Short-term rental issue remains noise for City Council

Andrea Stetson
This is the home on Marco Island that is owned by James and Ann Mardis. They spend 3-4 months at this home and rent it the rest of the year.

The fight over a ballot referendum to further regulate vacation rentals on Marco Island is tearing the small town apart, pitting neighbor against neighbor and sparking a smear campaign on social media. Despite being warned that council members have heard it all, residents on both sides continued the fight Monday night at the council meeting forcing the council to double the allotted time for public comment.        

Chairman Erik Brechnitz said he has already listened to hours and hours of comments during public meetings and has read more than 1,000 emails on the issue.

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“There is not much more anybody can tell me about this that I have not already heard,” he told the public.

That did not stop them from coming to the microphone to continue the battle. This time many focused on the smear campaigns. Hayden Dublois projected an image found on social media encouraging people to vote no. “The new Home Regulation would put your identity at risk of being stolen or sold to China and other 3rd parties.” the image stated.

“You can’t negotiate in good faith when people are making claims like this,” he stressed.

Ed Issler, wearing a t-shirt that read “restore our sense of community vote yes, is also perturbed by the campaigns against his group. He said the opposition is creating a fear campaign by telling the public that right after election day there can be no more vacation rentals until inspectors are hired and able to visit the 2,000 homes that need certification before renting.

Marco as seen from above.

“When we prepared the referendum, at the wise advice of the city attorney, we were not allowed to put an implementation plan,” he explained. “We were not allowed to put any budget in. We were not allowed to put any staffing and we had done all this research and gotten a lot of information, but we were not allowed to include that in the referendum because that is not allowed in the city charter. Nobody wants landlords to lose rental income, so it is up to the city council to come up with an implementation plan because we are not allowed under the city ordinance. Somebody can get a temporary certificate, then when the inspections are done, they can get a certification. If it passes issues can be looked at and tweaked.”

Those opposed to the ordinance had the same types of complaints. They complained of images on social media showing a lawn full of cars creating a parking problem, yet said those vehicles were apparently at a private home, not a vacation rental. Kathy Dennis said people were tricked into signing the petition that led to the referendum.

“Recently people who signed the petition and realized what it entails are now voting no,” she said. “They were given the petition with a single sheet of paper and did not know all the rules they were signing.”

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Many of the residents were just upset about the mudslinging campaigns that are snowballing into a massive fight among those who live or work on the island.

“I am disgusted about the hate being shown on social media,” said Alys Macias “I am against any unjustified complaints. Let us work together to work for peace for our island.”

“Do we want an island that pits neighbor against neighbor?” questioned Martin Winter. “Do you always look at our neighbor and think are they a yes vote or a no vote? Our community is being divided like never before. We are all islanders. We do not need to go down this path. We have a much better solution that won’t end in lawsuits.”

Not all the speakers focused on vacation rentals. Several came to the microphone to stress the importance of city council doing something to address clean water. Phil Wamzemberg spoke on behalf of the sports fishing club telling council about the deteriorating water quality and poorer fishing conditions.

“Marco needs to treat the reuse water so the nutrients are reduced,” he said. “We as a community need to educate ourselves.”

Chris Hanson asked the council to get things moving with plans to reduce the phosphorous in the water.

“It won’t get any easier if we wait,” he stressed. “It will definitely get more expensive. The vitality of our community the essence of our community is at stake now.

Put the objectives of the comprehensive plan into action. We are looking for a timetable with deadlines. When is this going to get done? When can we say our water will be clean? The economic benefits would be substantial if we can get this cleaned up.”

In other council news

Dianna Dohm of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce told the public about the 25th Anniversary celebrations on the island starting August 22 and running through August 27th. Each day has a theme such as coastal cleanup, athletic day, art day, city government day and prom. All events except the prom are free.

Complete Streets gave a presentation on an approach to street design that strives to accommodate all transportation modes including walking, cycling, transit and driving. Council voted to allow them to return with more specific ideas.

Councilman Richard Blonna voiced concerns about companies that do pool rentals. “Imagine this scenario you have a short-term rental on one side and then you have a place that rents a pool on the other side,” he said. Councilman Brechnitz said he doesn’t think commercial use is allowed outside the actual structure of a building.

“What I know is people can now rent out their kitchens for their use and have people come over for a dinner party,” said councilman Jared Grifoni. “Your game room - you can rent that out. Too often we jump head-first into something where there is no need for concern. It is the same thing with Uber. Nobody gives it a second thought today because it is so efficient. There are things that evolve and we shouldn’t be afraid of every single thing that pops up.

“Rather than rushing in to get the government in to clobber everybody, let’s wait and see if it becomes a problem,” added councilwoman Becky Irwin.