Town Hall was standing room only for Monday afternoon’s Town Council meeting, as residents packed the room to comment on the proposed downtown redevelopment and to hear whether Council would grant permission for developer Tom Torgerson to move forward with applications to FEMA and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a seawall that is a linchpin for the project.
During Public Comment, Torgerson said he would present new architectural renderings at a public meeting scheduled for January 14th.
“It bothered me that so many people thought there’d be a vote today on this project,” he said. “We have not begun any formal process and we have another meeting set up for the 14th at Bay Oaks at 5:30pm. We want this to be a public process. All our interactions so far have made the project better. We don’t want to come forth with anything until the public has agreed on it.”
Joanne Shamp told Council that the signing of any resolution is premature.
“The Town only owns 4% of the seawall, the developer owns 26% and has been working with the DEP for the past seven months, and the county – which owns of 51% – has elected not to act at this time and we ask the Town to do the same.”
Ron Turisi said that the properties included in the redevelopment project area had a total of 137 rooms pre-Hurricane Charley and the new project represented a 510% increase.
Jay Light applauded Council’s earlier decision to hire a consultant. “This application is unnecessary and could backfire,” he said. “You can put all the disclaimers you want on a resolution, but it still appears as approval and may appear that way to the DEP.”
Charlie Whitehead spoke on behalf of the Beach Area Civic Association, saying that Torgerson doesn’t need the Town’s permission to apply for permitting from the DEP and FEMA.
Fort Myers Beach resident Gordan Curren said he’d like to go on record as supporting Torgerson and Grand Resorts.
“You don’t too often find developers who are willing to work with the community – most just shove it down your throat,” he said. “I get the impression that a few boisterous voices rule what happens here, and I encourage Council and residents to work with him on something that could be beneficial to us all.”
During Local Achievements and Recognitions, Mayor Anita Cereceda commended John Lallo of Pete’s Time Out for pulling together funding for trolley service on New Year’s Eve.
“I also want to remind everyone that Mr. Torgerson has submitted nothing – he’s merely been meeting with people, which I commend him for,” she said. “This morning, Council unanimously asked staff to come back with someone who we can consult with on this project to ensure we do it right. This process is going to be grueling for this community because it’s change. I urge everyone to take a deep breath.”
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros urged people not to base their opinions on misinformation being spread on the Internet and through the rumor mill.
In response to Alan Mandel’s question as to whether Grand Resorts FMB needs Town agreement to submit applications to DEP and FEMA, Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert said no. The Council then unanimously agreed to table the resolution until a Special Projects Coordinator could be hired.
Time Square Info Booth
Council acted quickly on the topic of who will be allowed to offer an information booth in Time Square – either the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce or Tours and Information Center, Inc – both of whom made applications at the last Council meeting. Rexann Hosafros then moved that the Town enter into an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce.
“According to my evaluation sheet, the Chamber outscored the other applicant on every item, plus they have more experience,” Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros said. After Councilman Alan Mandel seconded, the motion carried 4-1 (Councilwoman Summer Stockton dissenting).
An application from Beach Baptist Church for a permit for their Wednesday Farmer’s Market was tabled until they could return with a completed application, something that Cereceda voted against, saying that a market doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood.
Council then opened the first public hearing – an ordinance that will eventually change all seasonal parking lot into permanent ones by the end of the current season – and unanimously voted to approve it.
They also agreed to move a new ordinance on the subject of beach chair vendors to a second public hearing on January 19th at 6:30pm. For the full story, see the front page of this week’s Sand Paper.
Crescent St. Parking Lot
Also moved to a second public hearing scheduled for the 19th was a rezoning request for 140/150 Crescent Street. The property – a portion of which is zoned residential and most is zoned downtown, is currently being used as a parking lot and the request to change all of it to downtown would allow the owner to change from a seasonal lot to a permanent one.
Speaking on behalf of the Local Planning Agency (LPA), Shamp said were it possible to create the lot without rezoning, they would have – as the rezoning of properties in the downtown area has been a concern with the neighbors.
During public comment, a number of residents spoke against the rezoning, citing concerns that – once changed to downtown – the property could be used for anything and that if the hours were unlimited the noise would be intolerable.
“If you do make this a parking lot, then I ask you to put language in that it stay a parking lot forever,” said Crescent Street resident Doris Grant.
Chamber President Bud Nocera said that parking is a premium in the downtown area and any move to acquire more spaces is a good one.
Principal Planner Matt Noble explained the only way not to rezone would be to exclude parking from the 50-foot section of the property currently zoned residential.
Stockton wanted to know what could potentially be developed on the site, and Noble replied that there could be ’50 feet of building’. Vice-Mayor Dan Andre asked if approval could be conditioned to prohibit this, and Lehnert said no.
Council agreed 3-2 (Hosafros and Stockton dissenting) to move the issue to a second public hearing on January 19th at 6:30pm.
Outdoor Music at Nellie’s
Finally, Council approved 4-1 (Stockton dissenting) a special exception request by Nervous Nellie’s for outdoor amplified music – provided that the music only be allowed on the section farthest from the neighbors and that the amplification be internally controlled
The next meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will be held on Tuesday, January 19th at 6:30pm at Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard. For an agenda, visit www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.
Keri Hendry Weeg