City Council votes in favor of boathouses, discuss Senate bills at meeting

Samantha Roesler
File: The internal boathouse will house both a 30-ft. and a 50-ft. boat.

City Council met on Feb. 7 to talk about new senate bills that may affect Marco Island and to discuss the current prohibiting of boathouses. The years-long debate of sidewalk taxes was also mentioned, as Vice-Chair Grifoni recommended a referendum for the issue.

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Marco Island Police Officer Joshua Ferris was recognized on Monday night for his 10 years of service to the Marco Island Police Department. Ferris serves as both a firearm and rescue swim instructor and has earned a Phoenix Award for successfully applying CPR to someone who is having a heart attack. “He’s really one of the best and brightest in the Marco Island Police Department,” Marco Island City Manager Michael McNees said.

The scheduled first reading of a revised sea turtle protection ordinance was pushed to the next council meeting, due to the proposed revisions being in incorrect format. The document did not have underlining or strikethroughs to show what was part of the old ordinance and what will be added.

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Marco Island Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius provided council with an update on some senate and house bills that are quickly proceeding through the Florida State Legislature. This gives council the opportunity to potentially take a position to support or oppose the bills so city staff can prepare letters to State representatives and notify the city’s lobbyist.

Erik Brechnitz, chairman of Marco Island City Council, appeared to disfavor all four bills presented, but suggested that council focuses on two to address to the Senate so that their comments are more impactful. Council agreed to focus on Senate Bill 512 and 620.

“This is a continuing advance by the state of Florida to take control away from local governments,” Chairman Brechnitz said. “They believe they can legislate from Tallahassee to Marco Islanders better than we can, and I disagree.”

Marco Island Police Officer Joshua Ferris was recognized on Monday night for his 10 years of service to the Marco Island Police Department.

Senate Bill 512 is focused on vacation rentals and authorizes local governments to adopt vacation rental registration programs and impose fines for failure to register. However, the fee that government can pose must be no more than $50.

“We need to get our own short term rental ordinance going and we’re not going to have anything meaningful with a $50 fee, that’s crazy,” Councilman Rich Blanna said.

Council voted 4-3 in favor of sending a letter opposing this bill, with Councilor Irwin, Babrowski and Vice-Chair Grifoni in dissent.

Senate Bill 620, titled the Local Business Protection Act, would authorize businesses to claim damages if the municipality passes an ordinance that causes them to reduce at least 15 percent of their business profits.

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Vice-Chair Grifoni expressed his belief that not enough specifics are known about this bill to understand how it will impact a small municipality like Marco Island.

“I would take more of a hands-off approach to these bills until we get more details and see where it ends up, but I think we’re kind of late to the process,” Grifoni said.

Council voted 5-2 in favor of sending a letter of opposition for Senate Bill 620, with Councilor Irwin and Vice-Chair Grifoni in dissent.

One of the main topics of conversation on Monday night was a discussion regarding the use of boat covers on the island which is currently prohibited under Section 54-166 of the Land Development Code. Marco Island does not permit the construction of a new boathouse, boat cover, gazebo or similarly structured cover to extend over any navigable waterways in any zoning district. What’s currently allowed for residents to use are mooring covers which are placed directly on a boat.

The current ban of boathouse covers is due to potential consequences such as depleting oxygen in waterways, or the structure being blown into the water during hurricane-force winds. There are also concerns of large boat canopies blocking the view of the waterways for current boats navigating the water and the view of the canals for neighboring residents.

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“Planning Board looked at this and they felt that boat covers were something that was important to Marco Island because of protection of the boat and maintenance of the boat,” Director of Community Affairs Dan Smith said, “It is something that's a permanent structure and they felt that boat covers should be removed from Section 54-116 to be allowed.”

If the City Council votes that boat covers should be allowed, the request would go back to the planning board, go into the land development code as an approved use, and then the new regulations put in place would be brought back to City Council.

“The issue is for avid boaters who make a significant investment in an asset that they use frequently, and they want to protect it from the sun when they're not using that asset,” Chair Brechnitz said. “I think we ought to allow these things with a conditional use permit.” Brechnitz also mentioned that the code should state that covers must be disassembled in the case of a hurricane.

As technology has advanced, some of the new mooring covers have assist systems with automatic retractable boat covers. Based on the definition in the code, mooring cover assist systems aren’t allowed on the island. The only permittable mooring cover is the type on a monorail system that’s cantilever.

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Many residents voiced their opinions that they want boathouses to be allowed.

“The biggest concern with (mooring covers) is safety,” said Douglas Hess, Marco Island resident. “I’m probably one of the younger residents at 60 years old, trying to put it on and off a boat, I fell into the canal twice in the last six years.”

Gary Lamotte mentioned the potential for lack of upkeep with the boathouses.

“I do have concerns that once (boathouses) are up they’re not going to be maintained properly, and the possibility of the storms coming and ripping them apart by irresponsible homeowners who don’t maintain them,” Lamotte said.

During council discussion, Councilman Folley expressed fear that the boathouses could take away from the island’s aesthetics.

“I am very concerned that we don't create a trashy type of situation, that resonates with me,” Councilman Folley said. “I don't think any of us want that. We want some beauty and consistency to come out of this and not ruin the aesthetics. So that's the balance we have to strike as we go back and look at this.”

Vice-Chair Grifoni doesn’t see flashy boat covers as real threat.

“I don’t really see any issue with boat covers right now in terms of color, so I would be hesitant to support any additional regulation on that at this point,” Vice-Chair Grifoni said. “I think that’s less a safety question and more question of property right.”

Council decided in a 7-0 vote to remove the term “boat cover” in the existing code and replace it with “boat canopy” and allow those structures. Also, to support staff’s new definition of a mooring cover assist system, which also allows more options for citizens than the current cantilevered model system.

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Vice-Chair Grifoni presented a potential referendum regarding an ongoing debate for citizens having to pay for their own sidewalk. Under city ordinance, every property owner is responsible to maintain and repair the sidewalks in front of their property. However, the city has built extended sidewalks in front of resident’s houses as part of a multi-use path.

“There's the fundamental question of whether or not citizens should be responsible for maintenance and repair of a sidewalk in front of their home that they don't own,” Vice-Chair Grifoni said. “Ultimately, it really just needs to be a question for the citizens to answer how they want to pay for the sidewalks because citizens are paying for them no matter what.”

The referendum could bring up the question of each resident paying an equal amount of tax for sidewalk repairs and maintenance, no matter how much sidewalk is in front of their property.

After discussion of the multiple different ways that residents could be taxed for sidewalks, Brechnitz suggested that staff determine the best funding mechanism for this issue before asking citizens what they think, to avoid confusion. Staff said they will aim for the first City Council meeting in April to have the prepared possibilities.

The next Marco Island City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Feb. 22.