Marco Island City Council discusses resident surveys, water quality and more

Samantha Roesler
Local resident Andrea Battaglia speaking in front of the council in favor of keeping the surplus land on Mainsail Drive for future use. The city council motioned in a 7-0 vote to put the land up for bidding.

Marco Island City Council met Monday night to discuss a variety of matters such as sales of surplus land on Mainsail Drive, potential solutions to high nutrient levels and a brand-new way to promote civic engagement.

City staff asked for direction from council on how to proceed with the potential sale of the two surplus properties located on Mainsail Drive. Last summer, when the council declared 1825 and 1955 Mainsail Drive as surplus, the properties got posted for an appraised amount of $2.1 million. Since then, it was determined that the property was not worth that amount and in December the land got reappraised for $750 thousand.

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Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius gave staff multiple possibilities on what can be done with the land. The options included negotiating with the current developer SK Holdings, re-posting the property for bidding to potentially attract different developers and receive a bid above the appraised value or continue to maintain the land and re-evaluate it as a potential emergency portable water storage area.

Andrea Battaglia, who has been a local resident since the 80s, spoke during public comment in favor of keeping the land. “If the land is its own utility, why don’t we hold onto it in case we need it for the future?” Battaglia said. “If you need land, it’s going to cost you double, triple or quadruple the $750 thousand.”

The council motioned in a 7-0 vote to accept staff’s recommendation of putting the land up for bidding.

One of the main discussions Monday night was centered around the city’s plan to improve civic engagement. Lucius proposed two engagement strategies, an interactive app and a citizen survey.

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 The proposed app, developed by GOGov, would allow residents to report their concerns to the city such as trash on the beach or iguanas, and the app then directs the issue to the respective city department.  Also, the city would be able to utilize the app to send push notifications to residents of information such as road closures or boil water notices. The app would cost over $17 thousand annually.

“One of the things I noticed is that this is really the move that many cities are going to,” Lucius said. “We used to do newsletters, then we moved to emails, then social media and now many cities are moving to texts and notifications because people want information real time.”

Vice-Chair Grifoni voiced his support for integration of a Marco Island app. “I think it would be really helpful for the city if we get it going and we do it right and are committed to it,” Grifoni said.

City Manager Lucius also proposed a community survey so the city understands the citizens’ primary concerns. The survey, which would be developed by MDI Global, would focus on gap analysis. This would be done by asking residents what they feel is most important from different categories relating to Marco Island, and then rate how they feel the city is performing in those categories. The survey would cost the city approximately $8 thousand to conduct.

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“I’m not hearing anything about how we get at the fluidity of attitudes and feelings of the citizens on both current issues and forward-looking issues if we’re going to do a one-time survey,” expressed Councilor Babrowski. “Yes, it would help with the budget, but it doesn’t help with the strategy, it doesn’t help with the vision.”

Councilor Irwin voiced that she thinks a survey is an important aspect of a city with a constantly changing population. “Our people on this island change a lot,” Irwin said. “New people come every single year and I‘d like to know what the new people think, I’d like to know where they’re from. I’m interested in knowing if this is a better city than where they came from or worse and why.”

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Both the mobile app and the community survey got approved, with the mobile app carrying 6-1 with Councilor Rola in dissent. The survey was approved narrowly in a 4-3 vote with Councilor Blanna, Vice-Chair Grifoni and Chair Berchnitz in dissent.

Councilman Rola conducted a presentation on a cost-effective plan to improve Marco Island waterway quality based on the Marco Island Water Quality Hypoxia Investigation and the water quality review done by Environmental Research and Design, both conducted in 2021. Rola’s presentation explained how the issues of phosphorus and nitrogen could be resolved with improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plan. However, some residents believe that these nutrients aren’t what should be focused on.

“If we continue to measure and make our decisions based on total nitrogen and phosphorous, we will continue to get it wrong,” Marco Island resident Nanette Rivera said. “The health of the water is the oxygen water. What we should be working on is correcting the oxygen level of our waterways.”

Rola’s presentation will be discussed during a workshop focused on water quality at a later date.

Airplane noise from Marco Island Executive Airport was brought up as a concern during public comment by Marco Island resident Ken Honecker. “This season, I’ve discovered that I live on a runway path to the airport with the jets and the traffic has been quite loud coming over my house,” Honecker said. “I’d like council to contact the county and find out what the rules are on this situation before it gets worse.” Chairman Brechnitz attested that the local airport traffic has heavily increased and said he will look into the county regulations on noise control.

Marco Island’s next City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7 in the community room.