Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Park lease, job review before council

ISLAMORADA -- The village's largely dormant Green Turtle Hammock Park could be on the way to becoming a marine research and educational facility.

The Village Council is scheduled to vote Thursday, March 28, on a lease agreement that would turn over operation of the 7.5-acre Upper Matecumbe property to the Atlanta-based Jacoby Group.

The council will also discuss job performance reviews of Village Manager Ed Koconis and is slated to take a final vote on a new noise ordinance at the Thursday meeting.

According to the company's website, the Jacoby Group was founded in 1975 as a traditional retail developer but has since expanded its focus to promoting environmental stewardship.

The Jacoby Group plans an aquaculture research facility at the park, Carl Hampp, the company's executive director for Florida operations, told the Village Council in February. It also plans to provide educational programs for colleges and local high schools.

Under the proposed lease, which was not quite finished last Friday afternoon, the Jacoby Group would take operation of the Green Turtle site free of charge, but would be tasked with maintaining the bayfront property at its own expense, village Parks Director John Sutter. The deal, which would last five years with several five-year renewal options, would be similar to the one the village previously had in place with the nonprofit Green Turtle Hammock Foundation, Sutter said

The foundation maintained the facility from 2009 until last June but did little to upgrade the property. Since then, the village has handled its upkeep.

Sutter said the Jacoby Group plans to pour lots of resources into Green Turtle Hammock, including using the best of green technology to overhaul the site's stately, but aging, waterfront home. The home most recently functioned as the Upper Keys office for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Sutter is also excited about Jacoby's plan to use the site as a base for scientific experiments.

"I think it is tremendous for the village, almost the highest and best use of this property," he said, adding that the Jacoby Group is very well-financed. "It's a known entity, it's a solid entity and its already got a really good reputation."

Koconis' job reviews come as a fallback clause in his contract is under discussion.

At a meeting last month, a majority of the village's five council members said they would like to remove the clause that allows Koconis to return to his previous post of planning director, with a six-figure salary, should he be terminated as manager. Koconis said he wants it left in.

The village had not responded to Free Press public records requests for the reviews by last Friday. However, Councilman Dave Purdo did provide a copy of the review he submitted last week.

Purdo gave Koconis an average ranking of three on the five-point review scale he used. He graded the manager best on the 10-section review form for his fiscal caretaking. "Does a great job with budget procedures," Purdo wrote.

The lowest score Purdo gave Koconis is for his relationship with the public. "His contact with residents and business owners needs much improvement. Although in recent months I have seen an improvement," Purdo wrote.

In a phone message exchange, Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said he gave Koconis "a pretty good review."

The proposed noise ordinance the council is set to discuss Thursday would cap decibel daytime levels in the village at 80, approximately the volume of a home garbage disposal.

From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekends, the limit would be 60 decibels, or about as loud as a typical conversation in a restaurant or at the office.

Decibel levels would be measured from the property of the person complaining about the noise, not from its source, under the amended ordinance.

The specific decibel limits would replace the more vague language of the village's existing noise ordinance, which measures a noise disturbance "by ordinary, auditory senses of a reasonable person with ordinary sensibilities."

Local law enforcement has found that standard difficult to enforce.


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