Marco Island City Council debates advancing rental ordinance

Andrea Stetson
Two hours of heated debate by Marco Island City Council Monday night ended in a vote to accept the first reading of the Marco Island vacation rental ordinance with amended changes.

Two hours of heated debate by Marco Island City Council Monday night ended in a vote to accept the first reading of the Marco Island vacation rental ordinance with amended changes. But there are so many possible changes that there will be another first reading in October.

Residents of Marco Island voted on Aug. 23 to require short-term vacation rental owners to register with the city and comply with 17 pages of new rules and regulations. During debates, before the election, those in favor of the ordinance refused to make any changes, even though they were informed that some of the rules might not be legal. Now they are willing to compromise a bit and have amendments tacked on. For example, they want to remove a rule that will not allow anyone over the age of 13 to sleep on a sofa bed. They want to adjust the time for garbage containers to be put out to match those of all single-family homes and make numerous technical corrections to comply better with state statutes and Marco Island ordinances.

Councilman Jared Grifoni questioned the council’s ability to vote on changes.

“I am really struggling that we should just make all these changes to this ordinance,” he began. “The ordinances were faulty. It was flawed. Ed Issler (head of the proposal) was asked if he would fix those issues prior to the vote. He didn’t think he could because people signed a petition with those rules. Now 4,000 people voted on it and now we can change it? That falls flat. So, the question is why wasn’t this changed before and why are we trying to change it now? The citizens deserve to have this council vote on what they voted on. If it is good enough for them to vote on it, then why is it not good enough for us to vote on it?”

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Grifoni says the ordinance is flawed and it should be a judge that makes the decision on the outcome, not the council changing what voters approved.

Councilwoman Claire Babrowski disagrees. “In the past we have always had ordinances that get tweaked,” she said. “It is not like whatever we do today can’t be changed. We had an ordinance that was tweaked six times.”

Before the vote, 17 people spoke on the issue, most of them in support of the ordinance.

“This is not Ed Issler’s rental registration program. This is a rental registration program that the citizens wanted,” said Ed Issler who headed the quest for an ordinance. “The citizens voted and the citizens passed this referendum. Now we need to come up with a good implementation plan. That is a critical element, but it is too much to tackle in one meeting.”

“This was a record setting vote for the primary,” said Linda Goslee. “The people made their choice. Please respect that choice.”

Mary Alger stressed that people that live in condos are protected from noise, trash and traffic by the homeowners’ association, so those in a single-family home in a non-gated community deserve the same rights and that’s why she wants council members to vote for implementing the ordinance.

Let’s just get this thing taken care of,” added Joseph Alger. “We voted, end of story.”

“We all voted,” said Beth Baltis. “These homes are not being taken care of. They are disgusting. The pool next to me was not serviced for four months. It is just gross. This law is also going to protect the people that are visiting this beautiful island.”

“We are very serious about this,” stressed Ann Spanos. “The rentals can get out of control. I am fully in support of the ordinance and feel it is your duty to approve it because the majority of citizens approved it.”

“I am here to support the referendum and encourage you to support it as written,” stressed Rozine Grey. “This was a historic vote for Marco Island. The trend in the country is for the end of short-term rentals. I bought a home here on Marco two years ago and I was told no rentals, and next door to me is a short-term rental, down the street from me is another short-term rental that changes hands every four days. Any business today hiring anybody is doing background checks. Any condo does a background check before you can buy in so why shouldn’t we be concerned about who is living next to us. I don’t want to be living next to a pedophile.”

There were a few speakers that encouraged council members to not vote for something they said was deceptive.

 “This was put out as a registration program,” said Martin Winter as the crowd of ordinance supporters heckled him. “The reality is no one won. We have an ordinance that was put out and they told us they didn’t want to make any changes, now they want to make all these changes. Now we are not being heard. There clearly is a lawsuit. We have been duped on what was voted on and it cannot be adopted and cannot be even implemented. I think a large portion did not know what they voted on. They thought it was just a registration, not 17 pages of rules and regulations.”

“This registration is a Trogan Horse,” said Miklos Van Halen. “It is dangerous because it shows people can force their will on others. Rights cannot be simply voted away by others. This ordinance is a disgrace.”

Marco Island police chief Tracy Fazzano told the council that the noise ordinance portion will be hard to enforce.

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“If we go about it the way it is written then the complainants would have to testify,” she explained. “Babies crying, kids talking, people playing in the pool could all be a violation based on the ordinance. Already we have officers respond to noise complaints. In the middle of the afternoon if someone is having a conversation on the lanai and someone can hear it, that is a violation of the ordinance. You are being held at a different standard than everybody else on the island.”

Council members first voted no to accepting the original ordinance. Then they voted yes to the first reading of the ordinance with the amendments.

“All of you know that I opposed it from the start because there were flaws,” said council chairman Erik Brechnitz. “But 57 percent approved it. And I lost, so I will support the ordinance because that is what voters want me to do. As far as I am concerned it is still flawed, but I will support it. And we will leave it up to the courts and let the judge decide.”

The debate ended with council members instructing the city attorney to go line by line through the ordinance and make suggestions. Those will be reviewed and debated during the second October meeting at another first reading. Then the proposal will go to a second reading, before being enacted.