Council Divided on Noise Ordinance

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If the updated proposal to the Town’s Noise Ordinance were already in effect when Council met on Tuesday morning, February 19, Town Hall neighbors may have made the first complaint, as the debate at times grew loud!

Council considered the First Reading of the Amended Noise Ordinance under “Public Hearings” for “excessive noise defined as a violation when any sound is audible to Code Compliance Officials while standing or in a vehicle with engine off and windows rolled down in excess of 1,000 feet or more from the noise generating property’s adjacent closest property line between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.”

“This proposed change,” said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, “is for the benefit of all Code Enforcement Officers, whether Lee County Sheriffs or Town Code Enforcement who may not have a decibel meter, proper training, or it does not work. Everyone has a cell phone with a GPS to establish distance from a property, a voice recorder to capture the sound, with time notation for an adequate record if enforcement is necessary.”

“‘Audible’ is so subjective,” said Council member Anita Cereceda. “To some, whispering will not make them happy, so this can be a tool against individuals and businesses. We worked so hard on the current Noise Ordinance, with only one complaint since we initiated it. ‘Audible’ is not a standard but arbitrary.” Mayor Tracey Gore disagreed, saying “we must protect the citizens of this Town; we received more than one complaint, certainly from Times Square,” though Cereceda felt that an unfair argument, calling that example a dispute between neighbors “that is now a 15-year battle.” Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp felt if this makes it easier for Lee County Sheriffs and Code Enforcement to enforce the Noise Ordinance, “then I support it.”

Council member Dennis Boback asked the Town Manager how he came up with the 1,000-foot standard. “That is an easy measurement,” replied Hernstadt. Shamp asked if this change would be a more effective method for better enforcement, with the Town Manager replying, “Yes and Yes! If you ask most people to turn down their sound, they will, but unfortunately there are some who just don’t care.”

Decibel Meters & Blank Spaces

Council member Bruce Butcher asked if the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reviewed the proposed change. Hernstadt replied, “I don’t know that for a fact. We will forward it to them before a second reading.” Butcher then asked how Lee Sheriffs enforce Noise Ordinances throughout the County, with Hernstadt saying they do so with decibel meters under similar Noise Ordinances for continuity.

Butcher noted that in Council’s “Requested Motion” background paperwork provided to council “The ‘Why the Action is Necessary’ is a blank, and ‘What the Action Accomplishes’ is blank. These are the areas for staff to provide facts, like if we had 17 complaints or Sheriffs could not comply because decibel meters don’t work, to explain why this is a rational thing to do.” Hernstadt clarified, “Staff did not generate this amendment; it came from Council.” Butcher and Cereceda want Sheriff’s Office input on enforcement impacts. Gore stated this is for a variety of things, like barking dogs or loud TV football games, saying “We need a stronger tool.” Council forwarded the Amended Noise Ordinance to its Second Reading on March 4 by a 3 to 2 vote, with Butcher and Cereceda Against.

In the other “Public Hearing,” Council unanimously approved to a Second Reading at the March 18 Council meeting the “Towing Ordinance,” to synchronize Town regulations and fees with Lee County.

In other matters, Council unanimously issued a Proclamation declaring Saturday, February 23, “Special Olympics Florida Day,” in conjunction with the Lee County Day. Council welcomed roughly a dozen members of the Knights of Columbus, along with Lee County Special Olympics Coordinator Justin Copertino and Special Olympian Gold Medalist Stephanie Pappas, who is a stand-up paddle boarder and swimmer.

Dennis Robinson, who represented the Knights of Columbus Ascension Chapter, thanked Council and stated the Knights of Columbus will host their first annual “Special Olympics – Lee County Walkathon Fundraiser” for all ages at Ascension Church at 6025 Estero Boulevard on February 23 at 9 a.m. Registration is $25 in advance and $30 that day, including a t-shirt, with all proceeds benefiting Special Olympics – Lee County. To register or for details, contact Dennis at 239-440-5511 or at dmrbowl@yahoo.com.

Advocacy is Power

Under “Public Comment,” Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane thanked Council for their assistance with water quality issues, and particularly Mayor Gore, as her term ends in early March, stating “she has been with us every step of the way!” He noted he is now in his 10th year as Sanibel Mayor, and in that time, Fort Myers Beach had five different Mayors. “We live in an era where advocacy is power, and having a rotating Mayor elected by fellow Council members may no longer be in your best interest with State and Federal leaders, as a fulltime Mayor becomes a household name.” He reported on his recent trip to Washington DC, where Federal leaders agreed the updated Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) should be done in 18 rather than 45 months, concluding with “we are going to fix water!”

Under “Local Achievements & Recognitions,” Shamp nominated Thomas Babcock as the Town’s 2019 “Citizen of Distinction Award” recipient, with Council unanimously approving. Under “Advisory Committee Reports,” Bill Veach, Chair of both Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) and Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF), provided updates, and received Council confirmation that the John Mulholland Stewardship Award is still viable, despite no recipients for at least two years.

Council unanimously passed the “Consent Agenda” featuring a “Problem Gambling Awareness Month” Proclamation; the Professional Services Employee Contract Renewal for part-time Finance Director Robert Lange at $44-per-hour on a 30-hour workweek; a Professional Services Renewal Agreement for “Ongoing Miscellaneous Professional Services” for 26 various firms; and a “Sub Recipient Agreement” with Lee County for a $17,520-per-year Community Development Block Grant.

Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council overruled on a 4 to 1 vote the Staff determination to deny a 2019 Street Performer Permit to Daniel Israel, as his background check uncovered three recent Guilty charges for Domestic Violence; Theft under $10,000; and False Imprisonment. While the majority of Council deemed that Mr. Israel had strong references and is taking appropriate corrective measures for prior behavioral issues, Gore in voting against his request stated that “public safety is our Number One concern, though I am glad you are working on improving yourself.” Following the reversal, Cereceda asked Israel to return to Council at the conclusion of Season to make a follow-up report; Shamp encouraged, “don’t let us down”; and Gore wished him “Good Luck!” Council then unanimously approved a “Special Event Permit Application” for Nervous Nellie’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Party.

Town Worth $44M

Under “Town Manager Items,” Hernstadt reminded Council that Staff is reviewing Town Codes compared to those in the “International Property Maintenance Code”; reported the Town will update its telephone system at a minimal cost to improve customer service including future technological enhancements; that the Town over the past two years received in excess of $5 million in Capital Grants, especially for secondary street improvements, stating “I am very proud of the accomplishments of our team”; and that the Fort Myers Beach Community Pool will have a new Kiddie Pool Play Structure prior to the Summer season.

Under “Town Attorney Items,” John Herin, Jr, informed Council it is time for the Town Manager’s Annual Review, and Council will do so at their March 4 Meeting. Herin requested that Council approve the transfer of his Town Attorney contract to his new firm of Fox Rothschild, as he left Gray/Robinson on February 11; Council did so unanimously.

Under “Council Member Items,” Boback inquired about the disposal of derelict boats. The Town Manager replied that the Coast Guard immediately removes those that impede navigation, but for all others the Town can either apply to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for funds for their removal or it can pay for that service itself, although it will attempt to locate the boat owner first to do that.

Butcher and Shamp asked the Town Manager to provide a Town Financial Recap, in light of conflicting reports at recent Town Council Candidate Forums for the upcoming March 5 election for two Council seats. The Town Manager replied that the Town Worth increased from $25 million in 2008 to its current value of $44 million, “and that includes everything including the microphones into which you are speaking!” “The General Fund, to which residents pay their Property Tax, “jumped over the past three years from $2.6 million to the current $4 million.”

Council adjourned at 11:14 a.m.; its next Council Meeting is on Monday, March 4, with Butcher on an Excused Absence at 9 a.m. The next Management & Planning Session is not until Thursday, March 21, following the March 5 election, at 9 a.m.

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news