Planning Board finally finishes LDC update ... for now

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

Marco Island’s Planning Board has long been spinning its wheels – sometimes going backwards – with regard to the Land Development Code (LDC) update, but it seems the board may have finally reached a stopping point … for now, at least.

The Planning Board met Friday morning in the City Council’s chambers, and Daniel Smith, the Growth Management Department’s director of community affairs, informed the board members that he thinks they’ve addressed all of the “glitches” in the LDC; however, he cautioned them that more will probably appear after the City Council updates the island’s comprehensive plan, which is almost 10 years old.

Marco as seen from above. The city’s Planning Board is working with a consultant to revise the city’s land development code.

“The comprehensive plan is the important document … that’s going to drive any kind of LDC amendment, any kind of MICA change (and) anything that goes forward; the comprehensive plan drives those changes, not the opposite,” he said. “The Planning Board, the City Council and even the public (are) screaming for a comprehensive plan change to drive the vision of what this community wants.”

Bob Olson is one member of the public who’s especially passionate about updating the city’s comprehensive plan.

“This is probably the most important conversation … in 20 years,” he said. “We can’t just keep tearing down every little Michigan home and overbuilding the Island. We need to have long-term strategic planning in this area and you’re about ready to get into content that is absolutely going to drive this community. The master plan for this community is a small island residential community with the business here to support the residents. This is extremely important.”

City Manager Lee Niblock, who was at the meeting and had recommended the comprehensive plan update, agreed that the city needs a strategic plan, but the comprehensive plan and LDC must come first.

"I’m a firm believer that you get your comp plan in order and then you do your Land Development Code,” he said, and then council can begin working on a strategic plan.

Lee Niblock, Marco Island's new city manager, addresses the Planning Board during its Jan. 5 meeting. Niblock said he plans on attending the Planning Board meetings from time to time.

The board also discussed an LDC amendment that would eliminate the need for medical facilities – including “social assistance” facilities – to apply for a conditional use permit. Once again, the board raised concerns that the amendment might take away its ability to reject rehabilitation centers.

However, attorney Paul Gougelman reminded the board that those types of facilities are permissible by both state and federal law, so the board wouldn't be able to reject them anyway.

“The problem is that a lot of residents don’t like to see these facilities come into their neighborhood, on the one hand,” he said. “But on the other hand, they’re allowed by federal law. There needs to be a permitting system that tries to balance those two views as best as possible.”

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If the board created a separate permitting process for social assistance facilities, then it may have more control over the situation, Gougelman further explained.

“It would allow you to put some regulations on what is being permitted (and) try to make it fit as well as you can with the community,” he said. “I realize that’s a difficult situation to envision, but the alternative is to simply go ahead and say ‘no’ and then get sued in federal court," which happened to Fort Myers.

Smith agreed.

“If you do not include these uses and federal (or) state laws come down on you, then they actually allow the uses based on their standards and you have nothing to work (with),” he said. “So it’s important that you make sure that we have those regulations in place for some of these uses so at least they’re done by our standards, not by a judge’s standards.”  

The board will continue the discussion at its next meeting, which is 9 a.m., Feb. 2, in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive. At that meeting the board will also elect its new officers.