Marco Island residents express frustrations over short-term rentals

Major changes for Marco Island condos in wake of Surfside collapse

Andrea Stetson
Shot-term rentals dominated the conversation at Monday night's City Council meeting. Residents will vote on the ordinance on Aug. 23.

It was a non-agenda item that stirred up controversy and had Marco Island residents coming up to the microphone one after another at Monday’s City Council meeting, to stress their views on vacation rentals. Residents will vote on the ordinance on Aug. 23 and many are furious about its implications.

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“The goal of the group is not about registration,” stressed Martin Winter. “It is about regulation and the ultimate goal of banning short-term rentals. It will mean higher taxes, falling home prices, years of litigation. It does not take in the views of the majority.”

Chairman Erik Brechnitz said the board had no choice. They had to put the item on the ballot. A vacation rental registration ordinance would require those that rent for 30 days or less, to register and comply with rules related to noise, parking, landscaping, and other site related regulations.

“Once the petition was received and deemed sufficient, we had three options,” Brechnitz explained. “We could pass the ordinance as it was presented, we could negotiate with the petitioners to try to amend the ordinance to make it more palatable, or we put it on the ballot. Those were our only three options. We attempted to negotiate with the petitioners and they declined so then we had no choice but to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.”

Still, residents want their voices heard and they want the public to better understand what they will vote for.

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“The real intent of what is being proposed is an ordinance that will severely curtail if not eliminate many short-term rentals,” said Howie Rice. “The ordinance is littered with these poison pills that are designed to make it absolutely impossible to have a short-term rental.”

Rice said if taken literally, the ordinance would prohibit any noise 50 feet from the rental home,

“That could be an air conditioning unit, a mower, kids playing in the pool,” he said.

Rice said the first violation is $200, second is $500, third is $1,000, the fourth violation is a 180-day rental ban and the fifth a full year rental ban.

“It is a very harsh ordinance,” Rice stressed. “It is a very draconian and harsh ordinance, and it is by design because it is intended to put short-term rentals out of business.”

Marie Sanon purchased a home on Marco and rents her place when she is not in town and that is economically crucial for her.

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“We can only afford to do this because we are renting while we wait to retire,” she explained.  “A lot of people rent until they are ready to retire. While I am in favor of reasonable restrictions that enhance the quality of life on our island, I just think this is borderline ridiculous. And I do think this will get caught up in a lot of litigation that will cost the city a lot of money. These restrictions are just not appropriate for our way of life.”

Karen-Lynn Twyning said everything from kids to dogs, to bike bells can be noisy.

“Instead of banning life, communication is the key,” she stressed as she proposed simply leaving a note for noise offenders instead of putting in an ordinance.

Ed Issler was the sole proponent to speak. He spoke about how cities all over the state have similar ordinances that work.

“The ordinance is not designed to stop short-term rentals. The ordinance is designed to make short-term rentals orderly,” he said.

Issler said in today’s world people are afraid to go to a renter or landlord and ask them to lower the noise.

“People have been attacked for that,” he stated. “It is not a panic, lose all situation. Most of the cities in Florida have a rental registration. They are being implemented all over the place, so this is not out of the ordinary.”

Marco Island residents can vote on the ordinance in August. More information on the proposed rules is on the city website.

June 25, 2021: People stand on the beach beyond police barricades and look at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Fla.

Building inspections

The rest of the Marco City Council meeting was much tamer. Building official, Raul Perez, gave a presentation on how the city needs to address new condo inspection rules.

Following the Surfside condo collapse on June 24, 2021 the state of Florida created mandatory milestone inspections to prevent future catastrophic building collapses. Condo associations must arrange for the inspections and for all costs and repairs. The inspections are not done by the city. They are performed by licensed architects or engineers.

The rule applies to all condos three stories or more in height. They must be inspected when they are 25 years old and then every 10 years thereafter. Perez said there are 172 structures in Marco that are condos of three or more levels, and 99 of them must be inspected before Dec. 31, 2024. The other condos are not yet 25 years old. It is the city’s responsibility to determine which buildings must have the milestone inspections and to provide written notice if association fails to do this or have needed repairs.

July 4, 2021; The still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South is imploded in Surfside, Fla. The building partially collapsed on June 24, 2021.

“If an association fails to have scheduled or have commenced repairs for substantial structural deterioration identified in phase two inspection report within 365 days, we must determine if the building is safe for human occupancy,” Perez explained.

Perez told the council he will probably need three additional staff members to carry out this work.

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Other topics

Monday night the council voted to name the dock, bleachers and gazebo at Mackle Park the “Cale Model Yacht Sailing Center” in Honor of Rocky Cale. Cale has overseen Summer Youth Sailing for 14 years as well as other sailing programs there.

Al Musico, member of the Bicycle Pathways committee, gave an update on cycling on Marco. He said the goal is to have two types of paths: on street ones for experienced bikers and bike paths for more novice cyclists. He said construction will start on a Collier Blvd. alternative bike lane in early 2024 and construction on a North Barfield Pathway should begin the end of 2023.

Mary Cummings, a member of the Beautification Advisory Committee, suggested the city hire a professional landscape architect to design the plan for beach access corridors. She said the committee will use experts from the Naples Botanical Gardens to give plant expertise and hopes to use students from Lorenzo Walker to get ideas for a new bicycle rack design. Council members debated the need for additional lighting at the beach accesses.

“There is no city ordinance that prohibits access to the beach at any time,” said councilmember Joe Rola. “If we want access to the beach, we need to light that path to keep people safe. If we don’t want access, we want lights to make sure people are not there.”