'This is what democracy looks like'

Dozens of concerned residents speak at Marco council meeting

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

In a rare occurrence, the Marco Island City Council’s chambers reached capacity Monday night, with city staff turning residents away at the door and instructing them to watch the broadcast of the meeting in the lobby. 

Most of the residents were there to speak on one item and one item alone: creating parking spaces along Bayside Court.

The Marco Island City Council’s chambers reached capacity on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, with city staff turning residents away at the door and instructing them to watch the broadcast of the meeting in the lobby. The residents were there to oppose creating parking spaces along Bayside Court.

In November Robert Cholka, the chair of the Marco Island Ad Hoc Parking Solutions Committee, presented the body's proposed solutions to City Council; one of which involved creating 20 parking spaces along Bayside Court, a residential street near South Seas condominiums.

Eighteen residents signed up to speak in opposition to the committee's suggestion, and many more who didn’t sign up also spoke. Most of the residents cited concerns about traffic, safety and noise.

“We don’t want to start looking like Miami Beach,” Maurice Allard, president of South Seas East, said. “Long lines already form at these great restaurants, why do we want to add another 20 to 40 people waiting in lines? If sufficient parking is not available when these commercial establishments apply for permits to expand, they should not have gone forward with their plans.”

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“It is a densely-populated residential area,” another resident said. “When you have all those people entering and exiting and you’re going to put proposed parking spots along that area and have cars backing in and out … you’re asking for a very, very difficult situation and a dangerous situation for pedestrians, residents and anyone who’s utilizing those avenues.”

She then asked all residents who were there in opposition to the proposed parking spaces to stand, and approximately two dozen residents did so, not including those in the lobby.

A Marco Island resident asked for all those who were in opposition to the Ad Hoc Parking Solution Committee's proposal to create 20 parking spaces along Bayside Court to please rise during the Marco Island City Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. Council ultimately voted 7-0 to remove Bayside Court from the committee’s list of possible solutions.

After the residents spoke, it was the councilors' turn.

“I’ve never been prouder to live on Marco Island than I am right now. This is what democracy looks like,” councilor Howard Reed said, eliciting applause from residents. “People are concerned, and I think we owe it to you, the citizens, to provide some level of direction. I think you people deserve it. I don’t want to lie awake at night wondering, ‘Am I going to have a parking lot next door?’ That would bother me. I would like to see us recognize that residential neighborhoods are not commercial parking lots,” he said, once again prompting cheers from the crowd.

Councilor Rios agreed.

“We owe you an answer sooner rather than later so you don’t worry for the next nine months,” he said.

Council unanimously agreed to remove Bayside Court from the Ad Hoc Parking Solution Committee’s list of possible solutions. The move spurred the loudest round of applause yet, even from those seated in the lobby, their muffled claps audible through the closed doors.

Stormwater management ordinance

Council discussed a stormwater management ordinance that aims to prevent illicit discharge from entering the city's canals or swales.

The Planning Board has twice-rejected the ordinance, with its members citing concerns about the burden it places on residents; as it stands now, the ordinance requires property owners to hire a professional engineer to conduct a drainage study and plan demonstrating that any illicit draining from the property doesn't automatically go into the canals or swales without being treated.

Heavy rains over the last few days have left standing water on several roads and driveways Wednesday, June 7, 2017 in Marco Island, Fla.

"This is a typical example of a regulation that will not accomplish a whole lot but will be a tremendous cost to the people," Chair Erik Brechnitz said at the July 7 Planning Board meeting.

Some of the councilors shared his concerns.

"We're making it more difficult for single family homeowners," Rios said. "It's insane. It's not government by the people, for the people; it's government by the government and for the government. I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's right. I don't think it's well thought out."

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Council Chair Jared Grifoni also had several concerns about the ordinance, including its ambiguity with regard to emergency conditions.

"We have multiple pages of definitions for illicit connections and everything else, but we have no definition for what constitutes an emergency condition," he said, citing a portion of the ordinance that gives city inspectors and employees authorization to enter a person's property if they've determined that there are 'emergency conditions.' "So if you own a home (or) property on the island and ... the city manager's designee, whoever that may be, says, ‘You know what, I think this is an emergency condition … therefore I’m going to knock on your door and you’re going to let me in, and if you don’t let me in, then you’ve already violated this document.’

Council ultimately agreed to pass the ordinance so long as city staff reduces the requirement for single family homeowners to hire a professional engineer. Staff must also reduce the inspection and monitoring penalties. The councilors will revisit the ordinance, and the prescribed changes, at a future meeting.

In other business

Council voted to form an Ad Hoc Hurricane Review Committee, which will be comprised of residents, volunteers and others who were on the ground during Hurricane Irma.

Council will meet at 1:30 p.m., Jan. 30, for a “Role of City Council” seminar. Its next regular meeting is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.