Another Marathon Council Meeting

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Council In Three Parts

With the terms of at least two of its current five members rapidly winding down, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council continued its recent trend of packed agendas and marathon meetings. Before a packed Council Chamber, including an overflow crowd in the lobby, with most present for the “Dune Walkover Rehearing,” Council tackled 18 items in three distinct sections over nearly 7-&-a-half hours.

Council spent most of the first three hours in the “Rehearing for the Dune Walkover & Boardwalk at 8150 & 8170 Estero Boulevard.” Shortly after that, Council took a recess for a lunch break and an Airport Group Advisory Committee Meeting with Michael O’Harra, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Region 7 Administrator that took roughly 85 minutes. They then reconvened their Council Meeting for the regular agenda’s final 13 items.

The Beginning

Prior to the “Dune Walkover Rehearing” under “Public Hearings,” Council heard the initial “Public Comment.” Seven citizens spoke, with five against the recently increased boating speed on the Back Bay, from a No Wake Zone to 25-miles-per-hour. Council member Rexann Hosafros stressed, “The Town did not change the speed limit and we are against it,” with Mayor Anita Cereceda adding, “We are very sympathetic to this and are aware of it.”

Under “Advisory Committee Items & Reports,” Chair Barbara Hill spoke for the Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board (CELCAB) concerning the Mound House, Newton Beach Park and special events; Chair Bill Veach of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) discussed the Back Bay speed increase and the risk to people and manatees, along with Estero Boulevard lighting; and Chair Forrest (Butch) Critser of the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) expressed their displeasure that the recent Bayside Park proposal did not include a tribute to United States veterans, with Council member Joanne Shamp agreeing, “I too was disappointed.”

Council unanimously approved the “Consent Agenda” to renew its “Emergency Debris Removal Monitoring Contract with Crowder Gulf for Disaster Recovery Systems”; issued a Proclamation recognizing March as “Problem Gambling Awareness Month”; and approved a “Special Event Permit” to Nervous Nellie’s Restaurant for its “St. Patrick’s Day Bash.”

Public Hearings

The first Public Hearing was the Rehearing for the Dune Walkover & Boardwalk at 8150 & 8170 Estero Boulevard that can be found in a separate article in this edition of The Island Sand Paper. Following the 3 to 2 denial vote, roughly 80% of the audience exited. Council next unanimously passed the “Second Reading & Public Hearing to Rezone 0.17-acres at 2639 – 2641 Estero Boulevard from Residential Commercial (RC) to Institutional (IN)” for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center.

Under the “Second Reading & Final Hearing to Repealing and Adopt the New Code of Vacation of Town Interest in Real Property Ordinance,” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr, stated, “Per the request by Town Council several months ago, we streamlined the Ordinance process for the vacation of Town interests in right-of-way and property. This has the changes you made at the First Reading, to include the Local Planning Agency (LPA) in the process and noticing property owners within 500 rather than 300 feet.” Christine Patton, who is suing the Town over their approval of the Margaritaville FMB Resort, and her lawyer, Ralf Brookes, were the only people to speak against the Ordinance. The Town plans to vacate certain plats to Margaritaville FMB. Council then unanimously passed the Vacation Ordinance before breaking for lunch, then hosting the FAA Airport Group Meeting.

“Elevate! Elevate! Elevate!”

Council called the Airport Group Meeting to order at 1:30 p.m., before roughly 20 people including the Town’s volunteer Airport Group. Shamp, who is the Airport Group Liaison, welcomed FAA Region 7 Administrator Michael O’Harra and his staff for an update since their last meeting on October 21, 2019. “It takes a collaborative effort between you and us to have a successful airport and good quality of life for everyone on Fort Myers Beach,” began Shamp, before segueing into a brief PowerPoint. She stated that Southwest International Airport has two runways – #6 & #24 – with the Town preferring that air traffic controllers utilize Runway #24, as that one causes less noise and related issues for Fort Myers Beach.

Shamp noted that despite the Town’s preference, 47% of the aircraft arriving on Runway #6 fly over Estero Island, “equating to over 100 aircraft-a-day in season. This worsens from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m., when Southwest International does not have air traffic controllers during most of that time, with our traffic monitored by Miami Center, meaning that 73% of nighttime arrivals fly over Fort Myers Beach versus 36% when Southwest International is in control.”

Town Council held another marathon session of over 7 hours on Tuesday, February 18.

Another primary Fort Myers Beach request is for arriving aircraft to fly in at least 3,000 feet over the island, “yet 40% overfly us at less than 3,000 feet during peak season,” Shamp continued. “More concerning is that 14.3% come over Fort Myers Beach at less than 2,000 feet in season! A favorable statistic is that since October 2017, flights arriving on Runway #6 over Fort Myers Beach decreased from 74 to 47 percent, but flights over the island at less than 3,000 feet increased from 31 to 40 percent and those lower than 2,000 feet are up from 5 to 14 percent.” She concluded that the Town’s requests to the FAA remain the same: “Train pilots and air traffic controllers to use Runway #24 whenever possible and particularly from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.; if they must use Runway #6, train them to take aircraft over the Back Bay; and staff Southwest International with air traffic controllers from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., as our local controllers do a much better job.”

“I appreciate the comments, information and your partnership,” said O’Harra. “Some of the data we saw before and it is consistent with past discussions, but not unique to Fort Myers Beach. This does not mean all hope is gone, but answers will not magically happen by April 1. Remember that it has not been that long since our last meeting here in late October. I am not saying we cannot accomplish anything, but in aviation, 3-1/2 months is not that long! We have some work ahead of us in training procedures, as our role is complicated and that is why these conversation are helpful, to find the right solutions, but that does not mean tomorrow.”

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy asked why Miami Center takes over Southwest International airplane traffic from Midnight to 6 a.m., with O’Harra responding that, “the numbers of aircraft do not justify overnight controllers here.” “Then our message is ‘Elevate, Elevate, Elevate!” exclaimed Shamp. “Peddle increased height to move forward in the short-term, to accomplish something by our next meeting, as just a few specifics will help. Does that sound like a reasonable basis to you?” O’Harra concluded, “That is a possibility,” with their next meeting set for this fall.

Sea Turtle & Fertilizer Ordinances

Council reconvened at 3 p.m., and unanimously passed with amendments the “Second Reading & Final Hearing for the Environmentally Critical (EC) Zoning District Ordinance” that limits construction Special Exceptions; unanimously passed with amendments the “Second Reading & Final Hearing for the Amendment to Land Development Code (LDC) Ordinance for Fences, Walls, and Entrance Gates”; unanimously approved the “Second Reading & Final Hearing for Minimum Use Determination Regulations”; and moved the “Text Amendment to LDC Section 34 Regarding Height and Setback Regulations” to the March 5 Management & Planning Session for further discussion.

Under “Second Reading & Final Hearing to Repeal & Replace the Sea Turtle Conservation Ordinance,” Council continued its ongoing disagreement over whether Estero Boulevard lighting should be bright white or turtle-friendly amber LED before unanimously approving with amendments the Ordinance to minimize the detrimental impact of artificial lights that are intentionally or unintentionally visible from the beach by nesting sea turtles. Finally, Council unanimously passed the “Second Reading & Final Hearing to Repeal & Replace Regulating Application of Fertilizer Ordinance” to regulate the application of fertilizer.

Administrative Agenda

Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously passed the “Florida Boating Improvement Grant Resolution for Up to $250,000 for Bayside Park Dinghy Dock Improvement,” with the Town providing a $125,000 match; a “West Coast Inland Navigational District (WCIND) Grant Request for Law Enforcement” to assist with Lee County Sheriffs Office marine patrols; and the “Estero Island Beach Renourishment Project Due Diligence to Apply for Tourist Development Council Renourishment Project Funds” for North Estero Island. Finally, Council unanimously returned to a March Meeting the “Times Square & Bayside Park Allocations” to fund design plans. Council adjourned at 4:23 p.m.

The final three meetings of Town Council before the election are Monday, March 2; a one-item agenda meeting on Thursday, March 5, for the Margaritaville FMB Resort Property Vacation request, immediately followed by the March Management & Planning Session; then their final meeting on Friday, March 13, that they moved from March 16 to avoid conflicting with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.