Assisted living facility's fate now in Marco City Council's hands

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Walt Chancey, owner and developer of The Watermark at Marco Island project, said he wants to build a facility with assisted living, independent living and memory care capabilities at the corner of Heathwood Drive and San Marco Road.

While the end result may have been near the same, the zoning hearing for a proposed assisted living facility on Marco Island was anything but a mere formality.

The Marco Island Planning Board was forced into rehearing the zoning application for the Watermark at Marco Island Friday after a noticing error last month nullified the board’s decision to recommend approval.

After more than five hours, the board elected to recommend approval of the application with additional restrictions by a 4-2 vote.

Last month, the board voted 6-1 in favor of recommending the rezoning of nearly 12 acres at Heathwood Drive and San Marco Road to a planned unit development district.

More:Noticing error will require Planning Board to rehear assisted living facility proposal on Marco Island

The rezoning from C-1 commercial would allow for the construction of an assisted living facility on five acres as part of a larger medical campus on the parcel.

The proceeds from the sale of the five acres for the assisted living facility have been proposed to be used to construct a new 12,000-square-foot assisted living facility.

Originally, the board approved the recommendation for rezoning after the applicant agreed to lower the height of its facility to no more than 40 feet and reduce unit and bed counts to 166 and 210 respectively.

Its decision, however, was nullified when it was discovered that proper noticing requirements were not met. The city’s land development code requires real property owners within 300 feet to be notified and return receipts to be filed with the city.

The improper noticing made a substantial difference in the hearings as the most recent board hearing featured the vast majority of public comments against bringing an assisted living facility to that parcel.

The Villas at Waterside condominiums, which included a number of residents that did not receive a notice for the first meeting, were well-presented Friday and expressed a number of concerns with how the project could negatively impact the island.

More:Planning board approves PUD application for Marco Island assisted living facility

Speaker after speaker relayed concerns about the proposed projects dimension being out of proportion with surrounding buildings and impacting property values. One resident, in particular, spoke to how news of the development resulted in a prospective buyer for her withdrawing an offer.

Others questioned a traffic analysis that was performed and predicted increased congestion as a result of increased density in the city.

With a school zone just down the road, Sharon Lynn raised concerns about how increased traffic on the road could lead to reduced safety given that the school zone was poorly marked.

Overall, the vast majority of public comments spoke to the need for more study about the impacts of the project.

More:Commentary: Proposed assisted living facility inconsistent with Marco culture

City staff recommended denial in its report to the planning board and included that there were too many unknowns as part of its rationale. Director of Community Affairs Dan Smith also said that city staff did not believe the facility met open space use requirements.

Discussions also focused on whether the project’s density was consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan. The developer argued that it was consistent because the city needed to apply an equivalency ratio to assisted living units as a result of them being less burdensome than a regular residential unit.

A motion to recommend approval initially failed as a result of a 3-3 tie.

That vote, however, was short-lived as a result of more on-the-fly negotiations between the developer and the board, which drew criticisms from some residents that stayed for the entire meeting.

“We’re being pushed around with a lot of negotiation,” Teri Sommerfeld said in opposing the project.

Walt Chancey, the owner and developer of the Watermark at Marco Island, agreed to reduce the number of parking spaces and increase the size of a linear park on-site that would also be open to the public.

More:Council supports changes LDC code change that would aid assisted living facility buildout

A new motion was made and added several conditions to the property.

Those conditions included that it could not be used for psychiatric treatment or drug and substance abuse rehabilitation, the height was reduced to 37-feet and the size of the project’s linear park was increased.

With the changes, it flipped the deadlocked vote to a 4-2 vote in favor of recommending approval of the project.

Board members Ed Issler, Dick Adams, Frank Mulligan and Dave Vergo voted in favor of the new motion.

Board members Joe Rola and Dr. Ron Goldstein voted against the rezoning.
The board’s recommendation will quickly be passed along to the Marco Island City Council, which will discuss the first reading of the rezoning matter at its Monday meeting.