LPA Addresses EAR, Variances

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The volunteer Local Planning Agency (LPA) for the Town of Fort Myers Beach hosted a brief two-item agenda meeting on Thursday morning, March 12, conducting its business in a spiffy 47 minutes. The panel got off to a slightly late start, at 9:08 a.m., with Chair Megan Heil and members Jim Atterholt, Dan Hughes, Scott Safford, and Timothy Smith present, with Vice Chair Jane Plummer and Dan Allers on excused absences, making all unanimous votes 5 to 0. Assisting the LPA were Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., and Sarah Propst of the Community Development Department.

Evaluation & Appraisal Report

Under “Comprehensive Plan Evaluation & Appraisal Report (EAR) Revision Letter to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO),” Staff is reviewing the Town Comprehensive Plan to determine if it meets the minimum requirements of the Florida Statutes. “We asked the LPA to review our recommendations to amend the EAR,” explained Propst. “Staff feels we do not need to make significant changes to the EAR at this time. We will be better off doing so through a comprehensive Comp Plan update.”

Atterholt asked if this is a procedural issue, with the Herin replying, “The State Legislature requires this every ten years, as they primarily leave it up to the local government to administer their own Comp Plan language, and Staff indicates that your Comp Plan is basically in compliance with the State Law, so you just need to send the DEO a letter that we are in compliance.” Atterholt asked when the ten-year timeline concluded, with Herin stating, “Now – that is why we are doing this! Florida Law requires we remain in compliance with Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes.” Heil asked, “What we are saying here is there needs to be no real changes?” with Herin responding, “Correct.”

Hughes said, “I assume our outstanding staff reviewed this and concluded no changes are required.” “We are in the process of engaging a consultant to work with the LPA, Staff and Council to do a comprehensive review of the Comp Plan and update it at the local level,” replied Herin, “to make sure it is in compliance with State Law.”

Heil said she would like the LPA to “work with the new Council on the top ten areas to address; that will help the consultant to look at any changes to the Land Development Code (LDC).” “I suspect very strongly,” said Herin, “that once the Town engages the consultant, one of the first thing will be to meet with you to begin the public process to determine the priorities for changes to the Comp Plan that this community wants.” Hughes said he hopes that Bill Spikowski, the original author of the Town’s Comp Plan and LDC, “will be on that short list!” Heil concluded, “There are no amendments and changes to this now,” and when Herin agreed, the LPA unanimously voted to send the updated letter to the DEO.

Give An Inch; Take A Mile

Under “Administrative Variance to the Land Development Code Text Amendment for the LPA Discussion for Section 34-268,” Staff is researching and drafting revised language to update the LDC for clarification and brought these forward for the LPA to discuss. “This is your first time reviewing this language since the joint meeting with Council,” stated Propst. “There are some inconsistencies in the variances as to whether or not they rise to the level of a Public Hearing. The language is quite loose, so we are looking for your feedback on this, then we can bring it back to you at a later date if you like.”

Heil asked about the provision for side setbacks and additional features and if they apply to remodeling or to new structures, with Propst replying, “remodeling and new additions.” Heil admitted that, “I am struggling with this, as we do not want to allow remodeling or additions that will turn houses into monsters!” Propst explained that the proposal would not alter side setbacks but only additions to the rear of the house, “where it does not become an encroachment.” Heil worried that “this is your interpretation but someone else can have a completely different interpretation, as you can give an inch and people can take a mile, so I would like specific limitations that do not open it up to interpretation, as it does not read that way.” Propst responded, “We can definitely tighten up the language.”

Atterholt noted, “It does not seem like the LPA is seeing many of these cases.” “In most instance, you are not,” said Propst. “The majority of these are due to errors in decades-old documents, unlike errors in survey methods from much newer communities, like variances for where a house can be off by a half-inch, as new construction is pushing everything to the limit to use every available piece of land and can be slightly off.”

Hughes expressed a concern about who reviews these cases for the Town. “This says it is the Town Manager or a Designee; who can be that Designee?” Propst stated, “Generally it falls to the Community Development Director, whoever that may be at the time, but we hesitate to put in a specific title, as Staff and Titles can change over time, and that would require that we redo the Code.”

Atterholt suggested “The Town Manager or a Designee who is a Town department head.” Heil favored that idea, with Hughes saying, “I can live with that.” Atterholt noted that whoever the Town Manager appoints as the Designee, “The buck stops with the Town Manager!” Herin stated, “We will make that change; your points are well-taken,” then noted, “no Motion is necessary since this is just the start of the discussion and we will bring it back to you as an ordinance at some future point as an action item.”

“Stick Pins In My Eyeballs!”

Under “LPA Member Items,” Hughes said he would appreciate if Town Staff “for our LPA Meetings, under ‘Community Development Reports,’ could provide us a brief status report on the matters the LPA has referred to Town Council, if we do not attend or watch the Council Meeting, simply stating ‘Approved, Denied or Deferred,’ so we know what is or is not resolved. I would attend Council Meetings myself to find out, but they last so long these days I would rather stick pins in my eyeballs!” After the room erupted in hearty good-natured laughter, Propst replied she would be happy to do that!

Heil noted that the LPA a year ago met three times with the current Town Council “to set a 10-item list of priorities for the upcoming year, and we achieved nine, with the final one to be tacked on soon. After the March 17 election, we should request a meeting with the new Town Council to set the direction on the next 12 to 18 months, especially on revamping the Comp Plan, and the Pre-Disaster Buildback will require more discussion. This worked out really well last time, as we get a lot of things done.”