Orchid Council moving to annex Marsh Island

ORCHID – Orchid has taken the first steps toward annexing Marsh Island, where it may ultimately wind up building an Orchid Town Hall.

The property owners of the Marsh Island Development Corporation have agreed to be voluntarily joined with the Town of Orchid instead of remaining in the unincorporated county, and the Orchid Town Council voted 4-1 to accept the Marsh Island residents’ signed forms consenting to annexation. This action sets off a series of events beginning with pre-annexation proceedings and leading to two public hearings, which are yet to be scheduled.

After the vote, Mayor Richard Dunlop sent a message to the residents of the town explaining part of the deal.

“As an inducement for the town to take favorable action, the Marsh Island developer and property owners are offering to the town two residential building lots, at a total cost of $25,000, to be used exclusively for the purpose of building an Orchid Town Hall,” he wrote.

Two days after Dunlop sent out his initial note, he sent a clarification.

The request for annexation and the decision on the option, presented to Orchid by Marsh Island, to purchase property for a town facility are two totally separate issues, he said. The second item was mentioned only to provide full disclosure of Marsh Island’s proposal.

“No decision on whether or not to exercise such an option was made nor even presented,” said the mayor.

“Any decision to purchase property or to build a Town facility will come before any interested parties in an open public Town Council meeting.

“At this time, to my knowledge, there are no feasibility studies or building plans that have been put together for any Town facility.”

The timing of the decision — and the lack of communication to town residents prior to any action on annexation — reportedly has given rise to considerable confusion among Orchid snowbirds preparing to pack up and return to Florida.

“There were several reasons why I voted against it,” said Councilman Paul Johnson, the lone dissenter.

First of all, he said he didn’t like the way it was rushed onto a special call agenda, listed in a cryptic way, and voted on over the summer when no one knew it was coming. Also, the proposal, as he heard it, hinges on an agreement to purchase Marsh Island land for the town hall.

“There might be advantages to the annexation, but none of those were in the proposal. It was just a matter of you annex us and we’ll sell you the land,” Johnson said. “And I don’t think we need to build a Town Hall; that is far from being decided.”

The Town has meeting space at the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club whenever they need it and it has a leased office on the mainland in Wabasso. The main incentive to bring the Marsh Island riverfront development into the Orchid fold – in addition to an undisclosed amount of potential property tax revenue – is the possibility that Orchid residents could have access to the Marsh Island Marina, or at least the kayak launch area.

Residents of Orchid received an email from Dunlop stating what the Town Council had done and adding that there would be upcoming hearings to discuss the matter. Shortly after the meeting, Dunlop left on an African safari.

In response to the news, the Orchid Island Community Association and the Board of Governors of the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club formally requested that the Town Council postpone a final decision until snowbirds return for season.


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