Parking, Traffic & Lighting
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held its first meeting of 2020 on Monday, January 6, with three of its five members down to their final six sessions before the March 17 election. With their time on council rapidly diminishing, Mayor Anita Cereceda, who cannot seek re-election due to term limits, and Council members Bruce Butcher and Joanne Shamp not attempting second terms, the panel seemed anxious to complete several priorities, such as Estero Boulevard lighting and Town parking and traffic issues, with one member flashing an extraordinarily rare burst of temper due to frustration.
Lighting, Turtles & Baloney
Butcher made Estero Boulevard improvements and safety lighting an emphasis of his three-year term. Under “Council Member Items” near the meeting’s end, he inquired, “on the street light situation – where are we on that? How long does the government’s free streetlight program last?” Cereceda implored her colleagues to “please resolve this, as this is a priority to Bruce, so I want to see this Council come to a conclusion on this by March 1. We kicked this down the road too many times over the past three years not to resolve this. I almost struck two people last night because I could not see them, as Estero Boulevard is truly perilous and so dark!”
Shamp stated, “It is unbelievable that Lee County can provide a road improvement project like this and not include lights that meet state turtle-friendly regulations,” when the calm and easy-going Butcher flared, “Oh, that’s baloney! All it takes to resolve this is for three hands to go up! I do not believe these new light configurations, based on what experts tell me, will be a problem for turtles. If Lee County says they will put in free white streetlights, what will you say? I do not believe the new lights will be a turtle problem!”
Shamp replied that this will put the Town in a difficult position, as it fines property owners tens of thousands of dollars for turtle light violations. Cereceda countered, “I am a fan of turtles, too, but if I have to pick turtles or pedestrians, I personally pick pedestrians!”
Parking & Traffic
Council discussed parking and traffic concerns at various times throughout the meeting. Under “Administrative Agenda: Parking Stackers,” Staff asked Council for direction, as the Town Code does not address them. Cereceda wanted stackers confined to parking garages or similar interior structures. Vice Mayor Ray Murphy called stackers “a slippery slope; the question is how to regulate them.” Butcher felt that stackers “would be fine on the inside of buildings but not in parking lots,” with Cereceda and Council member Rexann Hosafros agreeing.
Shamp cautioned that stackers in parking lots “would add density to the parking code. We have infrastructure problems with our road capacity already,” and suggested better traffic alternatives may be seasonal trolley passes for residents, reduced early morning parking rates with higher prices at peak hours, and Lee Tran making Beach Trolleys free to encourage a greater use of the off-island Park & Ride. “Currently, we are 7 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag, and stackers would cram 10 pounds into a 5-pound bag! We already have traffic in season all the way down the island and this would create more density.” Council authorized staff to develop preliminary language for commercial use by a 4 to 1 vote, with Murphy against to not limit future options.
Under “Administrative Agenda: Parking Study Questions,” Council addressed ten questions asked by Walker Consultants. “I have concerns about creating more parking,” emphasized Shamp. “We must be honest with ourselves; if we create more parking, cars will back up to Cypress Lakes Drive! I love living here but I could not leave my home over Christmas Week. I like what Walker is proposing, like setting aside 15% of business parking as surplus and reducing buffers at commercial lots, perhaps in exchange for providing a port-a-potty.”
Butcher suggested retaining the Town’s current $3-an-hour parking fee in season but lowering it off-season. Shamp countered, “It is a privilege to bring a car onto a barrier island so it should cost you. Parking needs to be high enough to cause people to say, ‘Oh Gosh, I don’t want to pay that, so I will use the trolley for free and spend that money instead at an island restaurant or shop.” Hosafros said in-season parking should be more than $3-an-hour, as cheaper or additional parking “encourages more traffic.” Murphy added, “We must incentivize people to keep their cars off the island; isn’t there some entrepreneur on San Carlos Island who will consider a parking garage?”
Old San Carlos Deputy
Under “Town Manager Items,” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt asked Council if they would like to expand the use of the Special Duty Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Deputy at Old San Carlos & North Estero Boulevards in season beyond just weekends to improve traffic flow, at an additional $350 for each extra four-hour shift. Cereceda commented, “I personally think this will provide island-wide relief and not just for the north end.”
The Town Manager estimated that a traffic light will be at that intersection by the end of 2020. Butcher felt an enhancement would be to eliminate the business parking near that corner to make the roadway two lanes, with a mandatory righthand turn lane from the right lane, then asked for an estimated price for a deputy at the intersection throughout this season, with Hernstadt guessing an additional $30,000 to $35,000. Shamp said, “Alright – do it!” While Cereceda agreed, she admitted, “No matter what we do, it will not be enough!”
Under “Council Member Items,” the panel discussed the increasing dangers of bicyclists and golf carts on Estero Boulevard and its sidewalks, concluding there is little the Town can do, as enforcement is by the LCSO. “We can put up signs,” said Butcher, “but only the LCSO can stop them by giving them a ticket.”
Lizards & Iguanas
In other matters, Council heard “Advisory Committee Reports” from Chair Kathy Light of the Anchorage Advisory Committee and Chair Bill Veach of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF). Veach discussed the growing problem of lizards and iguanas, with MRTF recommendations of teaching Town residents how to trap or snare them on their own, having the Town contract a professional to do so, or take no action.
Murphy stated that the last option is no option, “as this is a serious problem!” Butcher extended his arms roughly two feet apart to emphasize that “some of them are starting to get huge!” Cereceda would “like to see us take an aggressive approach, as some are growing to be a threat to small and even bigger pets.” Veach stated, “No matter what you do, you will not get rid of them, but we hope to control their numbers.” Shamp asked MRTF to compile a list of private contractors that the Town can recommend to citizens.
Under “Public Hearings,” Council by a divided 3 to 2 vote reversed the Town Staff decision and allowed the new Grandview Condominium to exceed its 58-unit density with the addition of two guests units, with Cereceda and Shamp against. Council unanimously forwarded to a Second Reading an amendment to the Land Development Code regarding Minimum Use Determination, with Shamp suggesting a provision to prevent transferring this potential density increase to other Town locations. Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously approved $59,930 to Castellanos & Tramonte Architects to complete a Town ADA Evaluation & Transition Plan.
In a somber moment, Water Utility Manager Christi Cory, accompanied by several coworkers, tearfully reported that “on December 30, we lost Randy Alexander, a member of our Beach Water Team for 8 years! We miss him tremendously and Beach Water will never be the same, as we thoroughly loved him all these years, and we ask you to keep his wife and two daughters in your thoughts and prayers!” Hernstadt added, “You develop extended families with your coworkers and that is wonderful, and unfortunately from time to time, you lose one. Randy had a wonderful personality, was a joy to be around, made this Town a better place, and he will be dearly missed by us all.”
Council announced several upcoming meeting changes. The January Management & Planning Session moves to Wednesday, January 15, at 10 a.m. Following that, Council will attend the Branding Workshop that is open to the public at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center at 2:30 – 6:00 p.m. The next Council Meeting is Tuesday, January 21 at 9 a.m., to avoid conflicting with the Martin Luther King, Jr, Holiday. The last meeting of this Council will be Friday, March 13, at 9 a.m. This will allow the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, of which Vice Mayor Murphy is Chair, to be Monday, March 16, to avoid the Town Election Day on Tuesday, March 17.