Marathon Council Agenda
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council hosted an ambitious agenda at its Management & Planning Session on Thursday, February 6, addressing Fort Myers Beach traffic; Town Branding; Conceptual Plans for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, Bayfront Park, and Times Square; Estero Boulevard lighting; and other items in a 7-hour-plus meeting.
Under “Town Branding,” Sharon McCormick, the Director of Business Attraction & Marketing for the Redevelopment Management Agency (RMA), stated that “your brand is what other people think about you. Our goal for Fort Myers Beach is to create an identity that encourages cohesion, builds up your community identity, and develops a consistent message, so you understand where you are and where you want to go. We will present to you a brand strategy and logo examples, to spread that message to tell people who you are.”
Council member Joanne Shamp felt that RMA was completely correct in its Brand Promise Draft in stating that “The Island has a natural landscape that is symbolic of its population: bright, inviting, and vibrant . . . In Fort Myers Beach, everyone is welcome, just as they are, on this beautiful island of eclectic people and places.” Shamp stated, “as you spoke, l was inspired, as those are the people we want to draw, as that is an accurate reflection and description of who we are!” “Bravo,” enthused Mayor Anita Cereceda! “I love that direction; I could not have said that better myself!” Shamp added, “I hate to be such a girl, but I am a little teary,” before addressing Council member Bruce Butcher: “C’mon, Bruce, you have to be a little teary, too!”
Butcher asked if people McCormick spoke with mentioned a possible Town name change. “Some were for it and some against it,” she replied. “There are pros and cons to both sides.” He asked for her opinion, with McCormick stating, “I would not change the name but would take a compromise position, with something like ‘The Isle of Fort Myers Beach.’ That would be up to your political will.” Cereceda countered with, “I am not a name-change person.”
McCormick presented roughly 15 potential logos, with the vast majority featuring a seahorse that a Town resident introduced at the public branding forum. Council member Rexann Hosafros was not in favor of the pastel colors, stating that “we are not a pastel kind of Town, in my opinion,” but Shamp said, “you almost have to go to pastels because it has a light vibrancy.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy opined, “I am impressed with what I see so far.”
Hosafros did not like the seahorse logo, with Butcher and Shamp in quick agreement, with most Council members preferring some type of “FMB” design, with Hosafros saying, “I like emphasizing ‘FMB’ as our brand and sticking with that.” Murphy added, “I kind-of like the ‘FMB’ concept, too! I am not a name-changer, but I always call this place ‘FMB,’ but perhaps with a dolphin rather than seahorse.” Butcher concurred, “If we can’t change the Town name, then ‘FMB’ is the thing to promote.” Cereceda favored a dolphin in the logo, because “I grew up here and still go ‘OHHHH’ every time I see one, as everybody loves them! I can see a giant ‘FMB’ logo where every single person who visits will take a photo.” McCormick stated that RMA will return the final concept to Council at its March 13 meeting for their final approval.
Bay Oaks, Bayside Park & Times Square
Paul Benvie, PE, who is the Fort Myers Office Leader of DRMP, Inc., and Matt Horton, a Principle for EnSite Landscape Architecture, took Council through the “Conceptual Designs for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, Bayside Park and Times Square.”
They began with the Bay Oaks design. Hosafros did not like the potential building in the Estero Boulevard entry parcel, with all other Council members immediately in agreement, preferring instead a feature to attract visitors into the Bay Oaks campus. Other potential improvements include reorienting the baseball field, an open-air gymnasium, an all-purpose field potentially with artificial turf, a shared trail with Matanzas Pass Preserve and an outdoor amphitheater and classroom, with shared parking for Bay Oaks, Beach Elementary School, Estero Island Historical Society cottages and Matanzas Pass Preserve. “This is the best thing I have seen,” said Hosafros: “I like this!” Murphy added. “This is a great concept; I definitely feel this is the way to go. We do not have to do all of this at once, but in phases so it is not too bad financially in the beginning.”
For Bayside Park, Council contemplated a water playground splashpad, performance stage, shade structure, enhanced waterfront view, additional shade trees, solar trees, rain garden, island history exhibits, veterans’ tribute and waterfront pedestrian loop, all with a visual link to Times Square at the opposite end of the downtown corridor to emphasize continuity.
In the Times Square conceptual design, Cereceda stated, “I lived the majority of my life in Times Square and I am so impressed with this that I cannot tell you! This is what a public space should look like!” Butcher added, “I have no complaints; I kind-of like it!” Murphy noted, “I like it very much as well, as it brings it all together in a more orderly fashion.” Hosafros also agreed. Shamp added, “I could not visualize how to improve it and you did!” She wondered about the signature clock that was not in the new design. Murphy replied, “the clock is not that important to me.” “Get rid of the clock,” emphasized Hosafros, “and change the name from Times Square to Sunset Square; people gather for the sunsets and not to see what time it is!” Cereceda differed, “I think the clock is essential.” Shamp countered, “if somebody loves the clock, buy it and move it to another spot. I will sell my prints of the clock to help pay for that!”
Other Times Square items included walkway materials, restaurant shade louvers and sprinkler system, performance stage and enhanced beach views. “Wow, that was great,” summarized Cereceda enthusiastically!
Estero Boulevard Lighting
Under “Street Lighting Discussion,” Council continued its recent disagreement over whether to pursue bright white lights for Estero Boulevard or research turtle-friendly options. Butcher presented American Medical Association recommendations but Hosafros said she felt those were slanted and wanted to study additional viewpoints and that Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and not Butcher was to supply those to Council. Shamp noted that other Florida beach towns are undergoing similar issues, such as Longboat Key, and suggested the Town obtain lighting and cost information from them, “to not do this in a hurry, to make sure we are not being short-sighted.”
“In a hurry,” Butcher responded in exasperation. “We have been looking at this since 2013 so we are not in a hurry but late! If you do not care about the safety of people, then take your time with this.” Murphy stated, “the Fort Lauderdale model is to switch back between the two, so you have the brighter lights during tourist season, then less bright ones during turtle season, when there are less people on the road, so that is my Number One choice, but I am open to other options.” A Florida Power & Light (FPL) representative responded that his preference is not part of their current inventory but admitted they always explore new options to meet community needs. Hosafros added that “cities all over the country are doing Amber LED lights, including San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu and Flagstaff, as citizens are rising up over lighting problems.”
Murphy wanted FPL to realize that “we are struggling with this, like other communities, and we don’t want people killed on our streets. I knew the people who were killed at the south end of the island several years ago and we don’t want that to happen again. I hope you make this a priority for the coming year, as it needs to be at the top of your list.” Hosafros once again said she wants the Town Manager to explore lighting options, with Murphy suggesting the Florida League of Cities as a possible source. Cereceda concluded, “for the time being, this is off of our plate.”
LDC & Comp Plan
In other matters, Council received a report from Lee County Sheriffs Office personnel concerning Fort Myers Beach traffic that another article in this edition of “The Island Sand Paper” covers in-depth. Under the monthly “reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects” Report, Council complemented Lee County personnel at the recent rapid pace of construction, while questioning how the south end roadway will ultimately tie into the eventual Big Carlos Pass Bridge replacement project.
Under “Second Meeting & Final Public Meeting for the Land Development Code (LDC) Amendment for Fences, Walls & Entry Gates,” Council clarified gate and hedge setbacks, sidewalk clearances for pedestrians and bicyclists, sidestreet setbacks and visibility triangles, landscaping and parking right-of-way issues, hedge heights and definitions, and rear yard and waterbody setbacks.
Council struggled with the “Religious Use Discussion,” with Hosafros attempting to delete the “Place of Worship” definition while retaining the “Religious Facility” designation, along with a lengthy list of prospective “Special Exemptions,” leading Council to ultimately table the matter to its March 5 Management & Planning Session to obtain additional information. Hosafros stated that the community’s religious leaders simply want to continue their current uses, “so they don’t need a Special Events Permit to host a carwash,” while Shamp noted that she received several email complaints about these issues, “as neighbors disagree with a lot of these things.” Butcher opined that “I am not a Constitutional lawyer so I would like to see what other communities allow.” Murphy added, “at the risk of going straight to hell, we should look at those!”
Under “Comprehensive Plan & Land Development Scope Review,” Butcher suggested that the Local Planning Agency (LPA) and perhaps even an ad hoc committee formed by Council should review this in addition to the professional consultant. Hosafros stated “I thought this was a lot further along than this,” with Cereceda adding, “so did I!” Under “Minor Structure (Bollard/Rope/Fence) in the Environmentally Critical Zoning District” at 2654 Estero Boulevard, Council ordered Town Staff to oversee its removal.
Under “Compliance Policy Discussion,” Council discussed the Town’s newly-created “Community Improvement Department” for Code Enforcement and Short Term Rental cases since 2019. “I have not heard of this,” said Hosafros. “I don’t like the name; does this mean we have a new department head,” with the Town Manager replying in the negative. “I like what you are doing,” Hosafros said “but I want a black-&-white list to guide Code Enforcement, such as ‘this is a health and safety issue so you must do this right now,’ as opposed to ‘this is less important so you get a written warning but not a ticket the first time,’ to get the Code Enforcement employees out of the middle.” Shamp liked the organizational structure as well, “but I suggest a name change.”
Council next addressed three non-agenda items: Council is currently examining an updated Vacations Ordinance, and agreed to include the LPA in the process, issue notices to neighbors within 500 rather than 300 feet of proposed vacation properties, and that Council can consider multiple as well as individual parcels at the same time. Council discussed the two upcoming Town Referendums for the March 17 election that appears in detail in another article in this edition of “The Island Sand Paper.” Finally, Council agreed to a request from the proposed Margaritaville FMB Resort to briefly call a Town Council Meeting during the March 5 Management & Planning Session to consider Margaritaville’s vacation request. Shamp reminded that Council may briefly adjourn their Tuesday, February 18, Town Council Meeting to meet with Federal Aviation Administration personnel at 1:30 p.m. Council adjourned the 7-hour-plus marathon session at 3:16 p.m.