The Planning Board voted on a continuance of the divisive Veterans Community Park hotel project at its meeting on Friday.

The project – which involves building a 165 room hotel on two parcels on land adjacent to the park and developing the park itself – has generated great interest throughout the community, which was reflected by the fact that there wasn’t a single empty seat in the City Council’s chambers where the meeting took place.

At the meeting residents spoke passionately both in favor and against the project. Those opposed expressed concerns about density, the hotel’s height and traffic flow.

“This hotel would make access to Veterans Community Park impossible,” Ed Issler, one of the project’s primary opponents, said with regards to traffic flow.

Several residents also expressed concern that the hearing was conducted off season when many of the island’s residents are away.

“It smells funny,” one resident said, “and if it smells funny, it usually is funny.”

Proponents of the project pointed out that the pros outweigh any perceived cons. One of the biggest benefits of the project, several residents said, is the creation of parking around the perimeter of the park. Another pro is the quick development of the park after years and years of discussion but no action.

“It’s been long overdue,” Dick Shanahan, president of the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, said. “I think this would be a great opportunity for a private-public partnership.”

One area of confusion was whether Veterans Community Park had commercial intensity credits that could be included in the developer’s PUD, which is essential for the project; some board members were under the impression that City 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 City Council simply talked about retiring the park’s credits but never passed any legislation on the matter.

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

Land use attorney Patrick Neale, who’s representing the developer, also emphasized that there’s a difference between commercial intensity and residential density, and stressed that his client is not requesting a transfer of density.

“We’re not touching residential density. At all. This is commercial intensity,” he said. “It’s comparing a zebra to a lizard; they’re two totally different things.”

After more than four hours of presentations, public comments and discussion, board members agreed that they did not have enough information to make a recommendation.

“There’s so many unanswered questions,” board member Charlette Roman said.

Neale said he and his client would be more than happy to answer the board’s questions at its next meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m., Sept. 16.

In other business

The Planning Board also voted on a continuance of a proposed change to the Land Development Code (LDC) regarding off-street parking, which subsequently created a continuance on a resolution for a site development plan by Joey’s Pizza/Doreen’s Cup of Joe to make improvements to Durnford Way to create additional parking.

The board approved Joey’s Pizza's other resolution for a site development plan to add open-air seating to Doreen’s Cup of Joe.

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