Planning Director Dan Gulizio. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Islamorada’s director of development services and planning, Dan Gulizio, was let go on Tuesday morning following more than a year of employment with the village. 

Village Manager Ted Yates told the Keys Weekly that Gulizio will be transitioning away from the village. 

Gulizio was hired in November 2021 by then-village manager Greg Oravec following the departure of then-planning director Ty Harris in July 2021. Gulizio, who has more than 25 years of planning and land management experience, began with the village on Dec. 1, 2021.

He came from New York, where he served as the deputy director of planning for Suffolk County. He was also the commissioner of planning, environment and land management for the Town of Brookhaven, New York, commissioner of planning and development for the Town of Islip, New York, and executive director of Peconic Baykeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving ground and surface water resources.

During his time in the village, Gulizio dug into the village’s land development regulations and comprehensive plan— ultimately leading to several presentations that highlighted a number of inconsistencies and gaps within the language. Gulizio ultimately crafted a list of items the council could address to fix the village’s complicated code, which ranged from smaller “housekeeping” items to larger overhauls. 

By mid-April, the Islamorada Village Council had 11 proposed changes to the village code before them during a workshop meeting. Items addressed permits that allow establishments to sell alcoholic beverages, establishing a permanent mobile food vendor program with guidelines outlined in a two-year pilot program that ended in March 2022, defining terms such as buildable area and lot area and limiting outdoor storage and display in a tourist commercial district, to name a few.

A special meeting held on April 11 saw brief discussion on the series of code fixes. Vice Mayor Sharon Mahoney expressed concern that residents would be limited to speak for three minutes on the 11 proposed code fixes. The items were pushed to May to allow for more discussion.

Two days later, at its April 13 meeting, the dais agreed to move some less controversial code fixes ahead to a first reading at a future meeting. Ordinances pertaining to those proposed fixes were discussed during a May 18 meeting of the village council. 

Items included the alcoholic beverage use permits, which repeals a section but keeps certain protections; adding single-family residences as a permitted use in multifamily zones; incorporating boat dealership as a major conditional use in tourist commercial zoning district; standardizing notice provisions for the development review process; allowing a variance for lot area administratively, provided the request is limited to a maximum of 5% or 250 feet of the minimum required lot area and changes related to outdoor seating areas. 

But before Gulizio explained the proposed changes on May 18, he acknowledged severe challenges working in the village of Islamorada. He said he was accused of arbitrarily selecting things and plucking them out of thin air. He was also questioned for bringing forth a proposed resolution during the April 13 meeting that sought the services of Cyriacks Environmental Consulting Services in order to gather data as it relates to floor area ratio (FAR) in residential areas in Islamorada. 

Gulizio told the dais that the village has FAR standards for commercial districts but not for residential districts. In his comments, Gulizio noted the changes in the village’s character due to development decisions that allow someone to take a 1,500- square-foot home and construct a 12,000-square-foot home with a 7-foot setback. 

“Floor area ratio is the single best tool to measure intensity of individual lot,” he said. “This doesn’t provide recommendations in terms of what the FAR ought to be. It’s just giving us basic information, the building blocks of information so we can provide you (the council) sound policy and guidance.”

Some council members, including Mayor Buddy Pinder, said he learned about the April 13 item when he received his book with agenda items. He told Yates he would have liked a briefing before discussion at a meeting.

“I would appreciate it if you (Yates) and Dan would have called me and said, ‘Hey, help me understand this.’ I’d like to understand what we’ll be voting on,” Pinder said.

Yates said his door’s open every week for a briefing. 

“I reached out to everyone at the beginning of the week to talk about the meetings we had. I’m happy to spend as much time as you guys want getting briefed on this,” Yates said. 

The dais elected to pull the item from the agenda. It was never brought back. 

Fast forward to May 18. Gulizio told council members that he went to work weeks before only to be advised by a staff member that he was about to be fired. He came in another week and was advised by another staff member that he was “resigning today.”

“I didn’t come from New York and say, ‘Hey, you need to change everything.’ What I did was come and read what the area of critical state concern says in terms of the 10 goals and read the comprehensive plan and its goals, policies and objectives,” he said. “Planning is a process of gaining information, analyzing that information so that I can provide you, the council and community members, with the best possible recommendation. I don’t vote on things. I’ve always been respectful of my position that I make recommendations. I don’t approve anything.” 

Gulizio said the idea that the village shouldn’t gather information because members of council aren’t sure what that information would be used for speaks to a lack of trust or faith in the department.

“I’ve heard from members of the community speaking before the council saying ‘why are they proposing all these changes? We don’t need these changes. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” Gulizio said. “The only thing I tried to communicate to the council in my time here is that while the process may not be broken for a handful of people who benefit from securing permits through this process … when I look at the data that’s out there, whether it’s the amount of groundwater we’re consuming, which is 240% more than we consumed in 1976. … those are a failure of the regulatory process from my perspective.” 

Gulizio said he’s happy to do whatever makes the most sense for the community and council. He told the dais at the meeting that he’d be more than happy to stay and fight for the issues or step down from the position the next day. But he said he couldn’t perform the duties satisfactorily in an environment of uncertainty and angst over whether he’d be fired.

“My office is always open. If someone has a problem they can come talk to me. But the idea that I can propose something as a recommendation and never have a conversation with somebody but they make 14 phone calls riling people up on it, it’s not a functional environment for me. I don’t work well with the coconut telegraph. The idea that we have this secret communication system that runs around and I find out things from staff members of what’s being said, that doesn’t work for me.”

It’s unknown whether Gulizio’s position will be filled, as Yates said that discussion hasn’t taken place inside village hall. For now, the village’s planning director, Jennifer Debosbriand, will take over the department. She was hired last December. The decision to bring a new person on is up to the village manager. 

“It’s part of our responsibility to run the day-to-day operations here,” Yates told the Keys Weekly. “When we look at situations like this where we lose individuals, we try to look at the department as a whole to determine where our needs and gaps are and take an opportunity to build a department that’s most effective for servicing our residents.”

Council members received word of Gulizio’s firing Tuesday morning just before 10 a.m. Councilwoman Elizabeth Jolin expressed her disappointment in the decision in a phone call to Yates. 

“I did try to get a better explanation for the reason and was dissatisfied,” she said. “My experience with Dan is that he has been nothing but professional with an ethical and moral compass that is sound, and the village is in desperate need of that type.”

Councilman Mark Gregg said he was surprised upon learning of Gulizio’s departure. But Gregg believed the breakup between Gulizio and the village was inevitable. 

“To use his very own words in his statements at the meeting on the 18th, he might not be a good fit. He said the current situation was unsuitable. And if it was the right thing he said he would happily step down,” Gregg said. 

Gulizio and Gregg met following the May 18 meeting. Gregg said Gulizio’s statements during the sitdown were similar to the ones made at the meeting. 

“It just looked like he was headed in one direction and we were heading in another,” Gregg said.

The Keys Weekly reached out to Pinder for a comment and is awaiting response.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.