The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach met in a Long-Range Planning Session, beginning on Thursday morning, April 11. Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions, who assisted the previous Town Council in assembling the current Strategic Plan in June 2017, facilitated the session. While Council discussed lofty futuristic goals during the initial half of the exercise, five hours later, the dreams of tomorrow gave way to the challenges of today.
“We will review today the core areas of the current Strategic Plan, our visioning of our future, and what are our next steps,” Kibbey explained, before asking the Council members, along with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., of what accomplishments they are most proud. Council member Bruce Butcher listed the Town’s financial stability, changes to the 50% Rule for home renovations, the perspective Margaritaville Resort, and the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects. Council member Joanne Shamp added that “we have the right Town Manager and Town Attorney to know that policy will be implemented and that is huge!”
Mayor Anita Cereceda said, “the Town makes people feel at home! Also, this new Council brings a good deal of institutional knowledge.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy built upon that, saying, “our post-incorporation plan continues to work, even after all these years.” Council member Rexann Hosafros stated, “the Town started water, stormwater, and the road projects, and despite the pushback and inconveniences, in the long run, they will all be worth it.” “Sounds like you have a long list of accomplishments,” summarized Kibbey, with Murphy adding, “I feel like we have to be humble, but hearing these things, we have no reason to be.” Kibbey then asked, “Two years ago, did you believe you would be here today?” “Yes,” said Cereceda, “but I am an optimist!”
2025 & 2050
“This leads me to wonder what will happen in the next five years,” mused Kibbey, “as 2025 is only five years away. What big things will happen and how do you envision those?” Shamp said, “Estero Boulevard will be complete, with increased safety features and more bikes and pedestrians. Hopefully Margaritaville will be done, we will have clean water, and fresh and new entries at each end of the island.” “A new brand for the Town, perhaps even a new name, and property values up 30%,” said Butcher.
Cereceda hoped for “regulations that will minimize the wall of growth, and a clearer identity for but not necessarily changing the Town’s name.” “The Mound House and Bay Oaks Recreational Center are more self-sufficient, with Fort Myers Beach becoming a more ADA-accessible community,” said Hosafros. “More local control,” interjected Murphy, “with greater independence from the government in Tallahassee.” “Boy, these are inspirational,” concluded Cereceda!
“Now let’s jump to 2050,” said Kibbey. “Conceptualize your dreams, envision your aspirations, and dream big!” Council came up with a list that foresees a Fort Myers Beach with no vehicular traffic, an ecotourism park in place of Bay Oaks, water quality issues that are a thing of the past, Fort Myers Beach as a crime-free family community full of cultural diversity and beautiful native landscaping, with a strong identifiable brand and quality of life.
2017 Strategic Plan
Kibbey then brought Council back to the review of the 2017 Strategic Plan. “We have issues in here, like Short-Term Rentals and Code Enforcement,” said Shamp, “and now have two new Council members,” referring to Murphy and Hosafros. “I would like to hear their reactions to this.” Hosafros felt the new Short-Term Rental regulations “haven’t solved the problem, so we need feedback from those who still have issues. I would like to know the results of the program. I am not sure I like the concept but will go along with it since it is already in place, but it is not the way I would have done it. We put a lot of effort into this, but people are still having problems with noise and Short-Term Rentals.”
“There was a big hoopla at first,” countered Cereceda, “but now I am not hearing anything on it,” with Shamp agreeing. Hosafros asked the Town Manager, “How many complaints have we had and how were they resolved?” Hernstadt said he thinks the Town should allow the Short-Term Rental regulations roughly another year before he can provide an accurate assessment, “but it may take up to a decade to determine if it is totally effective, because we are modifying existing behavior of 5 to 15 years, by educating clients who may change every week.” Cereceda acknowledged, “We created a registration, but we have not yet taken steps to correct Short-Term Rental issues, so I too would like to know if this actually accomplished anything.”
Another difficulty for Hosafros is the Lee County Sheriff’s Office response to Fort Myers Beach issues. The Town Manager stated he emailed Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and West District Commander Matthew Herterick about upcoming Council meeting dates but he has yet to receive a response. “Your answer is exactly what I am hearing from the public,” stressed Hosafros: “You contact them and nothing happens!”
Council finally discussed whether the 2017 Strategic Plan was even necessary anymore. “It is cumbersome minutia, and that is not a plan,” said Cereceda. “This is task oriented based on hot button issues from two years ago, like Short-Term Rentals.” Shamp however stated, “I like this because it kept us on-track, and we need this.” “This is what I have been getting at all day,” Kibbey stated: “are these still our core areas?” Hosafros said Council already had a more effective tool: “Agenda Management! We attain a consensus and then put that on an agenda. This was good in its time but I am not sure we need it anymore. Things will not fall through the cracks because we have a real tight agenda management system that functions well.”
Butcher said, “We need to set the complete vision for the island first, then the rest of it flows down, and that vision should be that Fort Myers Beach is the Best Small Town Beach Community in the nation. We suffer from myopia, as we only know what is here but not out there. Let’s rob ideas that work for Fort Lauderdale and Key West and incorporate all those things to make us the best beach community.” Cereceda agreed, saying “Our Town is not the Best Small Town Beach Community. I love it with all my heart, but it is dirty and there are things I would like to change, to move it forward.” “Then we do need this Strategic Plan,” emphasized Shamp. “Dirty is in here through Code Enforcement.”
“That vision boils down to relationships,” added Murphy. “If you cultivate relationships and get them to act, we can achieve great things and I am optimistic about that. We must press others, while being reasonable with each other, and this Council is reasonable and not prone to crazy stuff.” “Well said,” intoned Cereceda. Kibbey concluded, “I feel encouraged about the list we created for the future, including from two years ago. You are a forward-looking Council and that is encouraging!”