Marco Island prohibits seawall manufacturing effective July 1

Daniel Smith, director of community affairs of the city of Marco Island's growth management department, speaks during a City Council meeting on Feb. 1, 2021.

Marco Island City Council voted unanimously Monday to prohibit seawall manufacturing on residential lots, as it already is banned in commercial districts, effective July 1.

Brian Gilmore, co-owner of Collier Seawall & Dock on Marco Island, said Tuesday it is time to limit disturbances in residential neighborhoods.

"Seeing that the island is going into what I would call a new phase, which is bigger homes and bigger boats, I believe that is time to try to limit disturbances to neighbors in these residential neighborhoods," Gilmore said.

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 manufacturing on empty lots also requires staging.

Daniel Smith, director of community affairs of the city's growth management department, said last month in a council meeting seawall manufacturing was causing problems in residential neighborhoods.

"There were complaints that the seawall manufacturing was causing problems within the community," Smith said.

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

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.

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 may 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.

Gilmore said the cost of manufacturing seawalls will increase because of the new ordinance as companies like his will have to pay to make seawall panels off island and transport them to Marco. He said there are other factors that will inevitably raise costs.

"There is always increases in material costs, labor and insurance," Gilmore said.

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

Steven J. Sokol, owner of the Marco-based company Blue Marlin Marine Construction & Services, said at last month's council meeting 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."

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

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.

Sokol said last month in a council meeting that 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 for marine activities 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.

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 45 days allowed under the old ordinance.

On Jan. 19, City Council voted 6-0 to approve the proposal on first reading, rejecting a portion that would have allowed seawall manufacturing on the island's heavy commercial district C-5 under a conditional use permit.

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.

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

The next City Council meeting is set for 5:30 p.m., Feb. 22, in the community center.

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