Council Debates Palm Ave. Restroom

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Panel Issues Divided Approval

Governmental decisions occasionally act like boomerangs – just when you think you are through with one, it returns to smack you upside the noggin! One such boomerang reared its ugly head at the January 15 Management & Planning Session when the Fort Myers Beach Town Council debated again a beach access public restroom location. Under “Tourist Development Council (TDC) Funding Request,” Council considered for the 2020-21 TDC Fiscal Year a Palm Avenue restroom. Palm Avenue is Beach Access #30, between the Estero Island Beach Club and DiamondHead Resort & Spa.

“Not Like We Don’t Have Anything”

“Here we go again,” emphasized Council member Joanne Shamp! “Public restrooms on a public right-of-way! I know everyone will say it is just for Palm Avenue but you cannot do it. The Local Planning Agency (LPA) said it is inconsistent with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and the previous Town Council confirmed that in 2018, with then Council member Anita Cereceda saying on March 2 of that year that placing a comfort station at a beach access is off the table. Legally, it is clear that you can only use these easements for street purposes and no other use. The Town’s Land Development Code says you cannot build any structures on them and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations do not permit them. I am not trying to cause problems but a previous Town Council said ‘No,’ yet this keeps coming back, so how do we deal with public restrooms, as we have to deal with public restrooms on the beach.”

Shamp suggested utilizing the upcoming Town App in combination with public restrooms that already exist, along with potential future locations that meet criteria. “We already have ten on the island, like in our public buildings and Crescent Beach Family Park, and the App can guide you to the nearest one. Go to places like Sanibel and Bonita Beach and they have none, so it is not like we don’t have anything. Potential future locations could be the FMB Chamber Office, in the parking area under the Matanzas Pass Bridge, at the US Post Office, places like Key Estero Shops, and frankly at Publix, as they are asking for our approval for a PED, so that should be a condition as part of the agreement to have a liquor store. Crescent Street will have one for sure as part of Margaritaville, there may soon be a new Fire Station at the former TOPPS, and perhaps at the DiamondHead Resort & Spa in exchange for extra parking. Santini Marina Plaza should have one. We need to stop coming back about this and do something that includes signage in a concerted plan.”

Council member Rexann Hosafros, who initially proposed the Palm Avenue restroom, replied, “I don’t even know where to start! There was nothing wrong with the bathroom that was previously at the Palm Avenue location, with absolutely zero problems reported to the Town. Many people have spoken to me about this, and all I received so far is a lot of positive feedback, and to hurry, as we need more beach restrooms, and to thank me for bringing this up! I strongly feel we should put in that bathroom.” Shamp countered that she has received complaints about a Palm Avenue restroom “and I will have them call you!”

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy added, “I am all in favor of additional restrooms where they make sense and are feasible.” Council member Bruce Butcher said, “It is important to have restrooms on the beach side of Estero Boulevard; I do not want people running across Estero and having a long way to go, as that is not really a good idea.”

Shamp asked Town Attorney John Herin, Jr, if it is legal to place a restroom in a right-of-way dedicated to a street purpose. Herin replied that he would “take a better look at the case, as in general there are limits to what a government can do with a dedicated right-of-way, but at this point in time, it is a possibility.” Shamp stated, “I don’t think you folks understand how much of a problem this is to folks who live on the beach; you would not want a toilet on the street in front of your house. We said we would not put these in neighborhood locations, yet this keeps coming back.”

Mayor Anita Cereceda replied, “This was a hot issue primarily to the Sterling Avenue neighborhood, and you are absolutely correct when you say I agreed we would not encroach restrooms into a residential neighborhood, but in my comments about removing Palm Avenue, note that in that situation I objected, as it was completely different from Sterling Avenue or Connecticut Street. Three people already agree to move this forward, as do I, but I want to be very specific that this is for a Palm Avenue restroom only, or at our next meeting, we will have forty angry people saying not in their neighborhoods!”

Hosafros added, “I would not put restrooms at any other beach access and I said that many times.” Shamp concluded, “I just want that on the record,” to which Murphy replied, “that last comment, Joanne, has taken me aback!” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt will submit a TDC application for the Palm Avenue restroom

Fertilizer Ordinance & Estero

Estero-Project-Map
Map of the reFRESH Estero Blvd segments.

In other matters, Lee County personnel provided Council with a reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update, reiterating that they expect to complete primary construction of Segments 3 & 4 (Strandview to Albatross) by the end of July and punchlist items by the end of September.

In a related item, Cereceda reported that she and the Town Manager recently met with Lee County District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais, and Deputy Manager Dave Harner about proposed traffic enhancements at the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. “They showed us an animated illustration of the traffic flow,” reported Cereceda. “The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is asking the Town and Lee County to come to a consensus by mid-March, to stay on task. We asked the Lee County representatives to attend a February Town Council Meeting to give us the full report. I think you will be very surprised and impressed with their initial plan, but we requested additional details. We asked as well about converting the bridge trolley lane into a right-hand turn lane for cars but Lee County told us that is an FDOT decision, so we will continue to work on that.”

Under “Proposed Changes to the Town Fertilizer Ordinance,” Hernstadt stated, “We took a hard look at the State law that affects how the Town can approach this subject, as the State Legislature continues to believe they should create this at the State level rather than local control, but we drafted the new Fertilizer Ordinance that we believe is a step in the right direction.”

Hosafros asked for clarification. “The new proposed Fertilizer Ordinance completely replaces what we now have?” Herin confirmed that, adding, “If you approve, we will send it to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to ensure it does not preempt state law.” Hosafros noted that the primary benefit of the new Ordinance would prohibit applying fertilizer within 15 feet of any water that is well above the current 3 feet. Herin said he is hopeful that the state will agree, as “they like to approve ordinances that someone else already received their approval for, and they did so to 15 feet for Seminole County.”

Beach Renourishment

Under “Beach Renourishment Project Due Diligence,” Hernstadt reported that several north island businesses expressed concern that their area will soon require beach renourishment “and we looked at it and agree.” Council authorized him to spend $17,000 to hire a consultant to prepare the initial analysis from Lynn Hall Memorial Park to Bowditch Point Park to forward to the TDC. If the TDC approves, it will fund the beach renourishment through the Lee County Bed Tax.

Under “Town Surplus Properties,” Council discussed thirteen property locations: Amberjack Drive, Bayland Road, Bayview Avenue, Coconut Drive, Delmar Avenue, Dundee Road, Hercules Drive, Miramar Street, Old San Carlos Boulevard, Palermo Circle, two properties on Pearl Street, and Virginia Avenue.

Council concluded each parcel would likely require an individual decision as to any potential use or future disposal, should the Town receive requests from the specific neighborhoods, but instructed the Town Manager to install signage and appropriate delineation property markers, such as ropes and bollards, to indicate that the Town owns these plats. He reported that the lots are too small for any construction, with most being right-of-way locations and unimproved strips of land, frequently on the Back Bay.

Due to the Martin Luther King, Jr, National Holiday, the next Town Council Meeting is Tuesday, January 21, in Town Hall at 9 a.m.