A controversial ordinance regulating beach chair vendor businesses passed unanimously at Monday night’s Town Council meeting after Council and staff spent nearly eight months revising it. Mayor Anita Cereceda also publicly apologized to the First Baptist Church of Fort Myers Beach (Beach Baptist) for comments she’d made when they first appeared asking for a permit for their Wednesday Farmer’s Market.
During public comment, George Repetti said that the stormwater utility fee is a tax – nothing more and nothing less.
“It’s arbitrary and capricious – I’m getting charged for the area of my swimming pool,” he said. “When it rains, the water goes into the pool and doesn’t come out. How ridiculous is that?”
Forrest Critser, father of Beach Baptist’s Pastor Shawn Critser, spoke of the good work being done by the church in Guatemala using proceeds from the Wednesday farmer’s market.
“It’s something to behold to see mission work come together from beginning to end, and over the years we’ve watched the kids grow and go to school with the clothes we were able to provide for them,” he said. “This work needs to continue, and we’d like the opportunity – with this market – to do so.”
He was followed by several members of Beach Baptist, who informed Council of all the outreach the church does for the community.
Connecticut Street resident David Easterbrook said the activities at the church don’t bother him.
“They’re bringing the community together for fellowship, and I talked to a few of my neighbors who don’t have a problem with this either,” he said.
Pastor Shawn Critser explained that Beach Baptist is not now, and never has been, a ‘normal church’.
“We do have a lot going on there,” he said. “And while I don’t believe we need a permit, I want one because I don’t want people to think we’re hiding behind religion. My concern is – if we go so far down this road – other churches will have to go through all this permitting stuff too and it’s not our comfort zone.”
During Advisory Committee’s Items, Public Safety Chair Bruce Butcher asked for direction from Council for his group, saying a couple of members would like to weigh in on the redesign of Estero Boulevard.
Since the second public hearing on the rezoning of 150 Crescent Street was moved to the February 16th Council meeting, the only public hearing left on Tuesday night’s agenda was the new ordinance regarding chair rentals.
Eric Ogilvie, owner of property at 61 Avenue C, said he understands that these new regulations have come about as a result of some residents’ negative experiences with some chair vendors.
“Not all chair vendors are the same, and it’s unfair to treat everyone based on the actions of a few,” he said. “Even when the ones who are grandfathered in will lose the opportunity to sell their businesses when they want to retire. Put yourself in their position – you work hard at something for many years, it has a value associated with it, and now it’s worthless. You can’t recoup any value from it. Please consider the impact of that.”
Principal Planner Megan Will said that staff has gone through many variations of the ordinance.
“The non-conforming section has been amended so that – if they are non-conforming and can prove they have been in business since January 1, 2015 – they can be grandfathered in,” she said. “This includes properties adjacent to those with a PAWL/PVL license, on which those businesses have traditionally been allowed to rent chairs in the past but will be non-conforming under the new ordinance.”
Vice-Mayor Dan Andre asked what would happen to a person purchasing a PAWL/PVL license where chairs are being rented on the properties on either side, and Will replied that – since the grandfather clause exists for current owners only – the new owner would no longer be allowed to rent chairs on any property but the one that the license is for.
“I don’t want a proliferation of beach chairs, but if someone’s been doing this for 20 years and now we tell them they can’t sell their licenses, it takes the value of their business away,” he said.
Mayor Cereceda said she has struggled with that, but her job as mayor is not to protect the value of someone’s business but rather the safe passage of the public onto the beach.
“I can’t make up for those who were granted licenses that shouldn’t have been,” she said.
Will pointed out that this ordinance actually expands legal beach chair rentals as it opens the door to multi family units over 50 units.
The ordinance passed unanimously.
Next up was Beach Baptist’s second attempt at securing a permit for their Wednesday market, the first of which was denied because it wasn’t complete.
Mayor Cereceda apologized for saying, at the January 4 Council meeting, “I will never vote to approve this even if the application is complete’. Program Developer Kara Stewart suggested that – if anything – Council might want to put conditions on the size of the market as it expands.
Council unanimously approved the permit with the conditions that there be no alcohol and that the market not expand beyond the site plan submitted by Pastor Critser.
During Councilmembers’ Items, Hosafros asked that Council give the PSC guidance, as requested by Butcher.
“They asked if they could meet to discuss Estero Boulevard, to look at lighting, and to meet the new fire chief,” she said, and the rest of Council decided in a 3-2 vote (Stockton, Andre and Mandel) against allowing them to do so, saying they don’t have anything for them to meet about.
Keri Hendry Weeg