Council Begins New Year

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Roundabout Concept Discussed

In their final 2018 meeting, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach tackled an ambitious 27-item agenda. Perhaps owing to a collective New Year’s Resolution, the panel began 2019 on Thursday morning, January 10, with just a 2-item session. Most relevant discussions occurred during the final two hours of the 3-hour meeting, during “Council Member Items.”

During that time, Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp stated that she discussed an updated Estero Boulevard traffic plan for the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, while displaying the concept for the audience. “We examined this last week with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, Lee County District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais, and Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer,” she said. “This is preliminary and adjustments are already being done,” with Hernstadt adding that “Lee County Commissioners have not yet vetted it.”

town council, meeting, fort myers beach
A preliminary sketch of a possible road design at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge utilizing a portion of Seafarer’s property. Not a final plan. Provided by Lee county DOT.

Shamp said she was hesitant to even talk about it during the Council Meeting, “but somehow it was released and people in the community are already discussing it, so it is on the table. It is too early to say if you love it or hate it, but people ask me about it. Lee County at some point will send us dates to discuss it with Commissioner Kiker and Lee Staff and perhaps the Florida Department of Transportation, as there is an animated version that shows vehicles and pedestrians in motion, to explain the complexity of the project to the community.”

“I saw this a while back and it is definitely conceptual,” added Mayor Tracey Gore. “I have a lot of concerns, with the main thing off the bat putting in all the new pedestrian crosswalks right where cars come onto the island off the bridge. We already have a lot of accidents there already, with people driving into the Surf Shop all the time, so those U-Turns in that area are crazy.”

Shamp reiterated that Lee County will schedule an island-wide meeting at a future date to discuss it in detail, and she hopes that will include a plan for the Seafarer’s Mall location, “so that may be a pretty big agenda. Even if you love or hate this preliminary concept or prefer something in-between, remember this project in some form is in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, so it is up to the Town to seek some solution, as traffic there is a long-standing problem, to improve traffic flow.” Council member Dennis Boback immediately noticed one issue: “This new design has 10 crosswalks to replace one crosswalk!”

town manager, new town attorney, town council meeting, fort myers beach
John Herin, Jr. (L), next to Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, participates in his first council meeting as the new Town Attorney.

Shamp noted that a future plan may include new traffic lights at Old San Carlos Boulevard and Crescent Street, so an eventual concept may include “one or two or three traffic lights. Lee County will coordinate those through smart lights and television cameras at its Traffic Control Operations Center on Billy Creek, to change the timing of the lights as traffic dictates, and County representatives invite Council to visit to see how that works.” Council member Anita Cereceda provided one final reminder that this is a very early concept and what the community sees on this plan may bear little resemblance to any potential future construction, saying, “I will tell you that in the 23-year history of the Town, we try to attempt these projects, but when these things hit the press, that usually kills them because everyone hates it when they have not yet had the chance to understand it, so please keep an open mind.”

Not Making 2021

Council members addressed numerous additional items under “Council Member Items.” Bruce Butcher stated he recently met with Commissioner Kiker and County Staff over the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects. “This was very interesting, and I don’t know how many people really appreciate its complexities and why all the contractors call this the most complex project of their careers. Commissioner Kiker offered to provide Council a full explanation, to keep it on-track, and that sound like a good idea to me. I asked what the Town can do to help, and he said we are not keeping up-to-date with the outfall schedule and that can create permitting issues.”

“I love our friends at Lee County,” countered the Town Manager, “but we have to design around them, as our work occurs ahead of theirs, and they do not tell us what streets they need for the outfalls to connect to our side streets, then they run around Town telling everyone we are late! They say the project will be done by 2021, but the current segment was to be done by last December and you can see for yourself where they are.  I do not want to disparage them and this is a very complex project but the idea we are holding them up is not true. They are not going to make 2021! It would be great for Commissioner Kiker to be here, but I am more concerned with what is happening out in the field rather than putting a date on a piece of paper.” “This will be a very interesting discussion,” concluded Butcher!

Butcher next inquired about a progress report for the Mango Street Parking Lot improvements; Town social media outlets to better communicate with the community; and about whether to purchase or lease a Town street sweeper.

Shamp discussed clean-up and potential improvements to the former Seafarer’s Mall area, including an entry feature. Cereceda spoke about her initial conversation with Times Square street performers, complaints she received about the Key Estero Shops paid parking situation, and a request from Palermo Street residents for possible speed bumps. Boback addressed issues about parking at The Dog House Restaurant; continued concerns over lights and sound warning devices for beach bicycles; and warned his colleagues to be aware of bogus Town emails.

Gore stated the Town will meet with the Southwest Florida Congressional Delegation on Tuesday, January 15, to request $500,000 for its road reconstruction project; that the “Red Shutter Cottage” donation and relocation continues; wants previously-removed provisions to control flooding returned to the Town Code; sought solutions to Sunset Beach Tropical Grill noise complaints; examined issues concerning Mango Ritas karaoke; is frustrated by illegal beach parking lots; and announced there may be a new 40-unit hotel at the former TOPPS Supermarket site, with the first public presentation before the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board on Thursday, January 24.

Reusable Bags & Fertilizers

In other items, under “Advisory Committee Reports,” Bill Veach, Chair of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF), stated that due to the recent United States Tariff Restrictions, the $10,000 Council recently appropriated to buy roughly 5,000 reusable bags to restrict plastic bag use on Fort Myers Beach will now only purchase roughly half that amount and they may be slightly smaller than the original prototype. MRTF continues to examine ADA-accessibility issues, including working with existing businesses that provide wheelchairs to beach patrons. MRTF wants to work with the Town on its recently-acquired Estero Boulevard lot for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center frontage as a trial site for several environmentally-friendly weed killers. Finally, MRTF is ready to forward to Council suggested updates to the Town’s Fertilizer Ordinance. He cautioned however, “this will not be a slam dunk, as some people feel whenever government institutes something like this that it is trampling on the Constitution, so we need to have the conversation over its benefits. If Council passes this, I will personally go to our neighboring communities and encourage them to pass similar legislation, like with the Plastic Straw Ban.”

Council presented a Proclamation to Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, declaring January “Human Trafficking Awareness & Prevention Month.” Board member Judy Langely stated that the organization provides educational programs to children ages 8 to 17. “Unfortunately, the greatest risk is no longer snatching children off the street but social media, so kids may become victims sitting right next to you in your home, while you are completely unaware it is happening. It is crucial we teach children how to keep themselves safe.”

Under the “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously passed another Proclamation endorsing the “Drug House Odyssey” forum at the Lee County Civil Center from February 5 to 7. In its only “Public Hearing,” Council unanimously approved a rear-yard swimming pool setback variance for 105 Albatross Street.

Under “Town Manager Items,” Hernstadt said he will attempt to form a partnership between MRTF and a local Non-Profit to expedite the purchase of the Town’s reusable bags. He stated that due to the recent resignation of former Parks & Recreation Director Sean DePalma, Alison Gieson, the Town’s Director of Cultural Resources and Mound House Director, will become the interim Parks & Recreation Director. Cereceda asked if this were the ultimate plan or if the Town would pursue a new P&R Director in the future, with the Town Manager replying he will analyze that, though he has no timeline in mind. Cereceda asked about the status of the on-going Parks & Recreation Long-term Plan, with Hernstadt reporting it is near completion and Gieson will then implement it.

A Few Key Words

The Town Manager informed Council that the Lighthouse Resort Inn & Suites attorney requested that it amend its recent documentation from its December 17, 2018 meeting, approving a property swap and density trade, where the Lighthouse Resort received a Town parcel adjacent to its hotel that already houses three rental units, while the Town gets land near the Bay Oaks Recreational Center for Estero Boulevard visibility. Lighthouse Resort representatives feels Council erroneously omitted a few key words essential to the agreement and asked Council to rectify this.

Gore stated she already signed the agreement on advice from the Town’s previous attorneys and the verbiage was consistent with what Council approved based on the motion by Shamp. New Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., of GrayRobinson, in his first Council session, advised that if they feel there was a legitimate mistake, they should amend it, but if the language reads how they want it, then let it stand. Shamp stated that “the words match my motion, but if they want it to include ‘permanent transfer of all dwelling units,’ that is fine with me if that was the intent,” with Cereceda adding, “that was absolutely the intent.” Shamp made a Motion to rectify the agreement to include the verbiage desired by the Lighthouse Resort that passed 4 to 1, with Gore Against, as she was in the original vote, as she objected to the Density Transfer over such a long geographic distance between the two parcels.

The Town Manager sought clarification from Council over how much Fort Myers Beach will pay in legal fees over its recent action to join other Southwest Florida municipalities against the South Florida Water Management District to increase Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee River in dry season, saying “we never made clear our percentage. If there are five municipalities, do we pay one-fifth? I contacted the other governments and no one was really clear.” Cereceda felt “there should be some formal agreement, as it is appropriate to say we will pay this percentage, and we need to memorialize that, as we are not talking about $25 but a significant amount of money, as uncertainty can be unsettling.”

Under “Town Attorney Items,” Herin stressed to Council that he is now officially the Town Attorney so they should direct all matters to his attention, saying, “It is a pleasure and honor, and I am humbled. I look forward to working with each of you and the Town Staff and community to continue the great job you are all doing here!”

Council moved its Local Planning Agency joint meeting to Tuesday, February 12, at the conclusion of the LPA’s regularly-scheduled session at 9 a.m. Council moved its next Management & Planning program to Tuesday, January 22, at the conclusion of the Town Council Meeting that begins at 9 a.m. These are a day later than normal, due to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday. Council adjourned at 12:07 p.m.

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news