Earlier in the day on Tuesday, the Marco Island City Council met in joint session with the members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to review moving forward on the new Mackle Park Community Center – or at least that was what the committee thought they were there for.

The enthusiasm, hard work and dedication to their task quickly crashed head on into the reality of a council that has a number of members reluctant now to move forward after a majority of islanders had voted in favor of the new 16,000-square-foot building.

The committee was reminded on several occasions that the referendum was "non-binding" in nature, which caused committee member Mike Levin to remind city councilmen of the wording they approved.

"The language was clear in the referendum; a 16,000 square foot facility at a cost not to exceed $3.5 million," said Levin.

Councilman Joe Batte suggested that the group look at a smaller building, while councilman Ken Honecker raised the idea of building a 10,000-square-foot facility at Veterans Community Park and maybe renovating the facilities at Mackle to increase its size by 2,000 square feet.

"Building something that is inadequate the day it opens its doors just doesn't make sense," said Dr. Carlos Portu, a member of the advisory committee.

Litha Berger, another member of the committee with extensive experience in designing and running assisted living facilities, suggested council take another approach.

"If you are thinking about downsizing it must come from the work with an architect to ensure we don't sacrifice the space necessary to carry out the mission of the building," said Berger.

Council went back into session at 5:30 p.m. and immediately took up a packed agenda with the intent to dispatch all the items before them.

Chambers were packed with persons interested in both the proposed rental ordinance and the resolution that would have created a Utility Service Availability Assessment for vacant lots in the areas not involved with the recently completed STRP Program.

Councilman Amadeo Petricca immediately attempted to have the amendment to City Manager Hernstadt's employment agreement taken off the consent agenda so he could make modifications and move a resolution which favored the elimination of the Common Core Curriculum Guidelines for education to a fast track for approval; both efforts failed.

Craig Woodward, a local attorney speaking on behalf of the Marco Island Realtors Association, brought forward a number of amendments to the proposed ordinance, ranging from limiting the ordinance to only units rented less than 30 days to better identifying what the extent of the inspections by the fire department would entail.

Councilman Joe Batte would again emphasize his desire to see language that would clearly and definitively set out noise as a 24/7 responsibility to be kept reasonable and not interfere with a neighbor's peace and serenity. He also was seeking a more stringent emphasis on the fireworks ban being enforced on the island.

Councilman Victor Rios cautioned that this ordinance would be applicable to all residences on the island and voiced his fear we "may have created a committee to design a horse and ended up with a three hump camel."

The desire to have condos report how many units in each of their associations were engaged in rentals was something that councilman Ken Honecker was seeking.

When it came to fees council was united in not wanting this to be a revenue stream for the city, but only desired to see the fees cover the cost of providing the services necessary to provide for the inspections and registrations.

Council requested that a final document reflecting all of the changes and amendments be brought back at their Feb. 2 meeting for further review.

"We want to insure this is right before we move forward," said Council Chairman Larry Sacher.

Vacant lot owners lined up to voice their displeasure with the proposed resolution which would have assessed them for their share of the improvement made to the wastewater utility system on the island and they weren't mincing their words.

Eric Brechnitz of Hideaway Beach advised the board that he had never in his life seen undeveloped real estate assessed for capital improvements which they were not benefiting from.

"I called friends in this segment of the financial business and they've never heard of such a thing," said Brechnitz.

Speaker after speaker came forward to point out what they said was the fallacy with the proposal supported by both Honecker and Petricca.

Many spoke to the fact that FPL, Comcast, TECO or no other utility charges vacant lots for their needs to build capacity to deal with future demands. They also warned of potential class action suits and legal fees if this was to pass.

When the vote was called, only Petricca and Honecker voted in favor of the motion to approve the resolutions, but the debate wasn't over. Honecker moved to refund a total of $4.8 million dollars to residents in the completed STRP districts as an effort to level the playing field for those assessed during the STRP project.

Bond counsel came forward and basically told council they were playing with fire and needed to insure the covenants of the bond issuance regarding sufficiency of revenue were maintained, which prompted Honecker to suggest that a rate increase to cover the shortfall be enacted. That motion again failed on another 5-2 vote.

With the clock quickly approaching the requirement for a vote to extend their meeting, chaos seemed to descend on the board as no one could come to an agreement on the next motion or parliamentary procedure. With frustration building, the board was forced to adjourn until next Monday evening when they will take up the remaining items on their agenda.

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