Council Eliminates Bay Beach From Stormwater Fee, Approves COP Expansion Downtown

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Bay Beach residents can breathe a sigh of relief this week as the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach unanimously voted to approve a resolution that will remove them from the Town’s stormwater utility and reimburse them for any costs they’ve paid so far. They also decided to extend outdoor COP to three downtown restaurants and will make a decision on a fourth at their next meeting on March 7th.

During public comment, Jim Rodwell reported that the Florida Master Naturalist program successfully graduated 18 students and thanked council and staff for their efforts.

“We do plan on having another program in October and probably next February,” he said.

Rodwell then outlined the Audit Committee’s recommendation for a ‘Debt Management Policy’ for the town, which later was approved 4-1 (Mandel dissenting) despite concerns from the Town Manager. Look for an in-depth story on this issue in next week’s Sand Paper.

Little League Vice-President Charlie Whitehead asked for and received Council’s permission to allow the local and visiting teams free access to the pool on Opening Day – February 27th – and thanked outgoing Councilman Alan Mandel (who is terming out next month after 6 years on Town Council) for his service.

Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) Chair Bill Veach and Vice-Chair Keri Weeg informed Council about their plans for an Earth Day/Mother’s Day celebration – tentatively called ‘Love Your Mother/Love Your Beach Day’ on May 7th and asked for an extension of that committee’s Beachscape Program, where Veach noted that plants nearest the wrack line fared the best in the initial planting 2 ½ years ago.

“MRTF is perfectly willing to organize a group to do this ourselves – we’ve done it before – so long as we do it before it gets too hot,” Veach said. Council agreed to put the request on the March 7th agenda.

Council then considered John Richard’s request for several variances that would allow him to turn his seasonal parking lot on Crescent Street into a permanent one.

Beverly Grady, representing Richard, explained that – after meeting with his neighbors – John has decided to withdraw a rezoning request that would have made part of the property commercial. The new lot will be smaller but will not require any rezoning.

“We would like you to allow us a 1’ buffer on Crescent with a 4’ white picket fence on Crescent, and an 8’ wall along the north property line,” she said. The 3rd request is to exempt us from having to have a buffer along the south side of the property and from the internal landscaping since we are providing a 5’ landscaping zone and bollards along the canal where no buffer is required. Since this will now be a small service lot with 27 spaces and we believe this is consistent with the Land Development Code (LDC).”

When the hearing opened for public comment, Crescent Street resident Doris Grant thanked Richard for keeping the section of the property known as ‘Lot 7’ as residential and asked if a wall could be erected as a canal buffer rather than landscape.

Stephen Light, owner of the Cigar Hut, advocated for the parking lot, as did Chamber President Bud Nocera, who said that parking is at a premium.

Council unanimously approved the request.

Next came four public hearings for expansion of outdoor COP (Consumption on Premise). Two of the restaurants making the request were doing so because of Council’s decision to change the administrative code to allow Gulf front eateries in Time Square the opportunity to lease pedestrian space like their landward neighbors.

The first request from PierSide Grill met some resistance as Council was unclear exactly where the seating area would be.

Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros said she doesn’t see where PierSide is ‘adjacent’ to the Square, and owner Marty York replied that the restaurant does have access directly to the pedestrian area.

Senior Planner Matt Noble said he has visited the site, there already exists a public bench in the space, and that the LPA has approved the request 5-1.

“I think the intent of the administrative code was to set the area up for lease,” he said. “This whole area is adjacent to both Dairy Queen and PierSide.”

Councilwoman Summer Stockton said she doesn’t feel comfortable voting on this – or the other three public hearings allowing extension of COP because all three went to the LPA only last week and that council has yet to see the minutes from that meeting.

“This was done in the idea of fairness – there are a lot of families and employees waiting on these,” Noble said. “They have been publicly noticed.”

Stockton’s motion to postpone all four hearings until a ‘date certain’ failed for lack of a second. Hosafros and Cereceda said that while they share her concern, they wanted to move forward since it’s the middle of season.

Vice-Mayor Dan Andre pointed out that Council already spent time delineating these areas for these businesses to use, so the decision is a no-brainer.

Doris Grant said she strongly opposes all of the extension requests, saying it would result in too much congestion in the Square and take business from the smaller cafes.

Nocera said that restaurants have had a tough season with Estero Boulevard construction, the brown water and the fall of the Canadian dollar and deserve any help they can get.

Noble said that PierSide already has the ability to come in administratively – and enter into an agreement to lease space for tables.

“This request is for them to serve alcohol there only,” he said.

Vice-Mayor Dan Andre asked if PierSide currently leases that space, and York replied that they do.

Mayor Anita Cereceda said that – in her opinion – when Council made the decision to expand seating in the Square PierSide didn’t qualify for it. Hosafros suggested sending it back to staff for a decision on whether or not it’s truly adjacent. Council agreed 3-2, and asked staff to return to Council on March 7th.

For Sunset Beach, Noble again explained that it was approved by the LPA, with the exception of Joanne Shamp who opined that – like PierSide – the additional space isn’t necessary since they have so much Gulf front area.

The request was approved unanimously.

Yucatan’s request was to approve COP to their new 1,500 square foot outdoor seating area and included a request to allow music or similar entertainment in that area from 11am to 11pm that is consistent with the Town’s noise ordinance.

Senior Planner Megan Wills said that the LPA’s biggest concern was with the music request, and suggested a 9pm cut off for entertainment.

Hosafros said that owner Tom Kolar Sr. has agreed to install a sound system that is controlled by management, as other establishments have done.

After hearing objections about the music from Grant and Joe Stockton, Stockton asked if there would be musicians playing both inside and outside and Kolar replied ‘rarely’.

Council agreed to allow the request and that the music end at 9pm.

The last public hearing was for the Fish House’s COP and outdoor seating requests, which did not include any music and was quickly approved by Council.

Council then listened to a lengthy debate between Fish Tale Marina owner Al Durrett’s attorney – Steve Hartsell – and Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert over whether or not Fish Tale – and other marinas – could rent jet skis.

“Personal watercraft are included in boat sales and marina uses,” Hartsell said. “According to the Land Development Code (LDC), personal watercraft is defined as a vessel less than 16 feet in length artificially propelled, so jet skis are boats as defined by the LDC, and Fish Tale’s list of accessory uses include boat sales and rentals.”

Hartzell said that staff’s recommendation to deny the request is based on Lee County’s codes and is therefore irrelevant.

Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert said she disagrees with Hartsell, saying that the Town adopted the county’s ordinance when it incorporated, and that Durrett should have applied for a personal watercraft license before the County’s grandfather clause expired in January 1996.

“So therefore, the county’s regulation as readopted by the Town was the law of the land and they became non-conforming when they didn’t apply for a personal watercraft vending license,” she said.

Councilman Alan Mandel asked why Fish Tale is allowed to rent kayaks and canoes and not jet skis.

Andre asked if Fish Tale ever had a personal vendor license, and Hartzell said no.

“If a marina has the right to rent jet skis, would they still have to get a license?” Andre asked, and Lehnert replied that the ordinance was drafted to eliminate the proliferation of jet ski rentals in the back bay.

Hosafros said that – while she comes down on the side of staff’s recommendation – she believes that Council needs to look at the issue of jet skis in the back bay.

Cereceda said that the nature of a marina is selling boats, and Andre pointed out that Durrett had the right to do this prior to any Town or County ordinance, even though he chose not to do so.

After nearly an hour of back and forth between the attorneys, Cereceda suggested tabling the issue until their March 7th meeting so they can investigate it further, but Stockton disagreed and made a motion to deny, which was approved 3-2, after which Cereceda promised to look into the issue further.

Finally, Council agreed to adopt the resolution proposed by Bay Beach residents, removing them from the stormwater utility, after which Bay Beach resident Charles Eck thanked Council for working with him and his neighbors.

The next meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will be held on Monday, March 7th at 10am at Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard. Agendas are posted one week prior to the meeting on the Town’s website at www.fortmyersbeachgl.org.

Keri Hendry Weeg