Council Covers Tough Topics

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Roads, Rentals & Rain

For the second time in four days, the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council took on an ambitious agenda, this time in its Management & Planning Session on Thursday, November 9, beginning at 9 a.m. It exceeded four hours and, if not for previously-scheduled appointments by the Mayor and Town Manager, would have gone on far longer.

It began with the monthly review of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects by Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer and Senior Engineer / Project Manager Rob Phelan. Meurer informed Council that due to upcoming work from Lovers Lane to Donora Boulevard for center lane storm drain installation, that segment will go to one-lane alternating traffic from November 27 through December 15, “so we can complete this before the height of season.”

Lee County hopes to soon select, with the Town, joint outfall locations for Phase 3, from Madera Road to Albatross Street, with Phase 4 to the southern tip of Estero Island shortly thereafter, “so from the design standpoint, the end is in sight.”

Meurer reported as well that work to replace the Big Carlos Pass Bridge “is coming to the point where we will have a community public meeting soon, perhaps by early December, to obtain input, with a briefing for Council. We realize there are groups who oppose a high replacement span, but we need to keep that alternative for now, due to potential government funding assistance.”

Council followed up on numerous issues, including street lighting and landscaping; construction speed zones; the Seafarer’s Mall construction staging area; stormwater, joint outfall, and side street drains; crosswalks and pedestrian refuge areas; power poles; and potential aluminum safety rails.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree!

Town Council next addressed its current Short Term Rental regulations and potential amendments. “Let’s enforce what we have on the books,” said Vice-Mayor Tracey Gore. “Let’s get it done!” “What can you enforce?” inquired Council member Bruce Butcher, with Gore replying, “a lot of it!” When he asked for an example, she stated short term renters needed to register with the Town, while supplying their State of Florida Short Term Rental license, among other items, adding that “all this is on the books from 2003. Citizens do not understand why these are not enforced, rather than adding or changing what we already have.”

“I agree that enforcing what we have is a great first step,” said Butcher, “but enforcement seems confusing to me over penalties.” Gore disagreed, stating those are in the code, “not to exceed $500-per-offense or 60 days in the Lee County Jail, not that anyone is going to jail. Any person who knowingly commits a violation can receive a suspension of their license – everything we need is in here.”

“I agree with Bruce,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “In the 14 years since the ordinance, the Short Term Rental industry has changed a lot, without definitive rulings by any circuit courts and, of course, there are legislative changes from the State over what we can control locally.” “I am with Bruce and Joanne,” added Council member Anita Cereceda. “We need further clarification to ensure any draft does not throw a curveball at everyone, to generate hysteria. To enforce what we have now will require a fulltime job for someone on staff, and that requires funding.”

Council discussed overnight occupancy, including that Short Term Renters is limited to single-family groups. “That should not be on the books, as that is ridiculous,” stated Butcher. “The six members of my wife’s Book Club rent a house each year, and according to the current ordinance, they cannot do that.” “This is a challenge to our staff,” agreed Cereceda. “They should not have to knock on someone’s door to see if the occupants are 8 baseball players or 6 Book Club members or 4 golfers or a partridge in a pear tree!” “That is ridiculous,” repeated Butcher, “and probably not legal. If 8 golfers make noise and are really bad boys, then fine them, but because they are not one family, this should not apply.”

Next up was whether condominiums should fall under the ordinance. “This is the question I hear all the time,” said Mayor Dennis Boback, “as their Boards self-regulate.” “The more I listen,” said Cereceda, “the more convinced I am that any Short Term Rental ordinance should include condos, as we need to treat everyone equally.”

Hot Spots

Under the 30% Stormwater Plan Presentation, Brett Messner, project manager, and Tim Vanderwalker, design engineer, both of Tetra Tech, Inc., discussed the Estero Boulevard joint stormwater and water projects with Lee County, as well as the 20 Town “hot” streets that suffer the greatest flooding, with Town options to proceed.

Phase 2 joint outfalls are under construction on Eucalyptus Court and Jefferson Street, with force main work to begin on Eucalyptus and Donora Boulevard in roughly one week. Phase 3 outfalls are now out for permitting before the US Army Corps of Engineers, with approval taking roughly 9 months. Phase 4 joint outfall locations, from Albatross Street to the south end of the island, are yet to be determined. Tetra Tech has 60% design plans complete for north Estero Boulevard side streets, while those for the remainder of the project are 30% complete.

Design modeling for Phase 2 “hot” streets, from most to least crucial, are Gulfview Avenue, Mandalay Road, Shell Mound Boulevard, Mid Island Drive, Bayland Road, Madison Court and Andre Mar Drive totaling $3 million. Phase 3 streets are Williams Drive, Dundee Road, Lauder Street, Mound Road, Dakota Avenue, Fairview Boulevard, Aberdeen Avenue, Lazy Way, and Easy Street, at just under $5 million. Phase 4 streets are Lagoon Road, Buccaneer Drive and Estrellita Drive for $2.3 million. Design modeling deems all other side streets as either Functional or Least Viable.

Council will determine on which streets or phases to proceed. Once it selects those, final design and permitting begins, followed by bidding, though no construction will start for at least one year, with contractor pricing locked in for three years. Messner cautioned, however, that “over the last year, prices considerably increased, so it is important to lock these in soon.”

“This money comes from our taxpayers’ pockets,” said Cereceda, “so that makes me nervous. We might do the top 20 and that might be it.” Noting those will cost in excess of $10 million, as well as monies committed to Lee County for the 20 joint outfall projects, Shamp said, “we need to honest with our community that this may be all we can afford – this is My Get Real Moment!” “You are preaching to the choir,” added Gore. “How long before you can bring us the necessary information,” asked Boback, “so we can decide to go or not go; we definitely do not want to delay,” with Messner responding he can have details to Council for its December 7 Management & Planning Session.

Man of Steele

Under potential Stormwater Utility amendments, including options to disallow exemptions or funding it through a property tax, “if the Town wishes to change its current system, we need to start the process to make this an Ad Valorem Tax,” noted Shamp. “My issue is we change the 100% credit,” said Mayor Boback, “as no one should receive that – some credit, yes, but 100% — no. We already approved five 100% credits and that will only grow. Everyone needs to contribute something to the system as everyone benefits from it in some way.” “On the other hand,” countered Butcher, “I would be mad if I made my own investment in a private system and I had to pay again – I have a hard time with that.”

“Here is the problem,” said Cereceda. “Stormwater is an island-wide system, so is the ordinance working for the Town, and the answer now is ‘Yes,’ but (former Interim Town Manager) Jim Steele will tell you this is a horrible ordinance, and I don’t know anyone who knows more about stormwater than Jim. Here is what should happen; one council member should work with our staff and qualified members of the public like Jim to get down to the nitty-gritty, and bring it back corrected to us, saying here is what will work and why, in my humble opinion, because if we could make stormwater work in my lifetime, that would be joyous!”

With that, she suggested Butcher take the lead, “He has a technical brain!” Butcher replied that, “I will entertain the idea, unless someone else wants it, with an Ad Hoc committee.”

With the clock ticking down, Council was unsure if the Town should consider a Floodplain Management Ordinance over whether to allow more than two Base Flood Elevation garage doors, with their approval to mandate that homeowners must allow Code Enforcement inspections; they listened to extraordinarily brief Town Staff Department Reports; and tabled its Hurricane Irma Debriefing to a later meeting; before adjourning at 1:04 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney