Hotel? Condos? Confusion leads to ‘wasted time’ for City Council

Andrea Stetson
Marco Island City Council spent an hour and a half debating whether to allow a hotel/condo, to be built, but many council members said the issue never needed to come this far. Above, the site of the proposal.

Marco Island City Council spent an hour and a half Tuesday night debating whether to allow a hotel/condo, to be built, but many council members said the issue never needed to come this far.

“I don’t think this ever should have gotten to this point,” stressed Councilman Jared Grifoni.  “This is a dictionary example of wasted time. This particular incident is completely unnecessary. We have spent an hour and a half talking about something that never should have had to be discussed. It could have been handled in a much different way.”

The issue was a proposal to build a luxury 52-unit hotel/condominium, a ship’s store, office space, a restaurant, marina and docks on about two acres of land by San Marco Road. The .54-acre portion, site of the proposed hotel/condo, is in the land development code as being for commercial purposes only. No residential use or occupancy may be approved, maintained or allowed to occur on the property. Hotel or motel establishments meet the classification of commercial use. But the word condo caused concerns and that is what sparked the long-heated debate. The issue came before the council as an appeal after the site development plan committee rejected the idea.

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“In light of an approved SDP, staff determined that the intent of the condominium ownership, while being proposed as a hotel may lead to a residential use when individual units are sold,” was written in the rejection.

But Jim Walker, owner of the project called Walker’s Cay Luxury Resort and Marina, and a 42-year resident of Marco Island, said there are no plans to make it a condo. The idea is that investors would buy the units and rent them as a hotel.

“I don’t know that you have the ability to dictate how people own property,” Walker told the council. “This is going to be built and is going to be run as a hotel. We have people that want to invest in this property and they don’t want to live there. They want to invest because it is a good investment. Does the city have the right to dictate who takes ownership of a piece of property, because that is what this issue is about?”

Walker brought attorney James Karl to plead his case.

This graphic shows the area where the proposed hotel/condo would be located.

“The developer has never asked for residential use,” Karl stressed. “They know that no residential use is allowed. It is a manner of how he wants to divide up the ownership. The restaurant is going to be a condo. No one would ever think we would turn the restaurant into a condo.“

Dan Smith, director of community affairs, for Marco Island, told another side of the story.

“We do not have a definition for a condominium/hotel,” Smith told council members. “It is a definition that we don’t have as part of our codes. We feel that it could lead to individual condo units. We want the City Council to make that determination on whether that is acceptable or not. This is one of those gray areas.”

Councilman Joe Rola voiced his concerns too.

“There is no guarantee that these units won’t be used as residential and the owners won’t use them as they want,” he stated at the meeting. “We should stop this now and not drag ourselves into this situation over and over again.”

After the long debate Marco council members voted 5-2 to overturn the denial and approve the plan to move forward with the condition that it not have any residential use.

But that didn’t satisfy the council members or city staff.

“No one is objecting to the project. It is the way it has been presented,” stressed city attorney Alan Gabriel.

“We wasted an hour and a half on this,” echoed Councilman Greg Folley. “I think the two sides could have worked things out.”

Jim Walker, who is spearheading the Walker’s Cay Luxury Resort and Marina project, addressed City Council members on Wednesday evening.

Councilman Grifoni said the site development staff should have simply told the applicant that the proposed project could continue if it is commercial, but a residential condo would not be allowed. He said it did not need a rejection that then was appealed before council.

“They asked for a determination on whether the project could move forward and it should have been yes if you do this and no if you do that,” stressed Grifoni. “And that could have been the end of it. My feeling was the heart of it was so simple and there seemed to be agreement on all sides. It could have been handled prior to coming in front of council. It could have saved a ton of time and money and it would have saved council’s time and the public’s time on a matter that everyone was in agreement with.

I’m upset about it. We are talking about all these things because this has snowballed. This is not good government. This is not a good look and this is not something we should see again in the future. At the end of the day, we all agreed that they don’t want it to be for residential use. It is going to be a hotel so why go through this process and waste time when we all agree. It highlights the inefficiently of government. This issue is just so confused and snowballed beyond recognition. It shouldn’t be that way.”

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Other council news

During the three-hour meeting councilmembers also got an update on Caxambus Pass Marina that has been closed since Hurricane Ian destroyed the area. The city hopes to open the marina for kayak use by March 14th.  Currently plans are underway for new fencing and relocating a small dock to the west side of the boat ramp. That would open for limited powerboat use in April.

The boardwalk is missing, the docks are missing, the gasoline dispenser is badly damaged and the seawall has extensive erosion. City officials say the boat ramp is currently unsafe for motorized ingress and egress

“I walked around there, and I couldn’t believe the extent of the damage,” said Councilman Richard Blonna.

When the small dock opens in April it would only accommodate 1-2 boats at a time and hours would be more limited. In the fall phase two will begin and that will close the entire park for 12-18 months while a new seawall is erected.

Council members also approved an interlocal agreement between Collier County and the City of Marco Island for $650,400 in Tourist Development Tax Funds for the Tigertail Lagoon/Sand Dollar Island Ecosystem restoration project. Most of the project is being paid for by residents of Hideaway Beach who taxed themselves to restore the beach area, but damage from Hurricane Ian caused even more devastation prompting the need for some tourist dollars to finish the project.