Council Torn Over Lights, Trees

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The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held its final 2019 Management & Planning Session on December 5th, tackling an agenda featuring the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update, 2020 Tourism Development Council (TDC) proposals, Estero Boulevard lights, and prospective policies for new “Adopt-A-Tree” and “Mural” programs. The panel adjourned after slightly more than two hours, seemingly divided over several of the topics, with the current Council having just six meetings left prior to the March 2020 election that will replace three council members.

Under the “reFRESH Estero Boulevard Update,” Council member Joanne Shamp inquired about roadway landscaping. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt replied that after a recent meeting with Lee County District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli, “Lee County is putting together an agreement to transfer the $800,000 landscaping budget to the Town and Council for consideration, to use landscaping we would like to see. The Town must maintain anything over the standard level of Lee County service.”

Shamp noted to Project representatives that “work seems to be moving very fast, so I am really encouraged and thrilled to see this, as we are now mostly south of Publix Supermarket. People seem to feel really good about the sped-up effort, so thank you!” The Town Manager stated, “We all appreciate the complement on the increased effort but be aware that other than the major holidays, we anticipate no shutdown during the two-week Holiday period.” Shamp replied with a broad smile: “Construction is right in front of my house now, so I say, ‘Go For It!’”

Among other items, Council inquired about ongoing brick paver repairs, updates or repairs to the Red Coconut RV Park temporary fencing, bicycle trail signage, Segment 4 outfall locations, and possible Lenell Road traffic solutions including a roundabout. Project representatives said that shortly after work on the center lane stormwater drain is complete near Flamingo Street, the design reverts to the conventional crest-in-the-center, with water slopping down to infiltration basins under the 8-foot-wide sidewalks, with a second crew soon to join the workforce.

Under “TDC Project Proposals,” Alison Giesen, Town Cultural Resources Director, Mound House Director, and Parks & Recreation Interim Director, stated that staff is recommending Council authorize three potential TDC requests totaling $1,198,255: Beach & Shoreline Maintenance at $950,455; Mound House visitor enhancements at $175,750; and Newton Beach Park visitor enhancements at $72,050. Mayor Anita Cereceda said the Town “made a substantial pitch to Commissioner Sandelli, that Times Square is a beach access and should be eligible for TDC funding; when he learned it was not, he exclaimed, ‘WHAT?” Council member Bruce Butcher asked if “you inquired about widening the pier?” “We did and he noted it,” replied Cereceda.

Council member Rexann Hosafros suggested applying for a fourth project – “a replacement of the Palm Avenue restroom! Many people contact me that we need more restrooms on the beach. I understand no one wants one in a residential neighborhood but Palm Avenue is not. When we previously had a restroom there, the Town received no complaints about it, nor did law enforcement. We were very insistent that the ‘Roar Offshore Powerboat Races’ provide more restrooms but we don’t do the same thing!” Cereceda added: “You ever go in one? It looks like a little trailer and they are fantastic, but got bad press – I agree with you, Rex.” Upon looking at a photograph, Vice Mayor Ray Murphy said, This looks pretty innocuous, so I wouldn’t have a problem with that.” Shamp has in the past opposed public restrooms at beach accesses but did not have an issue with this location. “There you go,” concluded Cereceda to Giesen. “You have four people who favor it.”

Light The Night

Under “Lani Kai to Times Square Street Lighting,” the Town Manager presented Council four options for an imminent decision: Leave the current aesthetic blue lights in place though they are not turtle-friendly and cost roughly $1,500 to replace; remove the blue lights until Council can reach a decision, including 7 potential Cree Amber lights in front of Crescent Beach Family Park that are turtle-friendly; authorize staff to contract a Professional Engineer to sign and seal a Limited Development Order (LDO) for Lee County and extend the Infinate Construction contract’s December 31 deadline by two months; or put in Cree Amber lights now and obtain an after-the-fact LDO.

Butcher asked the two Florida Power & Light (FPL) employees to explain differences between standard and turtle-friendly lights in terms of illumination and which qualify for a free government supply, and learned that turtle-friendly lights are much less bright and not in the program. “Perfect answer,” exclaimed Butcher! “That tells us it is five times the amount of energy for the same amount of luminosity, and the white lights are free while the Amber lights cost big bucks! We can position the white lights so you cannot see them from the beach, and the shield does not allow the light up into the night sky either. If you install them properly, you should not have an issue. My preference is we pick the new white lights and let them go to work.”

Murphy asked the downside to keeping the blue lights, with the Town Manager replying the replacement cost that Murphy judged, “not a ton of money. It seems like we should leave them until we can do everything in one shot; I am open to additional discussion.” Cereceda added, “I agree with Ray at this point,” with Hosafros noting that the Town “expects our residents to provide turtle-friendly lights and we issue tickets and fines if they don’t; it is hypocritical of the Town to put in other lights.” The Town Manager intoned, “Council member Hosafros makes a good point – we do require our folks to do things according to our Ordinances, so maybe we should bite the bullet and do the right thing.”

Shamp said, “I agree with Rexann and Roger; we must be good stewards of our environment and do what is right. We need a comprehensive plan for the entire length of Estero Boulevard that is turtle-friendly, as that season does not just last a couple of months but half the year. I don’t mean to underestimate $100,000 but we blow up $65,000 in one event, so let’s be the model Town on getting this right so other Towns get it right, too!” Cereceda advised the Town Manager to proceed with the first option.

Adopt-A-Tree

Under “Adopt-a-Tree Policies & Procedures,” Cereceda stated that “I am glad we are trying to reinitiate this!” Hosafros began the process but “I handed it off to staff who mostly developed the idea. What I see is it is limited to residential property owners but I would like to add non-profits like the FMB Woman’s Club and perhaps business owners.” Shamp added that, “I am also excited. We had to stop the previous program because people were taking and planting the trees off-island,” with Murphy saying, “I am all for more trees.”

Butcher however opined, “I am very concerned about this program as FPL says trees must be at least 50 feet from powerlines. How can we verify people plant them in the right spots?” The Town Manager stated, “We hoped to make this pretty painless, but we cannot legislate ‘Good Judgement.’ We can put in as many variables as you think appropriate, because if they plant them in the wrong place, the first person’s power they will knock out is their own!” Hosafros noted, “We are only offering two types – Gumbo Limbos and Sea Grapes – so they should be easy to limit.”

Millions In Another Fashion

Under “Guidelines & Regulations for Murals,” Council discussed various items including the use of words, what wall percentage can a mural can fill, and who has the final authorization to approve a submitted design. “We cannot have subjective standards,” said Hosafros. “Saying we like your mural but we don’t like yours is not appropriate.” Butcher cautioned, “Never underestimate the ingenious nature of people!” Cereceda agreed, “or we will end up with a pink wall with a freakish baby monster holding a cellphone! Maybe a beach or coastal environment theme as a guideline.” Shamp and Butcher respectively noted such current buildings as “The Mermaid Lounge” and “Lani Kai Island Resort” as large-scale murals that already exist.

Under “Agenda Management,” a clearly frustrated Butcher, with his term ending in three months, asked, “What are we going to do about street lighting; how will we attack that? Are we saying, ‘No Thank You’ to free Estero Boulevard lighting and spending millions of dollars in another fashion?” Hosafros answered, “That is not what I am saying; I am saying look at other options.” “Those opinions may cost millions of dollars,” countered Butcher. Cereceda said she wants to hear the Lee County Estero Boulevard Street Lighting Study report again at a future Management & Planning Session.