Council Talks Bridge Traffic Flow

506

Bayside Park Design Big Topic

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council, with this current panel down to its final two sessions, continued its recent trend of full agendas and long meetings before roughly 25 people on Monday, March 2. Principal topics included a new traffic design concept for the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, a Lani Kai Special Exception and Special Event Permits for the Cincinnati Firemen Charity Fundraiser, and the Bayside Park master plan.

Lee County District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais, and Lee County Department of Transportation Director Randy Cerchie presented three different design options to enhance traffic flow at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, from Old San Carlos Boulevard to Crescent Street. “We are here to seek a consolidation behind one plan,” said Commissioner Sandelli, “and our hope is Lee County and the Town can come into agreement on one that we can jointly present to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).”

Desjarlais presented the three concepts, one with a roundabout, another with more of a standard design, and a third with a traffic oval. “With the roundabout, our simulation indicates that traffic off of the bridge in particular will back up, even with the three new traffic signals in synchronization, so this is not the best solution, as it does not move a lot of vehicles and leads to traffic stacking up. The second option that the Town submitted to Lee County causes similar stacking up of the bridge traffic, though not as much, but it is not as efficient as we would like between the three traffic signals. The oval moves traffic the best through the intersections, and particularly at Estero and Old San Carlos Boulevards.”

“These projections each use the same volume of traffic in each model,” added Cerchie, “based on the highest volume of traffic from each month. This is the last piece of the puzzle, to send the plan to FDOT for its Project Development & Environment process, to start the 30, 60 and 90 percent design plans. Once we do this, the Town will be a part of the process at the monthly meetings.”

In advocating the oval plan, Desjarlais explained that “this design allows for greater safety for pedestrian movement through the crosswalks, as they will only have to cross one or two lanes of traffic rather than four of five. The oval island itself is the opportunity for the Town to advance landscaping and an entry feature.” Mayor Anita Cereceda noted, “I was always a big fan of the roundabout, but I am amazed at how much of a better traffic flow this plan allows.” Council member Rexann Hosafros urged, “Let’s get going on this and not be too picky on the details, as this is just the first step, so let’s form a consensus on Plan #3.” “I vote for Plan #3, too,” agreed Council member Bruce Butcher. “I do, too,” said Cereceda. “I think you all did great work and look forward to where it goes from here!” Sandelli added, “This was a great exercise and even though it is not perfect yet, we can now go to FDOT with a cooperative plan as Lee County and the Town.”

Bayside Park Redux

Council addressed two “Administrative Agenda” items. Under “Conceptual Designs for Times Square, Bay Oaks Recreational Center and Bayside Park,” Council focused almost exclusively on the Bayside Park design, spending just a few minutes on Times Square and none on Bay Oaks. Paul Benvie, PE, who is the Fort Myers Office Leader of DRMP, Inc., made the presentation. “We provided you a concept plan at your February 6 Management & Planning Session, and since then you deem that you do not have a consensus on Bayside Park, so let’s go back through the plan to see if we can attain a consensus and move forward. Basically all you have there now is a non-functioning fountain and a large bulky pavilion for the annual Songwriter’s Fest.”

Benvie discussed design possibilities that included a rain garden and trees, solar trees, design aspects to encourage continuity with the Times Square redevelopment, open view corridor, playground, floating dock, educational placards, AAC and harbor master facilities including an ADA elevator, public restrooms, Veterans Tribute, seating and benches, “Selfie Trail,” observation area, grassy performance area and water splashpad. “I am not a big fan of a water splashpad,” said Vice Mayor Ray Murphy: “They can be a maintenance nightmare,” with Butcher agreeing. “No splashpad – gone,” confirmed Cereceda! Council member Joanne Shamp stated, “It feels to me like we need to maximize the waterfront; it is a crime if we do not do that.”

“We are going to need a complete redesign, to understand this whole thing,” concluded Benvie. “Design by committee – Woof,” laughed Cereceda! She reminded her Council colleagues, “This is a tiny little spot; this is not a big area. We are at a redesign, as we have so many ideas for such a tiny little space!” Shamp asked Benvie, “When you hear this insanity, how do you boil down all the ideas, as we are on the fence over many things.” “For my direction,” he replied, “we first need to make a decision on to whether or not include a building, because if we don’t, we can move on to other design features, like an amphitheater.”

Cereceda asked Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., if the Town expanded its mooring field, could it use those funds to pay for a mooring field facility in Bayside Park, with Herin replying in the affirmative. “I am leaning that way,” concluded Shamp, with Cereceda and Hosafros in agreement. “I am fine with that,” added Murphy, with Butcher saying, “I was fine with this before.” Cereceda stated to Benvie, “The building is a really good option, so it is back to the drawing board on this one! Remember that March 13 is the last meeting for Joanna and I before we leave Council; could this be something simple?” “I will take the pieces and throw them into a conceptual sketch to give you a new design,” he answered. “I think I am good with what you presented today and will do my best to get you the conceptual sketch by March 13.”

In the other “Administrative Agenda” item, Council heard an “Application to Reduce a $90,000 Lien for 7650 Estero Boulevard.” Attorney Susan McLaughlin of the Pavese Law Firm argued on behalf of the owner Boris Horodynsky that while he did undertake a kitchen remodeling of his condominium without a permit using an unlicensed contractor, a great deal of the lien amount resulted from a dispute with his condominium association that prevented him from correcting the original mistake and Code Enforcement violations. Butcher wanted confirmation that the work was done by an unlicensed contractor and when McLaughlin said that was true, he replied, “therein lies the problem!”

McLaughlin asked for Council to remove the entire lien, but Hosafros replied, “I cannot go to zero, as there are ramifications.” Shamp asked Town Staff for a suggestion and received a figure of $42,200. Butcher floated $6,000 before Hosafros proposed a compromise of $25,000 that passed 4 to 1, with Butcher against, saying “This makes me sick and I feel terrible for this guy!”

Public Hearings

Council heard five Public Hearings, including the Lani Kai Special Exception and Special Events Permits issues that The Island Sand Paper covers in depth in another article in this issue. The applicant for a sixth, “Permanent Shared Parking Lot for 1046 Estero Boulevard,” voluntarily pulled it, with Council rescheduling it for their May 13 Meeting.

Under “3001 Estero Boulevard Red Coconut Fence Variance,” the Red Coconut RV Park requested that Council allow them to construct their new permanent decorative fence with a zero setback from Estero Boulevard rather than the required three feet due to an existing structure on the property, with Council granting its unanimous approval.

Under “Permanent Shared Parking Lot at 1510 Estero Boulevard,” owners George and Amy Markovich are seeking a special exception with five variances to convert the former gas station location that is now an empty lot into a parking lot, with Fred Drovdlic, a Principal Planner & Senior Project Manager for Waldrop Engineering, providing a detailed presentation. After addressing issues concerning buffer landscaping, hours of operation, a potential public restroom location, automatic gates versus a parking attendant, entry and exit egresses, and visibility angles, Council unanimously approved the request.

A-landscape-proposal-for-the-base-of-Matanzas-Bridge
A landscape proposal for the base of Matanzas Bridge showing the preferred elongated oval traffic plan and a FMB welcome feature.

Under the “First Reading & Public Hearing for 200 Pearl Street to Approve Rezoning from Residential Conservation to Residential Planned Development from Four Lockoff Units to Two Family Dwelling Units per the Pre-disaster Buildback,” Council heard in-depth reports from Drovdlic and attorney Sarah Spector of Roetzel & Andress, representing owners Barbara Salemi and Eric Hoffman, to expand the current building from 1,052 square footage to 2,800 along with allowing monthly rentals and splitting the ownership of the two units. Council considered reducing the new dimensions to 2,100 square feet, to basically double the size of the original building, along with prohibiting rentals and the individual sale of the units. Following these discussions, Council unanimously approved sending the matter to its March 13 Meeting for the “Second Reading & Final Public Hearing.”

Under “First Public Hearing for a Land Development Code Text Amendment for Waterbody Setbacks,” Town Staff is seeking to clarify inconsistencies in waterbody setbacks. After discussing how canals and seawalls affect property lines and accompanying setbacks, Council unanimously forwarded the ordinance to its March 13 Meeting for the “Second Reading & Final Public Hearing.”

Times Square Access Restored

Under “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously approved a Proclamation to declare Sunday, March 29, as “Vietnam Veterans Day” on Fort Myers Beach, with Shamp to present it at the Daughters of the American Revolution Tribute at the Melvin Cowart American Legion Post #274 at 899 Buttonwood Drive on San Carlos Island, with a Social Hour at 9:30 a.m. and the Ceremony at 10:30 a.m.

Under “Advisory Committee Reports,” Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC) Chair Kathy Light reported that the AAC recently completed a strategic planning program and encouraged Council to consider using a portion of the Bayside Park redevelopment to expand the Town’s mooring field facilities, particularly for showers and related amenities. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt reminded Council that on a related topic, the Marine Resources Task Force will discuss the recent boating speed increases on the Back Bay from a No Wake Zone to 25-miles-per-hour on Wednesday, March 11, in Council Chambers at 3 p.m.

Under “Town Manager Items,” Hernstadt presented Council with various potential Town branding logos and tag lines provided by Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) for their review, asking that “you provide your input and the sooner the better! RMA will be at your Management & Planning Session on Thursday, March 5, to hear your suggestions, in hopes of presenting the final concept for your approval at the March 13 Council Meeting.” In a separate matter, Council instructed the Town Manager to accept a donation of four picnic tables for the new Hercules Drive dock replacement.

The Town Manager reported that Lee County took quick action on the problems caused by the replacement in season of the four Times Square Dune Walkovers in response to a letter from the Times Square Merchants Association. “Commissioner Sandelli was down there,” added Cereceda, “and reported that within the next 48 hours, construction crews will open a section between the pier and Dairy Queen for a temporary emergency access until the project is complete. The Town thanks him for his prompt action!”

Council adjourned at 3:07 p.m.; barring an unforeseen circumstance, the final meeting of this version of Town Council will be Friday, March 13, at 9 a.m. Seven candidates are vying for three Town Council seats on Election Day, Tuesday, March 17, and will take office on Monday, April 6.