The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach hosted its first Management & Planning Session of the New Year on Tuesday, January 22, with Mayor Tracey Gore calling it to order at 2:04 p.m., following a 45-minute lunch break after the conclusion of the regular Town Council Meeting.
Under “Amendments to the Land Development Code for Chapter 34 Environmentally Critical Zoning District, Sections 34 & 6,” Town contract Community Development personnel Jason Green and Sarah Probst joined Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., in taking Town Council through their suggestions to update, reclassify, simplify and provide definitions for the Environmentally Critical Zoning District as well as the Coastal Construction Zone and Construction Near the Beaches.
Much of the conversation revolved around construction to repair buildings that encroach on the Coastal Construction Line on Fort Myers Beach, with a corresponding percentage of allowable repairs to roofs and windows, but not secondary structures like decks or swimming pools. Council discussed as well other items such as temporary structures, dune walkovers, and what is allowable “By Right” versus projects requiring Council approval. Town Staff will incorporate these suggestions and return them to Council for further review at a later date.
Under “Vacation of Public Property,” “we seek Council’s guidance on the vacation of public property,” explained the Town Manager. “Public property can mean anything from potential neighborhood pocket parks to little pieces of land at rear property lines before canal seawalls. The Donora Boulevard situations come to mind, with a strip of Town land between rear property lines and seawalls.”
“Florida Statues state that it is a big deal to get rid of public property,” added Gore. Council member Dennis Boback did not believe the Town should own parcels like those on Donora Boulevard, saying “that can be a liability to the Town, should someone get hurt on a seawall.” Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp provided her colleagues a list of potential neighborhood vacations and options, saying the Town should not vacate the end of streets that can be Back Bay neighborhood parks, but should vacate strips between back yards and seawalls, stating “we should not vacate all public property; I am saying ‘Yes’ on some and ‘No’ on others.” Staff will examine the Donora Boulevard situation as a test case and return their suggestions to Council.
Town Council next examined “Developing a Methodology for Canal Maintenance & Other Neighborhood Improvements,” such as Special Districts, Tax Increment Financing, and other ideas to fund local improvements like a canal dredging and maintenance program. “The Town did one canal dredging program way-back-when,” reminded Boback. “It paid for the engineering and the residents agreed to an assessment for the dredging. We need a threshold for a number of residents to proceed, but that must be less than 100% as you will never get everyone to agree.” Council member Bruce Butcher suggested 55% to 60% as starting points. Shamp disagreed with the Town paying engineering costs, saying “why should everyone pay to benefit only those who live on the canals.” The Town Manager suggested that “we should wait to see if any neighborhood comes in to kick off this process, as we have had only one in 23 years.”
Parking for Parties
Under “Construction Parking on Town Right-of-Ways,” Gore stated, “The problem is people block the road.” Boback added, “Estero Boulevard construction workers park so far out into the road and bike path that they stick out. They should park offsite and be brought to the site in a van.” Council member Anita Cereceda said, “We live on an island with constrained space: if they are not obstructing the road, it is no big deal; if they are, they have to move.” The Town Manager asked if Council could suggest an enforcement alternative, with Boback replying, “Ticket them!”
Cereceda asked about non-construction parking issues: “What if I have a Christmas Party with 15 cars and none obstruct traffic?” Gore stated that Town Ordinances prohibit any public property parking. The Town Manager acknowledged that most Town streets are narrow, “But if you have a party or your lawn guy is there for 30 minutes, we allow that. If you have a six-month construction project, how do we deal with that?” Gore suggested that contractors provide a parking plan when they apply for permits, stressing that Council must find a solution, “This first came before us in 2016 and it is still not resolved.”
Boback favored a parking plan when applying for permits, opining, “There is no reason for a builder to schedule roofers, electricians and dry wall guys all on the same day.” Gore said the situation at one point was so bad that garbage trucks could not service a street for roughly three weeks, adding, “Every single day, some neighborhood has this issue, causing trouble for residents including health issues.” The Town Manager will institute steps to add a parking plan to the permit process. Butcher asked, “Can I park my own car on the street?” with Cereceda replying, “As long as you are not blocking any traffic.” While this conversation occurred, the Town Manager learned from the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department that it requires 22 feet of clearance for safety.
Town Council reviewed conditions under the “Special Events Code Section” including conditions to trigger a Special Events Permit. Gore noted, “This section was two pages when established in 1998 and its most recent revision in 2016 is now 13 pages; I want to get it back to two!” Cereceda stated, “With all due respect to our Town Attorney, when you give something like this to a lawyer, one sentence becomes fifty!” She then inquired what activities would trigger the need for a Special Events Permit, with Gore speculating, “alcohol, parking, amplified noise.” Cereceda asked, “If I have a party at my house, do I need a permit?” with Gore saying, “If you have too many cars and they block the street, you need a permit.” Cereceda inquired, “What is the threshold,” with Gore suggesting, “any event that interferes with normal usage and public safety.” Shamp stated that the general criteria in the current Code “is just one page; everything else is enforcement. If you have a question if you need one, call Town Hall in advance, just to let us know.”
Council reviewed progress on its “Strategic Plan,” then heard Departmental Reports from Community Development, Cultural Resources, Parks & Recreation, Public Works, Utility Department, and the Financial Report. Under “TPI Properties,” the Town Manager stated that “TPI-FMB hoped to be moving their project aggressively forward, but the litigation initiated by a resident halted that. They however remain true to their commitment to keep the Town informed and continue to do that.”
Council adjourned the Management & Planning Session at 4:57 p.m. The next Town Council meeting is Monday, February 4, at 9 a.m.; the next Management & Planning Session is Thursday, February 7, at 9 a.m., and its joint session with the Local Planning Agency is Tuesday, February 12, at 11 a.m., with all three in Town Hall.
By Gary Mooney