Stefanides / File photo
Over the last six months, the Marco Island City Council and our new city manager have dealt with three major issues confronting the community, and deliberated over that time as to how to adjudicate each one based upon its merits and how it will impact the island and its residents as a whole.
The replacement of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge, the amendments to the 2001 Marriott PUD and the modernization of the Rose Marco River Marina have all been front and center on the agenda for both council and city staff.
The complexities of these issues, coupled with the void created by an exit of staff from what is now known as the Growth Management Department, created quite a challenge for those who were tossed not one, but three hot potato issues to handle.
However, those that were left and those that would come onboard during this time stepped up to the plate and performed with distinction and merit, scoring what in hockey is known as a “hat trick.”
If this were a rug hanging in your grandmother’s back yard and she was beating it to get the dust out as mine would every spring, there would have been a hole in the middle of it from the thrashing it had been given over the last several years.
Study after study, plan after plan, endless discussions, charettes and two formal bids later we finally saw an end to the talk, and a final resolution to the item on June 16 when council finalized the plans for construction of the long awaited replacement for Smokehouse Bay Bridge.
The final plan will see both a north and southbound lane remain open over the bridge while two separate structures are built to replace the existing structures there now. The utility services for water and sewer will also be replaced as part of this project, as will any other related utilities. In addition the seawalls on both sides of the structure will be replaced and the travel height will be raised approximately 2 feet under the bridge to ensure safe passage of construction equipment under the bridge on barges.
Those that walk or bicycle on the island will find a vastly improved sidewalk area on both sides of the new structure, enhancing the safety for all which pass across this structure.
Lighting and landscaping will be done according to a plan yet to be devised by the city manager and his staff and will be handled after the completion of the project to save money.
The construction will begin sometime after this Labor Day and will be substantially completed within 300 days, with total completion in 330 days. Hopefully it only impacting the island for one season if all goes as planned.
Over the last 3-4 years serious discussions and plans have been forthcoming from the Marriott and its staff regarding their desires to upgrade their meeting space and proceed with a number of enhancements to their property.
Right after the first of the year that process began in earnest as official plans were presented to the city staff, and the planning board began its multi-month deliberations on the project in its entirety. After a number of public meetings and hearings the board approved a plan it thought was palatable to the community and sent it along to the city council.
A slow but deliberate process was established by council and the public had but another opportunity to discuss the merits and the disadvantages of the plan as they saw them. With changes made by both the planning board and city council the amendments to the PUD with stipulations were finally approved last week.
Construction will begin in May of 2015 and will continue for almost 2 years. When completed the staff of the Marriott hopes they will have earned the prestigious JW Marriott status due to the improvements.
The city’s only direct access, full service marina came forward the first of the year and requested the approval of a plan to revitalize their aging facilities to meet the challenges for more space for boats and an enhanced service and sales facility.
It, like the Marriott proposal was a complex and challenging project for both the marina, city staff and the city boards which would eventually rule on the final plan. It also would require a rework of procedures from the city side to insure more openness to site plan review and more public input.
The process also pointed out a need to work on updating some of the language and definitions within both our Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, a project which will be front and center for the Growth Management Department in the near future.
The neighbors, the marina and the city came together and worked through any differences as the project moved through the approval process, and in the end the community, Rose Marco River Marina and the neighborhood will benefit from the changes soon to take place and a $15 million dollar investment to their facilities.
As in any of the projects that I’ve mentioned above there are bound to be bumps in the road, however the manner in which they were handled by the petitioners, concerned citizens, city staff, the planning board and then finally the city council will eventually determine the character of the island we live on.
Nothing was ever a “given” concerning any of these projects and required some substantial give and take on both sides. To openly debate issues is not a bad thing, it is part of the democratic process which identifies who we are as a people and a nation.
We do not want to determine issues as important as these based on fear, innuendo and scare tactics. We need to thoroughly discuss each issue and listen to all sides to come forward with working solutions as we mature as a community. Those that wish to be part of the process must be given an opportunity to discuss their concerns in an open forum and have their concerns given a fair and impartial consideration.
The city council, city staff and advisory boards should be congratulated for their work, along with all involved on any side of these issues. The willingness of all to sit and talk through the issues with each giving a little will make for a much better process than what we have seen on similar controversial issues.
Yes, some won’t be totally happy with the end results, but all can be proud of the process and the professionalism shown under difficult circumstances.