Angry Outbursts Over Stormwater

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The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach discussed a potential new traffic lane reconfiguration and entry at the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, then later endured angry outbursts from Lagoon Road residents over the panel’s refusal to consider a change to its new comprehensive stormwater drainage system.

Council Considers Entry Design

The Matanzas Pass Bridge Lane Configuration first came up during Public Comment, when John Goggin, Chair of the Town’s volunteer Public Safety Committee, stated that it was a surprise to see it on the agenda. Goggin noted that Council had three designs in their packets and he found all deficient. He voiced displeasure that Council had the item before the Public Safety Committee could consider it and provide suggestions, and asked Council to postpone it until after the upcoming Public Safety Committee Meeting on Wednesday, October 9.

Council member Joanne Shamp replied, “This surprised us as well!” Mayor Anita Cereceda told Goggin she agreed with him. “But let us discuss this now and then we will send it to you for Wednesday, so you will have an idea where we stand.”

One Big Opportunity

Later in the meeting, Council returned to the topic. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said that the late Lee County District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker produced the original plan and the Town reacted by producing an alternative they sent to Lee County for consideration, with the Town now receiving the newest version. Shamp, who was Council’s liaison with Commissioner Kiker on this, stated, “This is so important, because it is our one big opportunity, as we waited 22 years to have all that property there available for these things.” She had concerns over synchronizing traffic lights, confusing pedestrian crosswalks, and an inadequate tram stop, as well as a lack of foresight in a “great entryway design structure for the Town.”

Council member Rexann Hosafros said she is a former Public Safety Committee member, “so I learned about ‘Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons’ and Lee County reminded us about using too many, as people will ignore them, then they present us with a plan with five!” Cereceda added that the crosswalks “are in the worst possible places!” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy added, “I am anxious to hear what the Public Safety Committee recommends,” with Council member Bruce Butcher noting that “I am glad we are taking about this, because there is not much about the Lee County plan I love. I am not a traffic engineer but I ‘stayed at a Holiday Inn Express,’ so I have a lot of opinions!”

Shamp felt this plan returned quickly to the Town because Council hosted Kiker’s replacement, new Commissioner Raymond Sandelli on Friday, September 13, and asked him if he could assist in resurrecting the process, “so thank you so much for bringing this forward right now, but while we don’t want to bite the hand of the new Commissioner, we need more time.” Cereceda will invite Commissioner Sandelli to the meeting when Council next discusses this, “so he can understand this very clearly, to do this right. Lee County is spending $80 million on Estero Boulevard so they should not skimp on this, as this is super important.” Hernstadt reminded Council that  should the Town and Lee County agree on a plan, they must still forward it to the Florida Department of Transportation that has final authority.

Lagoon Road Petitions

During Town Manager Items, Hernstadt reported that the Town recently held a neighborhood meeting with local residents concerning the Buccaneer Drive joint outfall for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Stormwater Project, with several residents on adjacent Lagoon Road opposed to that work on their street, as it does not flood. They initiated a petition drive to convince Council to exclude this from in front of their homes, with 12 of 19 households signing, causing the Town Manager to ask Council, “What would you like us to do next?”

Butcher asked about possible consequences; Tim Vanderwalker, Project Manager from Tetra Tech Engineering, stated it would cause a water backup onto Buccaneer Drive that could result in a foot-&-a-half of flooding for up to one-hour, 45-minutes, causing Murphy to note that this action “would adversely affect your neighbors.” Vanderwalker added that skipping that section may result in a significant construction delay for redesign and permitting, as each part of the total system is interdependent on every other component.

Shamp explained that the Town engineered stormwater for the entire system and not each individual street. Butcher stated that before the Town could approve the Lagoon Road request, they must hear from those who live on Buccaneer Drive, “as they should have a voice in what happens,” with Murphy commenting that “a foot-&-a-half of flooding is no fun!” After Vanderwalker concurred that those who live on Buccaneer “will see more flooding than today,” at least one Lagoon Road neighbor audibly uttered several vulgarities describing bull manure, causing Cereceda to caution, “You guys settle down – I get that this is personal to you.”

Cereceda wondered why the remaining seven homeowners did not sign the petition, then told those in attendance, “I am going to be very direct with you here. Every piece of this system is interconnected with every other piece, so to take one out to try to rearrange it creates a domino effect,” to which one man again audibly called out the bull manure response.

When several residents demanded to speak, Cereceda reminded, “This is not a Public Hearing, and you had the opportunity in both Public Comment periods and you chose to pass.” Hosafros asked if Council even needed to take any action “if we keep the plan we have in place.” Shamp agreed to no change, while wishing she could help; Butcher was concerned about the effect on Buccaneer Drive neighbors and their inability to address this, and Murphy said, “A possible solution could take years and I am not of a mind to do that.” The Lagoon Road citizens left the meeting, with one angrily shouting, “Kangaroo Court – thanks for everything!”

Hernstadt next reported that he and all public agencies assisting with the “Roar Offshore” Powerboat Race and related activities from Thursday through Saturday, October 10 to 12, held one final meeting with race organizers on Thursday, October 3, to conduct the final walkthrough and resolve any questions and concerns, including what they have permission to do and not do, with race organizers agreeing.

Hernstadt brought forward a Margaritaville FMB Resort request to quickly install four project information signs in prime locations in advance of the weekend’s anticipated huge crowd, with Council providing unanimous approval.

STRs & Committee Appointments

In other Administrative Agenda items, Council unanimously reduced a lien against 2633 Estero Boulevard to $5,850 though they disputed whether the original amount was $57,925 or $9,450 with Cereceda calling the matter “very confusing!” Council addressed an “Amendment to the Short Term Rental Ordinance For Qualifying Condominiums” that requires registrations for properties renting for less than six months, to recognize condominiums that predate the Town Short Term Rental Ordinance with shorter rental durations for greater than 3 but less than 30 days as stipulated in their condominium bylaws. Council sent this to the Local Planning Agency for their October meeting, hoping the LPA can return it to them in November.

Under the Consent Agenda, Council provided unanimous approval for the Town Manager to negotiate a Town Facility Janitorial Services contract with Brenden Property Services that the Tourist Development Council will primarily fund. Under Public Hearings, Council unanimously approved the Skimmers Ordinance during its Final Hearing, that requires owners and operators of ATMs and retail fuel pumps to install and maintain appropriate security measures; unanimously approved the Public Hearing schedule to vacate three right-of-way requests for the Margaritaville FMB Resort at their November 18, 2019 meeting; and unanimously approved a Setback Variance for 90 Ibis Street for a swimming pool screen enclosure.

Under Town Volunteer Advisory Committee Appointments, the Town had four candidates for three open Audit Committee seats, with John Goggin, Edward Lombard, and James Rodwell seeking reappointment, and former Interim Town Manager James Steele submitting an application. Since the Audit Committee has five current members and Council can legally expand that up to seven, they reappointed the three citizens and added Steele, increasing the panel to six people. The Local Planning Agency had five citizen applications for three open seats, with current members Dan Hughes, Jane Plummer and Lorrie Wolf requesting reappointment and Dan Allers and James Knickle seeking seats. Council conducted an anonymous paper ballot vote, electing Hughes unanimously, with Allers and Plumber receiving the two other seats with three votes, compared to Knickle and Wolf with two.

For the remaining committees, Council unanimously reappointed to the Anchorage Advisory Committee Gregory Holmes, William Kubicek and Mike Ratliff; reappointed to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) Barbara Hill, Lee Melsek and Rae Sprole, with one vacancy remaining; reappointed to the Cultural Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) Forrest Critser and Rebecca Weber, with one vacancy; reappointed to the Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board (CELCAB) Cindy Richardson, Becky Werner and Lorrie Wolf; reappointed to the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee Beverley Milligan and Lorrie Wolf, with one vacancy; reappointed to the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) Mary Rose Spalletta and William Veach with one vacancy; and for the three Public Safety Committee seats, reappointed Tom Gressman and named Mike Childs and James Knickle to the two open seats.

A Safe Place

During the Town Attorney Report,  John Herin, Jr., stated that the Town has security issues with the two unfinished homes at 3050 and 3056 Estero Boulevard that it recently reached a legal settlement with, over 3056 being constructed roughly 8 feet over the Coastal Construction Control Line. Herin said he personally communicated these security issues to the property owner’s attorney to ensure they undertake adequate steps, but the response is slow, so he spoke with them again to “get them to pick up the pace before the Town must take action.” Shamp said the Town is receiving safety complaints about these structures, so it is important they continue to pursue this. Cereceda asked for a timeline, with Herin stating that he hoped for a resolution “yesterday, as everyone agrees this has already gone on too long!”

During Town Council Member Items, Butcher complained about “The Observer” newspaper’s delivery policy of throwing newspapers into homeowner driveways, “as they stack up and this just irritates me.” He telephoned their office and sent several emails, but the practice continues. Cereceda noted that they come wrapped in plastic “and that is pollution. This is an irritation to me but perhaps they don’t care,” causing her to suggest the Town may consider fines. Shamp concurred that she receives complaints as well, though Murphy noted that he personally discussed this with the deliveryman “and I never saw him or any newspapers again!”

Cereceda announced that two Council Members are unavailable for the Joint Town Council / BORCAB Meeting as well as Council’s Management & Planning Session on Thursday, October 17, so Staff will see if BORCAB members can reschedule. In looking ahead to December, to avoid Holiday conflicts, Council will host its Management & Planning Session on Thursday, December 5, but just one Council Meeting, on Monday, December 9, with all at 9 a.m.

Finally, Cereceda commented on the earlier audience outbursts, saying that it worries her when Council has an angry group with moments of volatility. “Town Hall should be a safe place, so this is something we should think about, as people ought to feel completely safe here, so just for the record, I hope this is something you all are willing to think about.” Council adjourned at 12:13 p.m.