Council Discusses Straws, Flooding, Residency, Historic Cottage

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The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council discussed straws on the beach, a flooding ordinance, residency requirements and an island historic cottage on Tuesday morning, June 6. Council member Anita Cereceda attended the Executive Session prior to the meeting, but an emergency required her immediate attention, with her colleagues excusing her from the council meeting that began at 9:00am.

Under Advisory Committee Reports, Bill Veach, chair of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) explained its recent unanimous vote to advise Council to eliminate plastic straws on Fort Myers Beach, as they are unsightly trash and a health risk to wildlife and the environment. He passed out to each Council member as a recommended alternative a biodegradable straw used by the Lani Kai Island Resort; as they received them, several Council members exclaimed, “OHHH!”

“Residents want the Town funky,” said Veach, “but there is a fine line between funky and junky. The price of a plastic straw is 0.4 cent versus a biodegradable one at 0.52 cent, so the difference for 8 straws is just one penny! Miami Beach recently prohibited plastic straws. The price difference is so slight and they are readily available from all sales companies, so businesses can switch without much hardship.” Council member Bruce Butcher related that Siesta Key eliminated straws all-together, and Mayor Dennis Boback directed staff to write a biodegradable ordinance to begin the hearing process.

On the First Reading of the Neighborhood Flooding Ordinance to the Land Development Code (LDC), this would add a percentage of impervious surfaces as well as provide for a standard design for on-site water quantity. This is necessary because of the previous removal of similar LDC language. “I asked for this,” said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore. “Prior to its removal, neighborhood flooding wasn’t such an issue. Why not just put it back in, like it was before; that just seems easier. Contractors say if we put that back in, that will fix the problem that worked for 20 years.” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt recommended that Council hold off on the second reading until its August 21 meeting, to allow the Local Planning Agency time to review the suggested Ordinance, with that receiving unanimous Council approval.

A Good Reason

Under Administrative Agenda, the Times Square Merchants Association requested that Council waive $1,670 in permit fees for the weekend Sunset Celebration events, as well as $94 in weekly labor costs for Town staff to set up and store the stage. Butcher said that “the Town sets fees and has a good reason for setting them, so leave them the way they are.” “I cannot transfer the cost of this to the taxpayers to sponsor these events, and I do not see the rationale, so I do not support this,” added Council member Joanne Shamp, with Council unanimously voting against the waiver.

Council next defined “Proof of Residency” for the Town, particularly as it pertains to receiving a “No Cost Membership” to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center. Council voted unanimously to accept a current utility bill, signed lease agreement for longer than six months, Homestead Exemption Card or proof that someone is building or buying a house.

Scott Baker, Public Works Director, reported the Town received the Delmar Avenue bay access Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit, so it can move forward with bid documents to remodel its dock area. Town Attorney Jack Peterson advised Council that the Administrative Hearing for the DEP permit to construct private boardwalks over the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area scheduled to begin on Monday, June 12, is now in continuance, so the trial will not occur next week as expected.

Encouragement & Handcuffs

Under Council Member Items, Shamp stated that the prospective move of the historic cottage at 3360 Estero Boulevard to the Matanzas Pass Preserve property is not as easy as it initially appears. “It is an important property and is on the 1992 historic resources list in the Comp Plan, but does not have a historic resources designation, so that dictates how we can deal with moving structures. It appears it is eligible to move but to where, so there is some encouragement and some handcuffs. I would love to save it but Council cannot expedite and change this. The best way forward is to get direct owner involvement.”

The Vice Mayor agreed, “We do not have an application, so we cannot discuss property with an owner who is not here.” Staff stated the owner can raze it at any time for his new construction, so the Town could temporarily place it on a flatbed for storage, but where is the question. Shamp said, “People love this structure and it is in our Comp Plan to have it, but not without conversation with and an application from the owner.”

The Vice Mayor reported that she and the Town Manager recently had in-depth discussions concerning island safety with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office regarding the recent Memorial Day shootings in the parking lot of the Lani Kai Resort.

Butcher said he has an issue over complaints received by Council members from Town citizens. “I worry they get five different responses from us, as that seems inappropriate. Town staff should respond, to avoid different interpretations and a crazy merry-go-round.” “Roger is the person who should handle it, in my opinion,” agreed the Mayor. “I can acknowledge the email, provide the response, and copy Council so you all have the same information at the same time,” said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt.

In other matters, Council unanimously approved improvements to the Hercules and Coconut Drive bay accesses; authorized negotiations for a Stormwater Maintenance & Repair Agreement with Shenandoah General Construction; held the final reading for the Medical Marijuana Moratorium; authorized an Arts & Attractions Grant application to promote island special events; allowed a meeting between Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, the new director of the Southwest Florida International Airport, Shamp and the Town Manager concerning air traffic over Fort Myers Beach; with Council pulling surplus parking for future discussion, before adjourning at 12:08 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney