The Fort Myers Beach Town Council met on Monday morning, September 9, to debate a three-page agenda, but perhaps the two most important items the panel discussed were not on that document.
Near the beginning of the session, two Fort Myers Beach realtors addressed concerns over island condominium units receiving warning letters for possible Short Term Rental Ordinance violations. Near the end, Council expressed grave concerns over the lack of progress and cooperation from organizers of the Roar Offshore powerboat races and related activities scheduled to appear on and on the waters off Fort Myers Beach from October 10 to 12, estimated to draw total crowds of roughly 70,000 people. Council conducted its business at powerboat speed, concluding the meeting in 88 minutes, with Council member Bruce Butcher on an excused absence.
Council member Joanne Shamp, during Council Member Items, stated, “Roar Offshore organizers still have to resolve several issues, like port-a-potties, trash pickup and things like leaving furniture on the beach overnight, as this is turtle hatching season, so we are still clarifying things. Other events advertise things like bringing your own cooler and having a barbeque on the beach, so they need to familiarize themselves with our Code, so there is a lot of conversation that still needs to go on.”
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated, “Those concerns and more have been brought forward to Roar Offshore representatives, over what information they are putting out to the public. We have regulations here that may not be practices at other race venues.” While Shamp admitted, “People are excited about Roar Offshore,” Mayor Anita Cereceda stated, “They would be much more excited about it with proper communication! We are in charge of public safety so I am beyond concerned about the lack of communication we are receiving from them and hope it remedies itself in quick order. I don’t know what to say, as this puts us in a very awkward situation!”
Hernstadt pointed out that Lee County hosted a meeting with all participants on Thursday, September 5, “to discuss Roar Offshore and work through these issues, because as of yet, the organizers do not have signed approval from the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department or the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, nor do they have a permit from the Town. Until they receive permission from the Fire Department and Sheriff, they are unlikely to receive approval from second tier entities.”
STR Condo Warning Letters
During Public Comment, Jessie Titus, President of Fort Myers Beach Realty, said to Council: “Guess why I am here – Short Term Rentals – SHOCKER! Condominium units are receiving warning letters about violating weekly rentals in monthly zones, and this is affecting sales and rentals for hundreds of people, upsetting many to the point of sobbing! This is affecting investments and retirements and futures, so please resolve this quickly – like today! These warning letters are not accurate, as the Short Term Rental Ordinance was never intended to include condos like this, as they have long-standing rental rules governed by condo associations, so there is a threat of lawsuits. Condos should continue to be self-governing.”
Amy Loughrey, co-owner of Distinctive Beach Rentals, stated, “This is in conflict with the original Short Term Rental Ordinance from 2003. Condos were never intended to be in the new Ordinance, so you need to address this immediately, as this affects the property rights of hundreds if not thousands of people.”
Later in the meeting, during Council Member Items, Council member Rexann Hosafros asked, “Where are we with Short Term Rentals?” Hernstadt replied, “The language is with the Town Attorney and we will have it back to you for a First Reading at your next Council Meeting.” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., added, “We will have something for you on an expedited basis, but under Florida Law, it may be slower than you want, and must go before the Local Planning Agency.”
Cereceda asked, “What happens in the meantime for the people contemplating a purchase, with these properties stuck in a glitch?” Hernstadt replied, “The message sent to Staff is to allow the condominiums to continue, provided they have the historical documentation, to give those people peace of mind.”
Glyphosate Ordinance DOA
Council held two Public Hearings. In the first, an initial reading and hearing to change the council election qualifying period for the March 17, 2020 election, they unanimously approved setting it from noon on the 71st day to noon on the 67th day prior to the election. This change moves the qualifying period about three weeks earlier than normal for the town election, which will assist the Lee County Elections Office in preparing mail ballots.
Under “2nd Reading & Public Hearing for the Prohibition of Glyphosate Ordinance,” Herin stated that the Town received a response letter from the State of Florida. “They say very clearly the original and revised Ordinance preempts State Law that lists glyphosates as a pesticide. The Town would be at risk, per the new State Law, of challenging this, because if we would lose, we must pay their attorney fees as well.”
Cereceda suggested returning the issue to the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) “to discuss how to move this forward.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy “hoped that the MRTF can promote voluntary stewardship methods” and Hernstadt pointed out, “The Town does not use glyphosates and has not for many years, using instead a natural alternative.” Council unanimously moved the matter back to MRTF.
In other items, Council heard a Public Safety Committee report by its Chair, John Goggin, concerning potential trolley stop shelters and related digital advertising, possible additional sidewalk lighting between the Lani Kai Island Resort and Times Square, ADA transition plans for pedestrians and bicyclists near Times Square, and the soon-to-be-released Metropolitan Planning Organization lighting study for Estero Boulevard.
Under Consent Agenda, Hosafros pulled two items: the 2019 Island Hopper Songwriter’s Fest Special Event Permit; and the FY2020 Contract Employee Agreements for Finance Director Robert Lange, Project Manager Wayne Flickinger, Code Enforcement Manager Daphne Bercher & Senior Accountant Andre Heiting, all at 30 hours-per-week.
Under the former, she had several questions concerning performers near Bayfront Park by Nervous Nellies Restaurant and if that would cause Noise Ordinance complaints from the nearby condominiums; after receiving assurances this was not an issue at the 2018 event, Council unanimously approved the Special Event Permit.
In addressing the latter, Hosafros stated, “I would like to remove this entirely from today’s agenda, as it asks us to approve these contracts, but we have no contracts in our packets, and I personally cannot vote for a contract unless I see it. Why have all these contract employees; why not just hire these people and they get ‘X-Y-Z.’” While Cereceda agreed with Hosafros, Shamp stated, “Staff is running well. The Town Manager does the hiring and firing, deciding on consultants versus full-time staff, so I won’t get into staffing.” Hernstadt said, “The contracts are available for your review and you are welcome to them.” Council unanimously postponed the item to its September 23 meeting to review the contracts.
Following this, Council unanimously passed the balance of the Consent Agenda: the Santini Farmer’s Market Recurring Special Event Permit; First Baptist Farmer’s Market Recurring Special Event Permit; Extension of Local Option Gas Taxes Lee County Interlocal Agreement; Calvin, Giordano, & Associates Planning Services FY2020 Supplemental Task Authorization for Community Development Services not to exceed $100,000; and Weiler Engineering Group Planning Services FY2020 Supplemental Task Authorization for Community Development Services not to exceed $160,000.
Most Discussed Project Ever
Council unanimously approved three items on the Administrative Agenda: a “Change Order for Water & Stormwater Improvements” for Phase 4 Side Streets to Mitchell & Stark for $4,125,151; “Supplemental Task Force Authorization for Phase 4 Joint Outfall Streets” to Tetra Tech not to exceed $90,379; and “Community Branding Contract Award” to Redevelopment Management Associates not to exceed $65,000.
In other “Council Member Items,” Cereceda stated that she is working on a draft letter with the Town Manager and Town Attorney to Lee Circuit Judge Alane Laboda, asking her to please issue her Writ of Certiorari ruling that is holding up the Margaritaville Resort construction. “My message to her is this is the single most discussed project ever before Fort Myers Beach Council, with a project that will do more to reshape Downtown since Hurricane Charlie in 2004, so time is of the essence to learn her answer.” Shamp agreed, “We are waiting for this project with bated breath and great enthusiasm,” with Murphy adding, “Each day of indecision causes a lot of anxiety to our Town, as we are ready to start. We encourage her to come forward with her ruling so we can get on with this!”
Council adjourned at 10:31 a.m.; its next meeting is Monday, September 23, at 9 a.m., with its final Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Hearing the same day at 5:01 p.m.
By Gary Mooney