Elections, Safety, Parking
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council heard presentations on public safety, the possibility of shifting its elections from March to November, and an unusual situation concerning a proposed Dock & Shore Permit Request, among other items, before roughly 30 people on Monday morning, May 6.
Captain Matthew Herterick, the West District Commander for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), gave Council a brief public safety update, then answered their questions. Council member Bruce Butcher asked about Noise Ordinance enforcement, with Captain Herterick replying that West District officers have two sound decibel meters to take necessary action. Butcher followed up with a question on the homeless population, with the Captain stating that LCSO personnel do not target any particular groups unless they commit a violation.
Council member Rexann Hosafros said that residents tell her there is a disconnect between citizens and LCSO, especially over response times, with Captain Herterick encouraging Fort Myers Beach residents to “call me 24/7; that is why I am here.” Council member Joanne Shamp suggested that Town Staff meet with West District officers to review Fort Myers Beach Ordinances, with Captain Herterick replying, “however you see fit, we can accommodate you. We are committed to keeping your residents and community safe.”
Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle next addressed Council about the Town shifting its municipal elections from March to November. He stated that since 2005, the Town paid Lee County in excess of $140,000 to conduct March elections that do not coincide with county-wide elections. If held in November, elections would only cost Fort Myers Beach several hundred dollars. Not only would November elections be less expensive, but voter turnout would be much greater, perhaps reaching 80% or more of the Town’s roughly 5,000 voters.
While the Town can move its election date by a simple Resolution, Doyle recommended that the Town alter Council member terms from three to four years, to match November election cycles, but a Referendum is necessary for this, and he thought the March 2020 election would be the appropriate time. Vice Mayor Ray Murphy stated, “This makes a lot of sense to me, and many people say this to me,” with Mayor Anita Cereceda adding, “November will substantially increase the number of voters; that alone is reason to do it.” Shamp said the Town held a similar referendum in 2008 and voters defeated it, though Murphy suggested that, with proper voter education, this should be easy to achieve.
Dock of The Bay
Council heard an unusual Administrative Agenda item, to review a Dock & Shore Permit Request for 152 Crescent Street. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt explained that Staff granted the owner a work permit, then learned through rumors that the rear of this property was filled in, and that raised questions about other properties that share the canal. This led Staff to issue a Stop Work Order and request this hearing before Council, to allow neighbors to express their concerns, though there is no requirement within the Land Development Code for Council to discuss this matter, he said.
During Public Comment, four of five neighbors who spoke were against the dock, with the fifth non-committal. Shamp stated that the owner had “By Right the opportunity for a dock” but suggested a compromise from 15’ down to roughly 7-1/3 feet, with Hosafros saying she hoped for a neighborly result as well. Butcher however thought 15 feet legal. Murphy said his greater concern was over the process that first granted the permit, then issued the Stop Work Order. Cereceda stated, “We cannot make decisions based on rumors, so I don’t see how we can revoke the permit – I really don’t!” She deemed Council to have reached a consensus on that opinion and instructed Staff to release the Stop Work Order.
Under the remainder of the Administrative Agenda, Council unanimously passed the Sunset Celebration Special Event Permit for the Times Square Friday and Saturday evening musical performances sponsored by the Times Square Merchants Association, while instructing Staff to see if it can obtain a lower permit fee than the current $2,800; authorized $43,000 to Coastal Engineering Consultants, matching a State Grant, to inspect the Town’s Municipal Mooring Field; appropriated $124,523 to DRMP Inc., for Times Square, Bay Oaks entry and Bayside Park design services; and $175,840 to Angie Brewer & Associates to perform State Revolving Fund Loan compliance for a new $6,636,000 loan for ongoing Estero Boulevard construction projects.
Canvas Bags & Mulholland Award
Under “Advisory Committee Items & Reports,” Council heard from Cherie Smith of the Cultural And Environmental Learning Advisory Board (CELCAB) on recent Mound House activities, and from Bill Veach, who chairs both the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) and Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF). Veach reported on CRAB’s successful “Leadership Conference” on Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3, and on MRTF’s reusable canvas bag program.
Veach mentioned as well that MRTF will bring to Council two names to consider for the Town’s Mulholland Stewardship Award: Tom Myers for his 40 years of service to the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve and the late Dr. Leroy Hommerding, for the environmental measures he employed while Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library. While the Town normally declares only one annual Mulholland Award recipient, Cereceda suggested that “this time we can issue two!”
Under “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously appointed Katherine Cantlon to the Historic Preservation Advisory Board; approved a one-time distribution of $43,591.53 contributed by the public to the Friends of The Mound House; and $50,238.23 to PNC Equipment Finance for grounds-keeping equipment.
Council unanimously approved four Public Hearings: the Second & Final Reading of the Land Development Code Chapter 10 Street Design & Construction Text Amendment; a swimming pool setback for 3860 Estero Boulevard; a swimming pool variance for the Waterside Condominiums at 4185 Bay Beach Lane; and a swimming pool setback for 3302 Shell Mound Boulevard. Shamp stated that the Local Planning Agency “was a big help in all of these!”
Under Town Manager Items, Hernstadt reported that the Town spent $130,000 to remove Red Drift Algae from Fort Myers Beach and will seek reimbursement from the Tourist Development Council, and that the Town expects to receive $500,000 from the new State of Florida budget to assist with its ongoing sidestreet repairs program. Under Town Attorney Items, John Herin, Jr., stated that the Town recently received a lawsuit over Code Enforcement issues from several years ago, that the Florida League of Cities will represent the Town, and is hopeful for a dismissal in the near future.
“We Are a Small Town”
Under Council Member Items, Butcher stated that he had an in-depth conversation with Florida State Representative Spencer Roach (R-79) about the State’s recent action to declare a 5-year moratorium on local ordinances that prohibit the use of plastic straws, such as that of Fort Myers Beach, saying that Representative Roach agreed to meet to discuss this face-to-face following the Legislative Session. “He felt we made this decision that would harm the business community without scientific thought, and I told him he should have reached out to us before proposing the ban; we ended up with a nice exchange of ideas!”
Butcher also addressed the Fairview Isles parking issue, where many people at a neighborhood party received $50 parking tickets from the Town. The Town Manager stated that if someone had alerted the Town about the party, they would have known to park on only one side of the road and not to block any driveways, and the Town issued the citations because emergency vehicles could not proceed down the street if that became a necessity.
Cereceda suggested that a better and more friendly approach would be to alert those at the party of the situation and ask them to move their cars, “or would that take too much time? We are a small town, for heaven’s sake; there should have been some communication and there was none.” Butcher agreed, saying “the goal should be compliance,” but Hosafros thought that anyone blocking a driveway should receive a ticket. Shamp agreed with the Town Manager, stating that she received telephone calls from others who live on the street who sided with the Town action. Council will discuss its policies for neighborhood parties at its upcoming Management & Planning Session on Thursday, May 9.
Hosafros stated that the Anchorage Advisory Committee has yet to hear any details on the Town’s plan to improve the Municipal Mooring Field, and if the Town can make a presentation to that group, they could possibly offer informed recommendations. Shamp said that the Town will host Federal Aviation Administration administrator Michael O’Hara for an Air Issues Roundtable and PowerPoint presentation in Town Hall on Thursday, May 30, from 9 to 11 a.m. While the Town will televise the session and open it to the public, there will be no Public Comment.
Council adjourned at 1:02 p.m.; the next Council Meeting will be Monday, May 20, at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney