Council Discusses Lack of Public Restrooms

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Just Hold It!
Council Flushes Toilets

 The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council conducted their meeting on Monday morning, October 16, in a spiffy 90-minute fashion, punctuated by unanimous votes on each agenda topic, but if was a non-listed item just prior to adjournment that captured the most attention.

Under Council Member Items at the bottom of the agenda, Vice Mayor Tracey Gore noted that at the Town’s most-recent Local Planning Agency (LPA) meeting on October 10, several of its members commented on their disappointment over the lack of public restrooms on Fort Myers Beach.

“People want to know why this issue keeps coming up over and again,” she stated. “It went away in 2010 when the attorney for the property owners challenged the law for toilets on beach accesses, then it should have ended when it was brought up for the bay access on Virginia Avenue and the people came out and opposed it, so we did not do it. The LPA in June 2013 unanimously passed a resolution stating restrooms were inconsistent with beach accesses, and in 2015 Town Council, confronted with the possibility of inebriated people, a potential criminal element, and the fact that they are not in the Comp Plan, did not support restrooms, nor did this Town Council.”

Gore asked if Town Council could pass a resolution prohibiting future discussions on beach access restrooms. “Just when the residents think this is over, a new person comes along and stirs this up all over again – can we finally do away with this once and for all?”

“If another Council comes along and wants to initiate this, we cannot bind them legislatively,” stated Council member Anita Cereceda. “The LPA has no ability to bring that forward, and this Town Council clearly will not address it.” “People read it in the newspaper and start calling about it all over again,” said Gore. “The LPA already passed a resolution so this is inconsistent. We have never had restrooms on Fort Myers Beach, even before we became a Town, yet this keeps coming up whenever a new person becomes a resident and doesn’t understand we don’t want this, so we have to address this year after year. This Council won’t deal with it, yet it is still coming back up. I will say to Town residents that you don’t have to worry about this for the next year-and-a-half, as that is how long this Council will be together.”

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said that the Town’s volunteer committees, like the LPA, are in the process of reviewing their ordinances that will come before Council for updating. “When you consider those, you may want to include language to address this type of situation, so they are not in a position to refute Council, but rather to focus on the items before them, and deal specifically with those.” “And not bring up other things,” added Gore.

Gimme Shelter

Council began its meeting with a presentation from LeeTran about temporary benches and trash receptacles in Segment 1 of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects, from Times Square to Lovers Lane near the Red Coconut RV Park. “The temporary benches are made of composite wood to look as good as possible,” said Steve Myers, LeeTran Transit Director. “There are wood slats in the center so people cannot lay down on them, and we will place them behind the sidewalk, on the right-of-way, or on private property if we receive permission from the owner.”

LeeTran proposes six locations: northbound will have benches at the 7-11 store near Palermo Circle, by Hooter’s, and near the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, with southbound spots at Royal Scoop Ice Cream, Sand Caper Beach Club, and Hooter’s. In addition to the temporary locations, Myers would like to work with Town staff to select permanent LeeTran stops for the balance of Fort Myers Beach, through the conclusion of the Estero Boulevard Projects.

Council member Joanne Shamp reminded that “there is a visibility issue near Palermo Circle, as that is a busy intersection with a lot of pedestrians, so that is a concern to me. I am personally pleased your presentation does not include signage on the benches.” Council member Bruce Butcher said that TOPPS Supermarket would be ideal for some type of permanent structure, and Paul Goyette, LeeTran Deputy Director for Fixed Routes, confirmed those discussions are already underway. “Every trolley stop should be a shelter,” thought Cereceda. “It is hot here, and we have older people who look for that in a rest stop, and that would encourage people to use the trolley and leave their car at home. I would like to see uniformity throughout the island.”

Council next unanimously approved its Consent Agenda that consisted of the Mound House Strategic Plan, along with a Mooring Field Maintenance Agreement with Coastal Engineering Consultants for $43,000. It unanimously forwarded to its November 6 meeting 2nd Public Hearings Ordinances on the prohibition of plastic straws as well as newsrack regulations, before discussing the 1st Public Hearing on “Seawalls, Docks, & Boat Ramps.”

Stuck in The Mud

“There are portions in here that are unnecessary and confusing about the beaches,” said Butcher. “If we are going to make changes, let’s do this right. There is a diagram in here that bothers me, as this suggests this is the only configuration, but you can have many.” “We will make it clear that is just an example and not an exclusive design,” confirmed the Town Manager, with Butcher continuing: “This says ‘a minimum depth of 3 feet below mean low water’ – really? We will have boats sitting on the mud. I don’t understand why we have that in there – I bet more than half the boats on the island cannot get out on mean low tide. Three feet is too strict due to the lack of dredging, but that is another topic we need to address. Many boats have trouble getting out of the canals at low tide because they need dredging.”

“I agree,” said Mayor Dennis Boback. “In 80 to 90 percent of the canals at low tide, you cannot get a boat out if your life depended on it.” Cereceda said she believes the Ordinance does not need polishing but a substantial overhaul. “These are all good suggestions,” echoed the Town Manager, “so perhaps we should allow enough time before the 2nd Public Hearing to flush these things out and get more ideas that may require additional Management & Planning discussion.” With that, Council unanimously deferred the 2nd Reading until Monday, January 8, 2018.

Under “Adopting Water Rates,” the Town Manager reported that Raftelis Financial Consultants confirmed the Town could adjust its rate to fund the water improvement along Estero Boulevard and contiguous side roads from the projected 7% down to 5%, with Town Council unanimously approving that figure.

In its remaining items, Council unanimously approved allowing alcohol at the upcoming Mound House 2017-18 Lecture Series, as well as an Interlocal Agreement with Lee County for Stray Animal Control Services. Council adjourned at 10:29 a.m., with its next meeting on Monday, November 6, and Management & Planning Session on Thursday, November 9, both at 9 a.m.

 

Gary Mooney