Council Conducts Crisp Workshop
The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council heard a presentation for a potential new Big Carlos Pass Bridge, discussed 6-year-old sign ordinance amendments, and examined possible Transfer of Development Rights in a crisp 75-minute session on Monday, January 23rd. Mayor Dennis Boback called the meeting to order at 2 p.m., with council member Anita Cereceda not in attendance with an excused absence.
Under the potential new Big Carlos Pass Bridge agenda item, Sean Donahoo of AIM Engineering & Surveying, and Scott Gammon, the public works manager for the Lee County Department of Transportation, informed Council of early plans to replace or restore the now 52-year-old span at the south end of Estero Island.
There are three variables that will determine the eventual course of action, explained Sean. “Is the bridge functionally obsolete; is it fracture-critical, meaning can small cracks turn into large ones; and is it scour-critical, or likely to wash out in a hurricane, leaving the community without a bridge for a significant time, with our 18-month study to answer these questions. The replacement span is in the 2020-21 budget cycle, with Lee County paying 50% and the state and federal governments the balance, and no contribution from the Town.”
The current bridge is 21-feet high with a drawbridge, two 13-foot lanes and two 3-foot sidewalks on each side, but no dedicated bicycle lanes. Possible replacements would include a new bridge at the current 21-foot elevation with a drawbridge, an increase to 45 feet with a drawbridge, or 65 feet, the same height as the Matanzas Pass Bridge that would not require a drawbridge. During construction, access to all south Estero Boulevard communities would remain open. The project website at www.BigCarlosBridgeProject.com is now active.
Council member Tracey Gore said that she had recently read that the Big Carlos Pass Bridge, while older, is structurally sound, and wondered if Lee County could repair rather than replace it. Gammon replied: “That is a great question and one we can answer after the study.” Council member Joanne Shamp called the Big Carlos Pass Bridge “critical to the lifeline of our community, a crucial hurricane evacuation route, and essential to the quality of life to the residents at the south end of our island. It is a huge recreation facility with fishermen always on the bridge. I favor the plan with the least impact and best outcome, and that is not to replace it.”
Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign
Under the Sign Ordinance Amendments agenda item, Principal Planner Matt Noble said that subsequent to the adoption of the Sign Ordinance in April 2011, Town staff at that time identified several discrepancies but none of these received corrections, “so it is good we are having this discussion today to revisit these issues.”
“These were around since 2011 and it is now 2017,” Gore said. “Did the Local Planning Agency (LPA) approve any of these or others since 2011?” Noble replied, “not that I know.” Shamp, an LPA member during that time, recalled marine signage issues but nothing else, with Gore recommending to Council it send this back to the LPA for a new resolution.
Gore questioned offsite directional signage, saying “I don’t want signs all over the island.” Noble explained, “I understand exactly what you are saying, but these provide directions to landmarks off Estero Boulevard. An excellent example is the sign that shows you where to turn for St. Raphael’s Church. Offsite directional signs must meet similar criteria so I do not see them becoming a major problem.”
Another discrepancy is sign size. “There are unintended consequences, as some read the restriction as the size of the letters rather than the sign including borders, allowing businesses to have larger signs,” said Noble. Gore said she found this “unfair to those who already changes theirs,” with Noble responding, “that is why I highlight this one!”
A Level Playing Field
Shamp agreed the true measurement should be “a hypothetical box for computation, to keep it simple and within compliance to create a level playing field. I am fine with offsite directional signs so long as we limit their use to civic, historic and cultural sites.” She recollects the LPA discussing marine issues but “most boaters have charts to tell them their exact location.” Noble countered that an operation like Moss Marina has various docks so it is tough to tell one from another without pole signs. Shamp said that the Anchorage Advisory Committee should review this. Noble reminded Council that the proposed changes were from 2011, not current staff.
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said “If you run out of gas in your car, you walk to the nearest station; if you run out on a boat, you are in a bad way. I prefer giving marinas latitude through a variance since they have different issues, but not in every case. Overall, most of these are small and helpful.” Mayor Dennis Boback agreed, “as long as those seeking variances and offsite signs come to Council for approval so we retain control.”
Noble explained the next agenda item, Transfer of Development Rights. “The local jurisdiction must first grant the Transfer of Development Rights. Previous councils indicated they could move these off the island and out of the floodplain, rather than establishing a Fort Myers Beach receiving area.”
Hosafros said this discussion “brings back my epiphany moment when I learned we could transfer these off-island. If this is doable I favor that.” Gore said “there is no spot on Fort Myers Beach where you cannot throw a rock and miss a house; it is already too built-out. Pine Island sends all theirs off-island but I don’t know to where.” Noble replied, “a lot to Lehigh Acres. In Lee County, TDR sites are a dry well, with people begging for additional ones.”
Following this, Council adjourned their Workshop at 3:15 p.m., with Boback saying in jest, “We are getting better at this,” but the Vice Mayor cautioned, “Only in workshops – council meetings are still a work in progress!”