Council Hears Lighting Plan

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Wants Turtle-Friendly Options

The Town of Fort Myers Beach takes great pride in its environmental initiatives and policies, whether it is its state-of-the art stormwater system, its partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration for water quality testing, its one of the first-in-the-nation plastic straw bans or its ongoing efforts to investigate bans on plastic bags and glyphosate herbicides, among other initiatives. Town Council is now investigating another trendsetting policy – sea turtle-friendly Amber LED lighting on Estero Boulevard!

Several of the roughly 30 people at Council’s Monday, November 4, meeting were representatives of Turtle Time, Inc., the non-profit established in 1989 by Eve Haverfield to benefit nesting marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches. They reminded Council about the recently-concluded record-setting turtle nesting year, and later in the session heard the “Estero Boulevard Lighting Report” as commissioned by the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Vice Mayor Ray Murphy chaired the meeting, with Mayor Anita Cereceda on an excused absence, meaning all unanimous votes were 4 to 0.

Record-Breaking Nesting Year

During Public Comment, Haverfield noted, “The good news is that Fort Myers Beach, your wonderful community, had an amazing turtle nesting season with 112 nests, your all-time record! This was the first time you exceeded 100 Loggerhead nests in a season, and you had your first-ever Green turtle nest! The bad news is that, later in this meeting, you will receive a presentation advocating bright white lights for Estero Boulevard and those are not turtle-friendly. Our biggest disorientation this year was from a similar light on Sterling Avenue that caused the deaths of 260 hatchlings. There are amber LED lights that are safe for people and turtles, so please consider those and set a standard of excellence!”

Five Turtle Time volunteers followed Haverfield, making similar lighting requests. During Local Achievements, Vice Mayor Ray Murphy and Council members Rexann Hosafros and Joanne Shamp congratulated Turtle Time. “Thank you, Eve,” said Shamp. “When you started Turtle Time, we had five nests in 1989 and now 112!” “Mother Nature at her best,” agreed Murphy.

Estero Blvd Lighting Study

Later in the meeting, David Greene of CPWG Engineering of Tampa, who the Lee County MPO contracted to do the Estero Boulevard Lighting Study, explained the report. “Lee County examined the large amount of Estero Boulevard traffic incidents between 2013 and 2016 and found 378 incidents, including 15 pedestrian-related, 22 on bikes and 2 fatalities, so they hired us to create a lighting plan to enhance public safety. We began with 25 testing points on this six-mile roadway, but was not enough, so we expanded to 117 sites. We soon discovered there are segments of Estero Boulevard where you have lights 100 feet apart and just as many 1,000 feet apart. The existing conditions lead to discrepancies between zero to 4.5 candlefeet, causing light confusion and the inability of your eyes to adjust quickly, thus dulling reaction time. When you drive 35 miles-per-hour, you cover a lot of ground without really seeing what is going on.”

Greene stated that the Report Conclusion: “Standardize light levels throughout Estero Boulevard, as that will definitely increase safety.” The new lights would all be LED, to reduce the Town’s carbon footprint, and will tilt those in nesting sea turtle areas to not see them from the beach, as Greene acknowledged, “This is important to your Town. I walked your beach five times, and the measures you already employ are the best I have ever seen in Florida! From Crescent Beach Family Park to Estrellita Drive, we recommend modifying 113 existing light fixtures and adding 87 supplemental ones.”

Shamp inquired, “How do we go about a plan with amber fixtures for a comparison?” Hosafros stated, “I believe it is possible to balance public safety with the environment and that should be our goal. Not to shoot the messenger, but we must look further outside of this study.” Greene related, “There are new light fixtures being added all the time, including amber LED fixtures not previously available.” Shamp added that Fort Myers Beach “can’t be the only community seeking to address this up-&-down the entire coast! Sounds like we will need more than 200 light fixtures if we switch to amber LED lights.”

Council member Bruce Butcher reminded council that Greene previously gave this presentation to the Public Safety Committee and “I was so happy with this report! I have almost run over people I cannot see and this still happens to this day. We live in a dangerous place because you cannot see people here at night!” He inquired how many more amber LED fixture the Town would need for the same light coverage, with Greene replying, “Off the top of my head, you will need to go from 200 fixtures to 400 to 500.” Murphy stated that the City of Sanibel employs amber LED lights on their roadways and felt they would share that information with Fort Myers Beach, adding, “I am a proponent of exploring amber LED lights, though I understand your concerns, Bruce.”

Butcher said that “Sanibel is not a good comparison, as it does not have anywhere the type of usage we have, with thousands of hotel rooms and condos along the main boulevard. This lighting study has taken years – we asked for this how many years ago – five years ago? If we throw a stick into this, we have to live with our current situation for many more years, so I am not for throwing a stick into this but to get it done, and that is the end of my story!”

Shamp asked Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, “If we have the desire to look at this from the amber LED point-of-view, what do we need to do to increase the number of light fixtures and what are the implications?” “Estero Boulevard is a Lee County road,” replied Hernstadt, “so they must be willing to work with us, but if the Town will pick up the tab, that would be an enhancement. Amber LED lights will cost you more money, will require more fixtures, and the additional electricity that goes with that, so after weighing those things, you then answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. If you want to explore the amber LED option, we ask David to tell us how many more fixtures, where to place them, and provide the financial impact so you are dealing with facts, and then decide if the Town is willing to absorb 100% of that or if we approach Lee County to help. We can also ask the MPO if they are willing to help get those questions answered.”

Shamp inquired about the length of the process, “as we are all concerned about human safety, so we would want that as quick as possible. Do we have the consensus to proceed?” Hosafros said that the Town should use a firm other than CPWG, “When you need a second opinion, you go to a different doctor, so I suggest we hire a second firm.” Murphy concluded, “That is my hope and we have a consensus. I am sorry to say, Bruce, you are not in that group, but I feel certain if Mayor Cereceda were here, she would also be in our camp, so I say we set the Town Manager loose and get estimates!” Hosafros added, “Go forth and make progress!” “What is that timeline,” Butcher rhetorically asked: “Five years?”

School Sidewalks; I St. Lien

In other Administrative Agenda Items, Council unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Pre-Audit Reappropriation Budget Amendment, with Butcher reversing his previous “No” vote from the prior Council meeting. Council then unanimously authorized the Town Manager to enter into an agreement with Tetra Tech Engineering for the design, bidding and construction of sidewalks near Beach Elementary School, on Bay Road and School Street for $36,818. Hosafros pointed out, “The Town reached out to the Lee County School District to help with this, but received no response – even if they said, ‘No,’ it would be nice to answer us!”

The property owner of 1667 I Street requested Council forgive its lien of $98,525. The Town Manager stated that if Council chooses, it could reduce that by 33% to $65,683. Hosafros noted the property owner was not at the Council meeting, saying, “You had the opportunity to defend yourself,” with Butcher agreeing, “I wish the person was here.” Hosafros advocated enforcing the full lien, but Shamp stated that the property owners had issues with their contractor and Town Staff had no objections to the 33% reduction, “so I don’t have a problem with this one. The lesson is still learned at $65,683 by giving them some forgiveness due to their contractor issues.” Council voted 3 to 1 to reduce it to $65,683 with Hosafros against.

Condo STRs & Publix

During a Public Hearing to amend the Short Term Rental Ordinance regarding some condos, Council unanimously moved the item to its 2nd Reading at the November 18, 2019 Council Meeting. The changes would authorize condominiums to allow 3-day minimum Short Term Rentals if their bylaws approving this were in place prior to the Town’s initial Short Term Rental Ordinance of January 1, 2003.

Council unanimously approved a Tiki Hut Setback Variance for 3597 Shell Mound Boulevard. In exchange for the Variance, the property owners agreed to be responsible for mitigating any stormwater impacts on neighboring properties, with any future violation fines at $500-per-day.

Council moved a Public Hearing for an amendment to the Publix Commercial Planned Development that would add a 1,514-square-foot package liquor store at its mid-Island location, to their December 9, 2019 meeting. The delay allows town staff and the applicant to provide answers to several questions and conditions, including more fair pricing in line with nearby Publix locations, a consideration to eliminate plastic bags, a request that Publix might add a pharmacy in conjunction with or instead of the liquor store, and additional turn lanes to make entering and exiting easier, particularly in season. “I personally have no issue with the liquor store,” noted Butcher. “What disturbs me is the ability to get in and out of that store, and until they address that, I am not in favor of granting any change for Publix!”

Simplest Things in Life

Council received a presentation from Michelle K. Malsbury from the Atlanta Regional Census Center concerning the 2020 Census. Malsbury noted, “No matter where you are from across the nation, where you are on April 1, 2020, is where we want to count you! The more people you count in your community, the more money you are likely to get from the Federal Government – the Census equates to power and money.”

During Council Member Items, Hosafros agreed to take over as Council Liaison to the Marine Resources Task Force from Shamp, in preparation for the latter’s leaving Council in March 2020. Hosafros requested placing Short Term Weekly Rentals on an upcoming Management & Planning Session to clear up confusing language in the Weekly Rental section and received support. Butcher asked for clarification on how the Town applies and collects liens, “Who is responsible and how does this happen, because the process now is just irritating!”

Finally, Vice Mayor Murphy on behalf of his father, family and himself expressed his heartfelt appreciation for all the condolences on the recent passing of his mother, saying “Everything is deeply appreciated and means an awful lot to our family! Mom took the greatest pleasure from the simplest things in life and that is a lesson for us all!”