The Fort Myers Beach Town Council handled a mostly procedural agenda on Monday, October 21. The panel briefly addressed the lawsuit appeal that is once again delaying construction of the Margaritaville FMB Resort, as well as hearing from three Lagoon Road neighbors during Public Comment who remain upset that Council did not reconsider construction on their street for the Town’s Stormwater Project, with Council addressing these concerns near the end of the session. Council member Rexann Hosafros was on an Excused Absence, meaning unanimous votes were 4 to 0.
During Public Comment, John Gucciardo, spokesperson for TPI Hospitality and Margaritaville FMB Resort, stated, “TPI remains fully committed to starting construction as soon as we are able. We want to dispel any fear that TPI and Margaritaville have no intention of coming in front of Town Council to ask for any amendments or additions to the project, so rest assured we are very happy and intend to build the approved project as soon as we can.”
Mayor Anita Cereceda noted that the local resident who filed the appeal disappointed many residents, however, “The Town will continue to pursue as aggressively as possible the fully unanimous vote of May 2018 that approved Margaritaville, and it is as simple as that. Many people called or wrote us, asking what they can do, but we must be patient and persevere.”
Later in the meeting, Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., noted, “We are in communication with the TPI legal team, to swiftly respond to the appeal in cooperation with their counsel.” Cereceda asked how much money these lawsuits have cost taxpayers so far, “Do we have a number on that?” Herin replied that he does not. “The majority of that predated my time as your Town Attorney, but I can get that number to you.” Cereceda said she would appreciate that, “It is a constant question I am asked and the people deserve to know.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy agreed. “I get that question constantly. I know we do not know what we will spend on the appeal but I hope we can ballpark that.”
The Town recently held a neighborhood meeting with local residents concerning the Buccaneer Drive joint outfall for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Stormwater Project, with several residents on adjacent Lagoon Road opposed to that work on their street, as it does not flood. They initiated a petition to convince Council to exclude the stormwater construction from in front of their homes, with 12 of 19 households signing. Several residents attended Council’s October 7 Meeting in a show of displeasure, though none spoke during the Public Comment periods. When Council determined that changing the plan was too costly, time consuming and would adversely affect Buccaneer Drive with flooding up to a foot-&-a-half, several residents demanded to speak later in the meeting before angrily leaving, with some loudly uttered profanities and insults.
At the October 21 meeting, three Lagoon Road residents addressed Council during Public Comment at the beginning of the session, then left before council addressed the topic under Town Manager Items later in the meeting. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt explained, “The work occurs primarily on the dry streets rather than those that historically flood, as that only compounds the problem.” He stated that those neighborhoods that have experienced the project are happy with the job the Town does, adding, “We work in the right-of-way and not on private property, unless we have an agreement or easement from the owner.”
Cereceda asked if the Town needed any Lagoon Road easements, as one neighbor perceives this as a threat to his property values. Hernstadt replied that all work is in the right-of-way. “People take the right-of-way to be part of their property. If this were a typical city, all roadways would be double-wide, with sidewalks on all the streets and the right-of-way would be more delineated, where public property ends and private property begins. We do not encroach on the right-of-way except when absolutely necessary and we try not to remove any landscaping and to keep the project on the asphalt part of the right-of-way whenever possible. If we must go onto the right-of-way, we do as much as we can to restore it to what it previously was. We tag the trees to designate those in the right-of-way but that does not mean they will be impacted, as we won’t know that until we start digging. He will have construction on his street but with no larger an impact than anyone else. We will endeavor not to remove any landscaping where possible, as we have done throughout the project.”
Hernstadt acknowledged that the original Lagoon Road plan called for work on one side of the street, but the discovery of underground conflicts caused the construction team to shift to the other side, “so unfortunately Lagoon Road experienced a big surprise!” Cereceda added that Lagoon Road neighbors worry about stormwater discharges, with Hernstadt replying, “The primary aspect of this project is water quality, rather than all the water running directly into Estero Bay. Everybody here is concerned about water quality and that is the reason why the Town is spending millions on this project.”
Council member Bruce Butcher explained that the construction crews “are doing a super job and are very mindful of the property. In defense of people on Lagoon, we had the meeting and the next day construction started – Bang! It started that fast; no one had time to digest it.” Cereceda commiserated, “We understand their frustration that the petitions would change our course, but that was not the case. We want to give them the assurance that every effort will be made to mitigate the impacts to them.” Hernstadt added, “We go above and beyond the call of duty to mitigate these issues. At the end of the day, no one like disruptions for 6 months.” Council member Joanne Shamp said that there have been many meetings on the project, and that it affects Council Members as well! “They dug up the right-of-way in front of my house and I still don’t like it but I lived through it, and we will all be better off in the long run.”
MRTF & Public Safety
Bill Veach, Chair of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF), reported on that committee’s recent work, including advocating for neighborhood butterfly gardens, research into the apparently small number of manatee deaths in Fort Myers Beach waters, and its initial examination of lizards and iguanas that are becoming a significant issue on the island.
Veach said that the Town’s attempt to strengthen its Fertilizer Ordinance may be difficult, with Herin stating that the Florida Department of Agriculture requires an extensive process. Hernstadt added that the Town hoped to piggyback off another municipality “but the feedback we receive indicates we have to go through the process ourselves.” Finally, Veach reported that MRTF has begun selling the 16 advertising squares on its Reusable Bags to be able to reorder a new supply. Anyone interested in sponsoring the bags can contact Veach at MRTFfmb@gmail.com.
Council received a written report from the Public Safety Committee concerning the Matanzas Pass Bridge Lane Configuration options. Council will discuss the topic at its October 29 Management & Planning Session at 9 a.m. Once Council has a consensus plan, Cereceda suggested that she and Town Staff meet with Lee County District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli and the Florida Department of Transportation in a small group setting to hopefully expedite the process.
Under their Consent Agenda, Council unanimously passed three items: authorizing the Town Manager to negotiate and execute agreements for 15 distinct disciplines of work; authorized the renewal of the Town’s State Lobbyist, Ronald L. Book, for $45,000 with up to an additional $5,000 in reimbursement expenses; and approved the Town Council Meeting schedule through the first quarter of 2020.
Under their Administrative Agenda, Council approved the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Reappropriation Budget Amendment by a 3 to 1 vote, with Butcher against adjusting the Town’s various budget lines, saying, “I just don’t see the point of moving squares and circles around.” Shamp noted that the Town concluded the 2018-19 Fiscal Year with a surplus of $1,050,942 on its former 0.87 mill Ad Valorem Tax Rate.
Council unanimously approved a Division of the Emergency Management Mitigation Bureau Resolution for $66,090 for the Shell Mound Boulevard and Buccaneer Drive drainage system, and a second Resolution for $44,400 for Fairview Boulevard and Crescent Street drainage. Butcher asked why the Resolutions are for those particular streets, with Hernstadt replying that the grant program awards points for projects ready for immediate construction.
Council also unanimously approved $10,420,193 to Mitchell & Stark for Phase 4 construction of the Estero Boulevard Waterline Replacement Project from Albatross Street to the south end of the island that will complete its Estero Boulevard work, with Council letting out a collective “YEA!” Hernstadt explained that he expected this to be done by Fall 2021, “with our crews remaining ahead of those from Lee County for reFRESH Estero Boulevard, as we have every step of the way to not hold them up.”
Council also unanimously approved up to $150,720 to Angie Brewer & Associates for compliance activities for the Phase 4 Waterline Project.
The 2019-2020 Tourist Development Council Funding Agreements of $1,135,230 for Beach & Shoreline Maintenance; $127,038 for the Newton Beach Park Restroom Renovation and $8,000 for Beach Erosion Monitoring, were unanimously approved.
Heavy Hand Code Enforcement
Under Town Manager Items, Hernstadt stated, “I have good news! The Town received the certification to proceed with the traffic signal for Old San Carlos and Estero Boulevards, though completion is roughly two years away. We are doing sidewalk designs for Crescent and 1st, 3rd, and 5th Streets. The 60% Design Plan is available for your review and the public is welcome to view those as well.”
During Town Attorney Items, Herin stated that the Town continues to pursue the settlement agreement on the two incomplete houses at 3050 and 3056 Estero Blvd, explaining that the property owner has twelve comments from staff they must correct, and roughly an additional dozen permits to submit. Until the owner receives these documents, the property does not become a construction site that must be secured, though Hernstadt pointed out the owner has taken initial steps to close off access to the buildings and posted signs.
Herin confirmed that Code Enforcement investigates anonymously reported violations. Butcher wondered if the Town can legally ask for identification when it receives an anonymous report, but Herin stated it cannot. Hernstadt said Council can reverse that policy, as those wishing to remain anonymous can reach out to Council Members to have them proceed with the complaint in their place. Murphy noted, “This is not what I signed up for, so I will not get involved in something like that. I do, however, get constant calls about Code Enforcement on Fort Myers Beach and the heavy hand of the Town in Code Enforcement cases.”
Roar Offshore Report Sought
Under Council Member Items, Butcher provided an in-depth report and explanation of the 2019 Real Property Preliminary Tax Rolls for Fort Myers Beach, focusing on single family homes and condominiums. He noted the average single family home on Fort Myers Beach was worth $594,000 with $369,000 in land value and the building at $225,000. Individual condominiums were significantly less, at $345,000.
Cereceda said she would like representatives from Roar Offshore Powerboat Races to come to Council to “deliver an update and wrap-up presentation, including attendance, high points and community donations.” She stated that local rumors are circulating that race representatives have a 20-year contract with Fort Myers Beach. She added that while perhaps Roar Offshore representatives have an agreement with the racing organizations, that has nothing to do with the Town.