Marco Island hotel proposal causes controversy

Lisa Conley
lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308
Gavel

Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt went too far in negotiating a deal with a hotel developer, some council members argue.

Florida land developer Small Brothers announced in August a plan to build a 165-room hotel at 580 Elkcam Circle and 870 Park Ave., two parcels of land near Veterans Community Park.

Small Brothers also will develop the park as part of the project, but to move forward with it, the company has to borrow money from the city and the city must transfer commercial intensity credits from the park to the hotel. And that troubles some councilors.

“The current process by the city manager to form this alliance (with the developer) is being done without the support of the voters as well as current city councilmen,” Councilor Amadeo Petricca wrote in a Sept. 20 letter to the editor. “There are many questions that have to be answered. Based on the facts that are available, I cannot support this project.”

Councilor Larry Honig questioned the city’s decision to consider a transfer of credits without first determining their value.

"The city’s plan — not approved, not reviewed, and not even discussed by City Council, nor ever disclosed to or discussed with the citizens of Marco Island prior to the deal being cut — is to sell the density credits for what the developer is willing to pay for them,”  Honig wrote. “This is obviously wrong. It’s like selling your house for what a buyer says it’s worth, regardless of what your appraiser says."

It’s unclear whether the park even has commercial intensity credits to transfer. Some planning board members were under the impression that the council had retired all of the park’s density and intensity credits as part of its decision to include density reduction in the city’s comprehensive plan.

City staff, however, said the council simply talked about retiring the park’s credits but never passed legislation on the matter.

“There’s no ordinance or resolution that removed density or intensity from the park,” Hernstadt said.

But Hernstadt pointed out that no deal has been finalized nor will it be without the council’s approval. He likened the hotel proposal to the recent Marco Walk project in which the property owner, city staff and lawyer put together an agreement that the planning board reviewed, modified and eventually approved but the City Council rejected.

“If the community believes the hotel project is bad for Marco Island, then the hotel project should be rejected — period,” Hernstadt said, “but then at least we can all say that the process will have been adhered to and the entire community has spoken.”

The developer has since asked for an indefinite continuance on the project’s hearing, and representatives have assured residents that the project will not go before the City Council until after the Nov. 8 election.