At their August 8th meeting the Local Planning Agency for the Town of Fort Myers Beach approved a Special Exception Request from Fish-Tale Marina Restaurant owner Al Durrett that would allow alcohol service and consumption in new outdoor seating areas at the former Fish House location behind Santini Marina Plaza.
Steven Hartsell, attorney with the Pavese Law Firm, represented Durrett and Fish-Tale Marina Restaurant, explaining that the request for a special exception was to expand existing consumption on premise (COP) to include three outdoor seating areas, totaling 2,811 square feet – 1,030 sq. ft. for a courtyard entrance, 1,293 for a chickee hut and 488 for a dog-friendly seating area.
Hartsell told the LPA that the marina and a restaurant had been in that location for many years. The previous restaurant (Fish House) had a liquor license and the new restaurant is covered by that license for areas that correspond to the previous restaurant’s footprint.
The LDC and the Future Land Use district both encourage outdoor seating, he said, concluding that the special exception is consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
Hartsell noted that both the marina and restaurant had been approved in that location since 1988. The adjacent Palm Harbor condominiums were built about ten years later, noting, “Palm Harbor came to the area after the area and use had been established.”
A chickee hut has been built over a portion of the open air expansion, which will help reduce sight and sound issues, he said. Hartsell also pointed out that extensive vegetation would be included to assist with screening any noise.
Several Palm Harbor condo owners spoke at the hearing. Condo President Dr. Jean Lee Wahl spoke in support of the project, clarifying that a letter she sent on condo letterhead reflected her opinion and that of several owners and the manager, not the board. One gentleman stated that his condo in Palm Harbor just sold in less than 2 weeks, adding, “I don’t think it had any negative impact on my place. Everything that Al and Kathy (Durrett) have done is to make it better.”
Not all Palm Harbor owners were supportive though. Palm Harbor owner and attorney Scott Atwood spoke for about 10 other condo owners, first objecting to the lack of notice, saying that some property owners, especially in Canada had not received a notice of the LPA hearing. (Principal Planner Matt Noble indicated that all notices were sent out according to Town rules.) He also noted that the issue had never come before the Palm Harbour board and no vote was taken on it, just a walk through of the site after the April board meeting. He said that condo owners were led to believe that the new restaurant would be essentially a reopening of the old establishment not an expansion of outdoor space as proposed.
“No one would say that the old Fish House was a detriment to the neighborhood. This is like taking an old convenience store and turning into a Wal-Mart,” Atwood said.
Hartsell clarified that the outdoor seating is already approved, the request before the LPA was for COP for that outdoor restaurant seating.
Concern over hours of service at the outdoor areas led Durrett to state that he was willing to stop all food and alcohol service for the entire restaurant at 10pm, providing that patrons already in the restaurant would be allowed to finish their meals. The restaurant hours would be 7am-10pm.
The six members present, Chair Hank Zuba, Vice-Chair Suzanne Katt, Dan Hendrickson, Scott Safford, Jane Plummer and Lorrie Wolf voted unanimously to approve the special exception request, sending it on to Town Council. Megan Heil was absent.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt introduced a Renewal & Replacement Plan for Town capital assets, explaining that the Town Manager would calculate the cost to replace each of those assets and using the expected service life, budget an amount in each year’s budget to provide replacement when that asset was no longer serviceable.
When Zuba asked how the Town handled capital replacement costs prior to this plan, Hernstadt replied, “Best I can tell when something is broken or about to break…”
Director of Administrative Services Maureen Rischitelli introduced the Town’s new Finance Director Robert Lang before she explained that the LPA was being asked, as it is each year, to look at the Capital Improvement Plan and Projects and decide if the items are consistent with the Town’s Comp Plan.
Lang told the board that he has over 40 years experience in municipal financial management and he is looking forward to helping bring the town from a start up to one with an organized financial structure. He added that the Renewal and Replacement Plan is a good tool for improvement in financial management.
The LPA approved the Capital Plan & Projects 6-0.
Seawalls & Docks
Next up, Fort Myers Beach Environmental & Stormwater Technician Rae Burns, formerly Blake, asked the LPA for approval of a resolution amending the LDC to include artificial bodies of water (canals) in Town regulations. The amendment would affect LDC Chapter 26, Article II Seawalls, Docks and other Shoreline Structures.
Noting that there have been inconsistencies in how docks are treated and that some regulations didn’t include artificial bodies of water such as canals, she said the resolution would standardize town regulations. The resolution calls for a maximum of two boat slips per property and specifies the size of docks. Scott Safford clarified that existing docks would not need to make any changes, until they are rebuilt or need substantial repair. The LPA approved the resolution 6-0, sending it to Town Council.
During the Historic Preservation Board portion of the meeting, HPB Chair Suzanne Katt reported an excellent response from the 51 letters that had been sent to property owners inviting them to apply for the historic plaque program. Katt said widespread misinformation persists on possible restrictions on properties that apply and that is not true. There are not restrictions on any property that applies for the Historic Plaque Program. Information sessions will be held at Newton House later this fall.
Katt also noted that while the HPB and Historic Advisory Committee have goals set by the town, there is no way they can be accomplished without staff assistance and staff does not have time allocated to work with advisory groups.
The status of the historic home formerly at 3360 Estero Blvd. and now in storage on San Carlos Island was requested and Katt said that the Estero Island Historic Society needs a new survey and they have learned it will cost “upwards of $1,200.” That survey will be used to request additional land from Lee County to make room for the cottage next to the two existing historic cottages at the entrance to Matanzas Pass Preserve, where the Historic Society currently resides.
Dan Hendrickson interjected, “Anyone can have a Lifetime membership in the Estero Island historic Society for just $100 and help fund the needed survey.”
As the meeting approached its fourth hour, the LPA agreed to postpone discussion of the LPA Policies and Procedures Manual and an LDC Amendment relating to a Mobile Tourist Information Center for Times Square.
LPA Attorney Jack Peterson told the LPA that beginning in September, the Town Attorney would be prosecuting Special Magistrate cases. He also said that the Town is working on a short-term rental ordinance that may come before the LPA as soon as September. Peterson said that he and his partner had traveled to Anna Maria Island where they recently changed their short-term rental rules and had 120 lawsuits filed within about 45 days. “With Bert Harris claims out there, we’re going to get sued.”
Hendrickson said that he would like community and staff input on how the LDC might be altered to reflect what new construction looks like. Other members of the LPA agreed that the process to provide input was difficult.
During final Public Comment John Gucciardo, representing TPI Properties said that the TPI downtown application is in review and he hopes it will be on the LPA agenda in September or October. He offered to meet individually with any LPA member who had questions or wanted clarification.
The next LPA meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 12 at 9am at Town Hall.