Council Debates Policy & Procedures

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Single Homes, Flooding & Rentals

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council’s Management & Planning Session on Tuesday morning, May 16, had a bit of a “This Old House” feel to it, as they discussed Single Family/Duplex Permitting, Neighborhood Flooding and Short-Term Housing Rentals.

Council first addressed the Administrative Code for Single Family/Duplex and Accessory Structure Permits. Staff worked with Tetra Tech Engineers to make drainage design standards part of the Administrative Code. The Local Planning Agency (LPA) approved the proposed changes on April 18 and forwarded these to Council on May 15, causing a conflict on how to write the Administrative Code that provides staff and the community a baseline permitting process.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore is against this, as it is “just more paperwork.” “I’ve gone around with that thought process as well,” said Council member Joanne Shamp, “but this is an excellent tool to make sure all our ‘i’s’ are dotted and ‘t’s’ crossed. We have the Comp Plan and that is big, then it shifts to the Land Development Code that is more precise, and the Administrative Code is even more precise as a tool for the staff. They can point out to the developer or property owner how everything is laid out.” Council member Anita Cereceda said she felt this is crucial for continuity: “it creates an institutional process.”

The panel next discussed Neighborhood Flooding, specifically a section of the Land Development Code previously removed that would limit 67% of an overall site development to an impervious design. If Council wants staff to move forward, they will work through the LPA in June; any other directive pushes it back to August or later.

“Council wanted this back in the Code in 2015,” said the Vice Mayor. “It is two years later and here we are, still trying! We didn’t have these flooding problems when this was in the Code.” Shamp wants this section back in, while Gore would like to restore all 15 sections previously removed by the Town. “If I could change one thing we did 20 years ago,” said Cereceda, the Town’s first mayor, “it would be design standards, because we shirked away from that.”

Finally, Council debated Short-Term Rentals. The Town is to keep a registry to be updated annually for all weekly and monthly rentals at $100-per-property-per-year, with the owner’s name and 24-hour contact number, but it has not to date done so fully.

Tickets Get Their Attention

Following numerous examples from most council members of bad short-term rental behavior, Shamp said, “Enforcement is now a huge issue and is becoming larger! Now we have people renting rooms in their homes by the day. This is becoming the major quality-of-life issue on the island.” Mayor Dennis Boback said he wants the homeowner’s contact information prominent on-site so anyone noticing a problem can call them directly day or night: ”If they have to answer at 3 a.m. maybe they will do something.” “Take that a step further,” said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt. “Make the owner personally show up on site to address the matter, and issue citations to the owner as well as their agent – after the first few tickets, you will get their attention!”

Hernstadt said the Town can regulate Short-Term Rentals, but it may take a dedicated employee, at least in the beginning, until the registry program is up. “This will require a major public relations campaign, to give the public fair notice before we hold them accountable. We need to budget for this, to make an investment in time and money to solve this. I recommend a full-time employee for 24 months, then we can revisit the issue and convert that person to part-time.”

“There is a financial burden to run the program, but I am willing to commit resources to solve it, as this is a universal problem that is so important to this community, and it is only getting worse, so we have to bite the bullet now and attack it hard,” said Shamp. “It is incumbent on us to find the best way to get this done for the quality of life in our neighborhoods. I trust the Town Manager to figure out a way that fees will eventually cover the program, to lessen the impact to the Town.”

Gore agreed with going through the owner, as “rental companies don’t know 20 people stay there. We have got to get control of this. When you go outside and complain they are playing basketball at 2 a.m., you get a lot of ‘FU’s’ in return. That can cause problems, as I get feisty sometimes,” to which her colleagues reacted with mocked guffaws! The Town Manager will bring back details to Council for its next Management & Planning session, with the meeting adjourning at 11:30 a.m.

 

Gary Mooney