Council Parks Surplus Parking

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Parking-Go-Round!

Fort Myers Beach tourists complain that, unless you know where you are going, you can drive round & round Estero Island looking to park. The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council must relate to that spinning sensation, as they have gone round & round on surplus parking for months. In the end, a frustrated and slightly testy panel parked it, in favor of initiating a global overview for beach parking.

In her long-held objection to surplus parking, Vice Mayor Tracey Gore said, “The main thing we have to do as a Council is protect our residential neighborhoods. Will we hold surplus parking to the same standards of lighting and landscaping and buffer zones, like we do permanent lots? This cannot be more lax than existing parking so they must meet all regulations in the parking division and there are a lot!” Council member Joanne Shamp echoed this: “What will be their hours? Must they employ turtle-friendly lighting? Is overnight parking allowed?” Shamp concluded by asking in exasperation, “What is the point of all of this? What purpose does this serve, and how do we protect small business in a plaza who rely on parking, because we really don’t gain that much extra parking to get cars off the street?”

“We have no enforcement through this,” stated Mayor Dennis Boback. “Why put an ordinance on the books if we don’t have enforcement? What is the sense? How will code enforcement know driving down the road who is allowed surplus parking?” Gore felt Council could decide surplus parking on a case-by-case basis.

Council member Anita Cereceda countered, “The Local Planning Agency (LPA) reviewed and passed surplus parking unanimously to give staff the ability to monitor it and to provide the Town a cohesive look. I thought when we agreed to the sunset stipulation after one year, this made it amendable to everyone.” Shamp said one possible advantage might be that surplus lots can purchase parking signs to allow the Town to develop consistency. “I see that as a positive. I will know where I can park quickly with a recognizable sign.” Cereceda agreed. “This clearly says in your mind, ‘parking available.’”

“Go to Another Beach”

Gore feels each surplus spot must be delineated as such: “If your business only has two extra spots, that is all you can rent. If we are full, people need to go to another beach as we can only fit so many people on this island.” Cereceda reiterated that “this is not what this ordinance says,” with Gore disagreeing and Cereceda holding her position.

Shamp said she saw three reasons to proceed: “Primarily to get cars off the street; the second is uniform signage, and third we want our parking lots to look nice so our Town looks good.” She attempted to articulate a motion, and struggled with the complex language. Gore tried to interject, to which Cereceda stated that “Joanne is still making a motion; you are out of order.” Gore tersely replied, “Shut up!” Later in the meeting, Gore made a sincere apology, “I am sorry for what I said,” with Cereceda immediately responding, “apology accepted!”

With the motion on the table, Cereceda felt that in its current form, “this will eliminate in excess of 100 spaces and I cannot support this; this will eliminate parking at Helmerich Plaza. We need a broader picture for parking, so let’s drop this for the time being and leave things as they are; that’s just a thought!” Shamp agreed: “We are through season and this Council needs a lot of action with parking, rather than doing it piecemeal, so I am comfortable tabling or turning it down and getting into the conversation that actually does something that makes sense for this Town.”

The Mayor called the motion and since it occurred on Roll Call, Shamp came up first, having the unenviable task of voting against her own initiative! Her fellow Council members followed suit, unanimously defeating the Surplus Parking Amendment. At this point, amid murmurs, mumblings and laughter from council members and audience alike, Mayor Boback said, “Let’s take a five-minute break to clear our heads!” While departing the dais, several said ‘unbelievable,” with the Mayor more forthright: “You know how many hours we wasted on this already?”

Lorrie & Miffie

In other matters, under Consent Agenda, Council unanimously approved the Trespass Appeal Administrative Code, Lee County Interlocal Agreement for utility relocation, and the purchase and installation of two pumps at the South Booster Station water tower for $66,250, as well as all three 1st public readings for the Homestead Exemption, moving these to their 2nd and final readings at Council’s April 17 meeting. They elected Lorrie Wolf to the LPA vacancy created by the election of Bruce Butcher to Council, with three votes. Forrest Critser and John Goggin received one vote each. Council then named Miffie Greer 2017 Grand Marshal for The Fourth of July Parade, as part of her recognition as the Town’s 2016 Citizen of the Year.

Under Town Attorney Items, co-counsel Jim Turner will hold an Executive Session with Council on Monday, April 10, to review pending litigation at 8 a.m. He clarified that one of the eight finalists for the fulltime Town Manager position provided false information, with Council unanimously agreeing to drop that candidate, reducing the list to seven.

With the Town Manager count down to 7 candidates from the initial ten, Council held a lengthy discussion as to whether to expand that, as well as what procedures it will employ during its April 5 speaker-telephone interviews. Following this, Council decided to not expand the list, and will ask Town Manager candidates the same five questions, with each Council member being able to ask one additional specific question. Shamp told the audience, “This may look like organized chaos, but trust us!” To allow additional time to formulate questions, Council moved the start of the interview workday from 8 up to 7:30 a.m., then adjourned at 12:43 p.m.

Gary Mooney