Parking Study, Bridge Lane Design
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held its Management & Planning Session before near-empty chambers on Tuesday, October 29, where they received the Parking Study presentation and discussed the Donora Boulevard Canal Right-of-Way Vacate Project and the Matanzas Pass Bridge Lane Reconfiguration Designs. Due to the recent passing of his mother, Vice Mayor Ray Murphy was on an excused absence.
The initial agenda item was Council’s monthly report from Lee County officials on the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects, but Town Manager Roger Hernstadt explained that due to recent Lee County staff changes, the Town received email updates.
Jim Corbett, the Director of Studies for Walker Consulting of Tampa, Florida, explained the initial Parking Study to Council, to assist them with standards and criteria for surplus, permanent shared, and joint parking. “This is the first step to start the conversation towards a more thoughtful decision,” said Corbett, “on how to handle parking and codes related to parking lots.”
Corbett related that Walker Consulting conducted the study on Wednesday, April 3 and Saturday, April 6, “in the heart of your busy season. The focus study was from Lynn Hall Memorial Park to Town Hall as well as the Downtown core. There are 26 parking areas, including surplus parking, the Town’s metered parking, and joint-use parking.”
The study noted that beach patrons prefer privately-owned shared parking areas first before single-purpose parking. Only when the former were near capacity did drivers migrate to the latter, with the exceptions of the Lani Kai Island Resort and Helmerich Plaza, (identified as “Seafarer’s Plaza” in the study), that prominently display parking rates. On-street spaces on Old San Carlos Boulevard, Center Street and Fifth Street were usually the last to fill because these metered spots are short-term two-hour limits. Long-term parking on beach access streets and under the Matanzas Pass Bridge were equally slow to fill.
Corbett stated that the second piece of the study was a review of the Town’s existing parking codes, saying “The big question for Council is if you want to encourage or discourage parking. If you want to discourage it, then enforce code requirements that limit parking. If you want to encourage it, reduce setbacks and your current 15-foot buffers down to 3 to 5 feet. Basically, you must ask yourself what is the real goal with parking and what are you trying to do, as that will tell you if you need to strengthen your parking codes or incorporate a certain level of flexibility, particularly during the seasonal period from Christmas through Easter.”
Mayor Anita Cereceda said, “Let’s see if we can answer your question of what we are trying to accomplish!” Council member Joanne Shamp said she wants “to get cars off the road quickly!” Cereceda agreed, then offered, “I would like people to park once, then move around – that would be ideal.” Shamp added that she is open “to the idea of reducing buffers – that sounds fine, but not eliminating shrubs, and a tree here or there would be nice!” Butcher said that “a 15-foot buffer is crazy!” Cereceda said she wants uniform parking signs “so people can rapidly see where to park – that would be a huge plus.”
Shamp indicated that she wants to examine the use of a parking app to let drivers know where there is available parking while they are waiting in line to cross the Matanzas Pass Bridge, “because this technology did not exist 20 years ago, so they can decide to come forward or turn and go back to the trolley parking lots. I agree with easily-recognizable parking signs – I travel a lot and when I see that big ‘P,’ I know that is parking.” Corbett stated that a parking app “is much easier to be successfully operated by government entities, as it can be a challenge to get private operators to buy into the program, but if you convince them they will fill their lots quicker than anyone else, they will. You would be on the cutting edge!” Council member Rex Hosafros countered with “We don’t want to be on the cutting edge; we want others to make the mistakes and learn from them!”
Cereceda asked Corbett about the conclusion that the Town metered spaces are among the last to fill, and wondered if that was because of the $3-per-hour cost or the two-hour time limit. He responded that “the one-time parking cost at private lots of $20 for the day seems to be nothing to people, so perhaps on option for beach parking is all day at $15. In the commercial district, however, where you want turnover, you could increase the maximum time from 2 to 3 hours.”
Butcher addressed business owners who rent out their surplus parking spaces: “If they feel they can make more money off parking than selling ice cream cones, that is their business decision – why would I care?” Corbett responded by saying, “it ties back into how you are trying to enforce your Code.” Hosafros noted that “Chapel By The Sea attempted to do this on occasion but the Town stopped them.”
Shamp said she would like the Town to implement initial improvements soon, “like uniform parking signage to make a quick impact,” while working on the long-term plan to reform parking codes and an app map. Cereceda wants to investigate changing the buffer zones to encourage more parking. Shamp agreed in principle but wants to retain buffers between commercial and residential lots, as well as incorporating bicycle parking, “to encourage multi-modal transportation.” Council instructed the Town Manager to work with Walker Consulting to move parking forward.
Donora Land Vacation
Under “Donora Pilot Canal Right-of-Way Vacate Project,” the Town received a resident-initiated request to investigate the vacation of small portions of Town-owned land between rear property lines and the canal for homes on Donora Boulevard and Madison Court, though their discussion centered on just the Right-of-Way on the Donora Boulevard side of the canal. Council received a petition from eight of the 12 perspective property owners to consider the vacation. The survey work including lot survey, vacation description and sketch, and waterway map will cost roughly $12,000 along with advertising, application and administrative costs of approximately $5,000 to total roughly $17,000 or approximately $1,400 to each homeowner. This price may lower if Council includes additional lots whose homeowners expressed a similar interest, including along the entire canal and on the other side of the canal.
Shamp wondered if Council could take action on a house-by-house basis or for the entire neighborhood at once. If the latter, what would be the appropriate percentage of homeowners who would agree with the vacation property purchase and how they would pay for it. Butcher replied the payment would be through a fee in their Property Taxes. Shamp said, “To do this piecemeal makes no sense to me. If you can buy waterfront property, my response would be that I would write out the check right now. To pay roughly $1,500 to get that property is a no-brainer to me!”
Hosafros asked what course the Town could take if some property owners did not agree. Town Attorney John Herrin, Jr., did not have an immediate answer. Cereceda said the Town should proceed with the request on a uniform basis rather than piecemeal, based on neighborhood percentages the Town used previously for other issues. Once those are available, Council instructed the Town Manager to send an official letter to the property owners explaining the process and tentative $1,400 price.
Town Entryway Design
Under “Matanzas Pass Bridge Lane Configuration,” Public Safety Committee members Tom Gressman and Heidi Jungwirth provided a brief recap of their recommendations of the three potential traffic and pedestrian designs for the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge: one from the late Lee County District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker; a second from the Town, and a third from Lee County that attempted to combine the best elements of the first two.
Following their discussion, Council members agreed on several points. They favor the elimination of the drop-off point at the former Seafarer’s Mall, having crosswalks only at traffic signals and remove those from the bridge’s base, the elimination of Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon pedestrian crossing enhancements, a pedestrian barrier to guide people to crosswalks to avoid random Estero Boulevard crossings that will fit in with the Town’s rebranding concept, a through lane off the Matanzas Pass Bridge to North Estero Boulevard and Old San Carlos Boulevard rather than the trolley-only lane; two bicycle parking locations, and synchronization of all new traffic signals from Old San Carlos Boulevard to Crescent Street. Additionally, Council would like Lee County to finally share its plan for the former Seafarer Mall property so the Town can coordinate the use of that parcel with a future Fort Myer Beach welcoming entry feature.
Council adjourned at 10:54 a.m., in preparation for its joint meeting with the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) to immediately follow.