday, December 7, 2020.

Councilor Richard Blonna said seawall construction should not be allowed in open air and in certain C-5 lots.

"Somebody could use the lot that used to be the Marco Eagle lot, and build panels right there across from Dunkin' Donuts," Blonna said.

Sokol said his company prefers to purchase seawall panels outside of Marco because it is cost-effective.

"I thought we were able to compete very well with other seawall companies," Sokol said. "If it were impossible to do, I would not have been able to do it for the past 10 years."

In August, City Council approved a motion instructing staff to write a new ordinance regulating on-island seawall manufacturing after local contractors said a blanket prohibition may raise their operating costs.

Brian Gilmore, co-owner of Collier Seawall & Dock on Marco Island, said last year most of the seawalls they use are manufactured on Marco while some are ordered from an off-island vendor.

They are going to be more costly to buy them off the island and ship them in," Gilmore said. "Or we may be forced to purchase property off the island to make them ourselves so we don't have to go through a vendor that marks them up."

Gilmore said his clients could see an increase in costs from 10% to 20%. "Either way it's going to be more money to the end user," he said at the time.

In March, the members of the city's planning board agreed seawall manufacturing should be prohibited within city limits.

The next scheduled City Council meeting is 5:30 p.m., Feb. 1, in the community center.

Contact Omar at omar.rodriguezortiz@naplesnews.com, and follow him on Twitter as @Omar_fromPR. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.