A House Divided

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Owners, Town Reach Settlement

Anyone who traversed Estero Boulevard regularly over the past five years recognizes the two incomplete houses adjacent to the Junkanoo Beach Restaurant. The concrete skeletons have been there so long that many island folks refer to them as “Stonehenge of Fort Myers Beach” or simply as “The Ruins.” But a recent settlement between the Town and owners leads both sides to hope this almost 5-year issue will soon be over.

When asked when construction on the two homes initially began, developer Joe Orlandini exhaled heavily, saying, “Oh, gosh – I have to think for a minute! I want to say we pulled permits back in 2015, with the Town issuing them in August 2015 and construction beginning later that year. The Town then put up its Stop Work Order in May 2016 and we have been in a holding pattern ever since, so it has been that long.”

The issue that caused the Stop Work Order, Orlandini related, was confusion about the house closest to the beach and whether it crossed the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) that regulates structures and activities that can cause beach erosion, destabilize dunes, damage upland properties or interfere with public access, among other concerns. “A neighbor conducted a survey of their neighboring lot and that led to the initial concern, as well as that visually it just did not look right to them, so they asked the Town to look into it, to find out exactly where the line is. To be honest, I would probably do the exact same thing, and that is what got the ball rolling, with the Town concluding the building exceeded the CCCL by roughly 8 feet.”

Per the settlement terms, Persaud Property LLC, the property owners, will remove 8 feet of the structure at 3056 Estero Boulevard, the home closest to the beach. No changes are necessary to the companion structure at 3050 Estero Boulevard, the one nearer to the roadway. As to the actual changes necessitated for 3056 Estero Boulevard, “The house under its current design has roughly a 6-foot deck,” Orlandini explained. “We will chop that off and reorient it into the existing interior block structure of the house and that is actually quite easy to do, without harming the core at all, though it will decrease the livable square-footage slightly, from roughly 3,200 to 2,900 square-feet. The home has two living stories, above the ground floor, used for the garage and entry, so once complete, no one will even suspect there was a renovation.”

Orlandini emphasized that both structures are single-family homes and not condominiums, though Persaud Property LLC does link them through a form of a homeowners association, as they sit on a common property. He hopes, however, that whoever buys the two individual homes will use them as such, “as I personally am not a big fan of people who purchase a house, then use it as a rental. Our intention is whoever buys the two houses will occupy them as their family homes.”

Full Speed Ahead

When contemplating whether the long construction delay and required renovation will have any impact on eventually selling the properties,” I can’t image there will be any negative stigma attached to these houses over this,” reflected Orlandini. “In fact, it will actually make for a great story! I put a lot into the houses I build and think that at the end of the day, they are all safe and impressive and look nice and fit into the proper price range. Everyone wants to live right on the beach, and over this past year, the water has remained clean and clear, with no Red Tide or other issues, so if all those factors remain unchanged, we don’t think we will have any problems in selling the houses.”

While happy that the final resolution is in sight, Orlandini made it clear no one benefits from a legal action. “Any time you end up in court, it simply means two sides cannot agree on facts, so each side gets attorneys and spends a lot of money, so I am glad this is finally over, so we can all move on and be done with this. “We do not yet have the new Town permits, though we have already delivered the redrafted plans, design and applications to them. The Town has been quite good over the past 4 to 6 months in moving these requests forward quickly, so I feel good we will make rapid progress. While I would like to have the two houses done for season, our realistic deadline is completion by February 2020, as we have the workers and tradesmen basically lined up. These projects are the priority for us now, so as soon as we receive the new permits, it will be full speed ahead with all hands on deck!”

Successful Conclusion

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda agreed, “The Town had an issue with the house closest to the water exceeding the CCCL by about 8 feet, due to a snafu with their survey, and it was brought to our attention by an adjacent property owner who was surveying their own property and thought something looked wrong, and that is where the drama began.”

Cereceda is happy the settlement is in place: “This finally came about after too many years of discussion between the Town and property owners over how to remedy this situation. In addition to the CCCL, there was a question over if they could actually have two individual houses on that property, due to calculations over right-of-way and square footage, but Bill Spikowski, who knows more about the Town Code than anyone, assured us that it was fine. I think the settlement came about now because the owners finally realized the Town would never budge in allowing this encroachment upon the CCCL and that Town Council was steadfast and immobile on this decision, as it was a singular issue for us – period!”

She said that she finds the settlement fair to both sides. “It allows the property owners and developer to finish and sell their two homes, while the Town will hopefully acquire two new families as happy and contributing citizens, so life goes on. It takes a bad situation off the Town’s books and removes an eyesore along a highly-visible part of the beach, so when you look at everything in that light, this settlement is pretty cut-&-dried.”

When Cereceda learned of the settlement, “I was relieved to finally wrap this up, as it lingered for too long, with much of that time a battle of wills. Most importantly, the Town did not compromise the CCCL. I hope construction can begin again soon, but that is entirely up to them, as they need to get their ducks in order, and I am optimistic they will. This has gone on longer than anyone could have imagined five years ago, with the issue on the table through several Town Councils and the last three Town Managers, and almost my entire time on Council since I rejoined in 2014, so I am happy we have a successful conclusion!”