Big Changes for Chair Vendors
Differing opinions from current and former Town staff and Councils once again became an issue on Monday afternoon’s Council workshop, as staff brought proposed changes to the LDC to the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach that could leave a number of beach chair vendors out of business once their current permits have expired. Council also decided against holding a separate referendum for funding the stormwater utility, with a divisive 3-2 vote coming later that night at their meeting.
Finding space to set up your beach chair is a hot button topic on the beach. After complaints about prime beach areas being blocked by chair rental vendors, council asked staff to review regulations regarding beach furniture to address issues regarding walkways, control of the beach and vendor activity.
Senior Planner Megan Will handed Council a map of the entire island, with current permitted and non-permitted chair vendors marked on it. The map also included the locations of areas/structures designated Commercial Resort (CR) or Commercial Planned Development (CPD) and condominiums and multi-family buildings with 10 or more units.
“We held a work session in August with a number of vendors and Council, I also took comments from the vendors through September and October and spoke with the Town Attorney,” she said. “We decided to do this as a ‘Use Permit’ so the licenses would be tied with the properties they are located in front of. Any property designated CR can have chair rentals. We also looked at permitting chair rentals at properties with 10 or more units, with a cap of 14 total permits issued.”
Other staff recommended changes to the LDC included screened holding areas behind the dune line, the requirement of a sight plan, insurance and aisles of 6 feet for every fifty feet of linear beach where the chairs are being placed.
Councilwoman Summer Stockton said this became an issue about a year-and-a-half ago, and specifically in the downtown area.
“(Former Town Attorney) Derek Rooney or (former Planning Coordinator) Josh Overmyer stated that the chairs were allowed in the downtown district whether they have licenses or not,” she said. “Is that true?”
Will replied that, in her interpretation, no.
“In the downtown area, they are permitted as a principal use only and that the areas where the chairs are actually is in an area zoned EC not Downtown,” she said “It’s principal versus accessory use – if there was a vacant piece of property, no problem, but they are not allowable as an accessory use for restaurants. If you are a resort, you have resort accessory uses.”
“What appears has happened is that – at one point – vendors who held a PAL/PAVL were allowed chair rentals,” Will said. “Under the current regulations only DiamondHead, Lani Kai and the Pier View are compliant. However, there are many more permits that have been issued by previous staff who thought what they were doing was correct.”
Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert said those currently not in compliance would be given an amount of time – determined by Council – to come into compliance.
Stockton asked if the new standards could only be applied to the downtown area, and Lehnert said that is going to get confusing.
“I’d suggest being consistent throughout the island,” she said.
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros said she’s noticed a proliferation of chairs on the south end of the island, too.
Vice-Mayor Dan Andre asked how many vendors the Town currently has, and Will replied ’20 or so’ from the pier to Avenue E (near Beach Pub).
“Five of them actually have permits,” she said. “Some of the properties have PAL or PAVL licenses and the rest don’t have anything.”
Much discussion was held about the proposal to allow a capped amount of chair rental permits for structures with 10 or more units.
“I’d suggest that – instead of having a cap on the number of permits – change the regulations to bring the pool of qualified properties down,” said Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros, and Vice-Mayor Dan Andre agreed that it’s worth looking into.
“We have more people doing this business right now then we have proposed available permits,” Cereceda said.
Discussion moved on to how long vendors with businesses on properties no longer permissible would be allowed to phase out of existence, and Council agreed to give everyone “at least two years.”
“The next issue is with setbacks,” Megan said. “Staff recommends 10 feet, unless the vendors are working on abutting properties. This would also apply to beach accesses for simplicity’s sake.”
Council asked for more information on that, and agreed to change ‘wet sand’ to ‘wrack line’ when discussing the required 15-foot setback from the wet sand.
Will agreed to return with a revised ordinance as soon as possible and take it to the Local Planning Agency (LPA) for their recommendations.
After the meeting, Dean Kerkesner of Rebel Watersports told us that the new ordinance would take ‘half of his net revenue away’.
“I’ve been in the business for 25 years, and have worked with the Town going all the way back to (original Town Manager) Marsha Segal-George,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to seeing what my legal repercussions are, but I will.”
Stormwater Utility Funding
Councilman Alan Mandel then made one more effort to separate stormwater utility funding from a recommended change to the Town Charter that would allow the Town to borrow for longer than three years. That change, along with all the changes recommended by the Charter Review Commission (CRC) and approved by Council, will go before the voters in March of next year.
“I’d very much like to get a item – hopefully first – on the referendum to allow the Town to borrow – be it by bond or the state revolving fund – money for the stormwater utility because between that and potable water the Town is taking on a lot of debt,” he said.
Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli said she’d confirmed with the state an interest rate of 0-1% for potable water and 0-2% for stormwater.
Mayor Anita Cereceda asked why Mandel is insisting on a referenda when it’s not needed, and he replied that while Maureen may be planning on going to the state year after year for the revolving fund, he’d prefer to do it long-term.
“The residents need to know we’re going into debt on two major projects for many years,” he said. “A number of people have told me they’d vote against an open-ended item without knowing what some future council is going to do. This will have a dollar amount, a beginning and an ending. At least this way people who are opposed to one would have the ability to vote for another.”
Andre asked if the Town would be ‘locked’ into a fixed rate were they to borrow for many years, and Rischitelli said no, that the state looks at their rates every six months.
Hosafros vehemently opposed the idea, saying putting it on the ballot would confuse residents into voting against removing the provision against three-year debt service that currently exists in the Town Charter.
“I believe we should concentrate our efforts on educating our voters,” he said.
Cereceda agreed that people don’t understand the stormwater utility.
“What I’d worry about most of all is should that referenda fail,” she said. “What residents now know is they’re going to have a fee on their water bill should we pass the rate increase in December. What I’m worried about is people are going to then see it on the ballot in March and vote against it thinking the fee will go away.”
Hosafros accused Mandel of wanting the charter amendment to fail, and he replied that getting the Town into any more debt is irresponsible.
At their meeting later that night, Council voted 3-2 against Mandel’s proposal. After that meeting, we spoke with Rischitelli and she explained that should the amendment fail, funding for the stormwater utility would be still be available via the state revolving fund, though the cost would be higher because the town would be borrowing for the short term.
216 Connecticut Lot
Finally, Public Works Director Scott Baker gave Council a proposal from Mitchell & Stark to do the landscaping project Council approved for 216 Connecticut.
“Right now we can do this for a really good price for the parking lot area – $54,000, and staff may be able to actually do the landscaping themselves but right now it’s an additional $19,000,” he said.
Hosafros wanted to know where the money would come from since its not in the budget, and Baker suggested moving funding from the purchase of a street-sweeper and leasing that equipment instead.
Cereceda pointed out this price is significantly lower than she’d been quoted, and Council agreed to discuss it at their meeting later.
Attorney Dawn Lehnert said there are ways to waive the requirement for a RFP (procurement code) even though the project is over $25,000 because the savings are so substantial.
“Just getting a bid packet out there costs $20-$25,000,” Baker said. Council approved that project at their meeting later that night.
Keri Hendry Weeg