Chair Objects to “Threat”
Organizations in Fort Myers Beach who sponsor charitable special events may be surprised to hear that it can take as little as six days to get in front of the Local Planning Agency if a Special Exception Public Hearing is required. That’s how long it took the Lani Kai request for a Special Exception to allow a temporary stage to reach the LPA this month. It was the only agenda item on a special LPA meeting Monday, February 24. During that hearing, LPA Chair Megan Heil objected to comments that she said felt “threatening” by Robert Burandt, the attorney representing the applicant, Lani Kai Island Resort Inc. Burandt is also a candidate for Fort Myers Beach Town Council.
On February 3, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt informed Town Council that the Lani Kai had not yet submitted a permit application for their spring break stage. Council told Hernstadt to notify them that a permit was needed. Because the temporary 6’ x 40’ stage is constructed in the Environmentally Critical Zone, in which minor structures, like the stage, are not permitted by right; it must be requested through the Special Exception process. That request was filed on February 18, with notices mailed out to nearby property owners the next day. The meeting agenda was posted on the Town’s website on Friday afternoon, February 21. The only public attendees at the meeting were the applicant’s attorney and a representative of the Cincinnati firemen group whose March Lani Kai performances benefit the Araba Shriners, who also sent a representative.
Members of the LPA expressed some surprise that the agenda for the special meeting, set at their regular February 11 meeting, had changed. Originally, the extra meeting was requested by Town Planner Jason Green to review the state-mandated Evaluation & Appraisal Report (EAR), which he indicated at that time, was overdue. Instead the Public Hearing for the Special Exception was the only thing on the special meeting agenda. Present for the meeting were Chair Megan Heil, Vice-Chair Jane Plummer, Dan Hughes, Tim Smith, Dan Allers and Jim Atterholt. Scott Safford was absent. LPA Attorney John Herin, Jr. and Green were also present.
Burandt began the applicant’s presentation, “This is the first time in 18 years we’re required to do this, so we’re here to get the Special Exception and get on with the show.” He told the LPA that money raised by the spring break shows by the Cincinnati firemen goes to charity – the Araba Shriners club.
Angelo Scarlata, one of the show’s organizers said, “I’ve been coming down here since 1995 and at the Lani Ka since 2010. We’ve raised over $135,000 for local charities. We plan on 11 shows in 13 days – March 7 – 19, with no shows on March 11 or March 16.”
Allers asked why the Special Exception was needed this year but wasn’t in the past. Green said the Town has been working with the Lani Kai on this for a long time. ‘It’s evolved over time, whether it was politically or some other reason why or a change of opinion…They’ve got building permits the last few years. We’ve been imploring them to get the Special Exception and take care of it…By the code, we just amended the EC zoning district and changed some of the uses allowed there. This didn’t change, but it’s one of those uses that need a Special Exception.
“My reading of the records is that mostly, every year it’s been, ‘Next year you’re going to do it.’ Different people; Different times and nothing changed. We hoped it would resolve the issue.”
Burandt replied, “The Town Manager, he would say ‘no problem, bring this down, that down’ and I’d bring it down and that was the end of it. This year the policy or whatever changed, so we’re now jumping through the hoops.”
While LPA members voiced support of the fundraising efforts the stage provides, several questioned the request for the entire month of March when the shows are held over a 13-day period. Burandt said it probably had to do with construction and demo. As the board discussed how many days to allow for set up and take down, Jane Plummer suggested 3 days for each, noting that most special events are given no more than one day to set up and one day to take down.
“It takes time to put it up; takes time to take it down. Michael Conidaris is the contractor. Michael Conidaris is also the guy that fixes your sewer,” Burandt said, continuing to explain that if he has to “leave that job to go fix the sewer…” and he paused. Plummer said she was sure that he had the “connections” to get the stage work done at the Lani Kai, referring to the family connection between the contractor and owner of the Lani Kai.
“Then your residents will be screaming because they won’t have water,” Burandt replied.
“I kinda feel a little bit threatened – like a threat to the citizens here just now. That’s how it came across to a citizen here,” Heil said. “I want to clarify this. He won’t be able to fix my sewers?”
Walking his comments back, Burandt replied, “Every contractor has delays. It’s not that easy to say ‘it’s got to be done within a day and a half or a day. It’s not practical here in Florida, especially on the beach. I don’t want to get a letter saying, ‘it’s been 36 hours since the last show.’”
Allers asked if the board could limit the stage to use just by the firemen group, to which Plummer replied, “That’s not going to happen!” Heil echoed the comment, adding that there’s a DJ on the beach, hyping up the crowd during spring break and lots of activities that could use the stage.
Heil said she still had a problem. “I don’t want to get into regulating speech. You’re the one that said he wouldn’t go fix my sewer,” referring to Burandt’s comments that seemed to imply that if the contractor had limited time to build the stage, he might not be available to fix the town’s water/sewer lines if a problem arose.
Burandt replied, in a bit of a nonsequitur, “You asked me what was going on up there (on the stage). I said as far as I know it’s the Cincinnati firemen, but I can’t predict that someone won’t get up there and hold a Sunday Service or whatever.
“All we want is to build a stage for a period of time for charity and you seem to be…planning that we’re going to do something deviant.”
After discussing several options, the LPA agreed unanimously to approve the Special Exception for the temporary stage in the EC zone allowing 5 days for set up and 3 days for removal with the conditions that stair handrails be included and that the event requires an annual Special Event permit from the Town.
When asked by Atterholt about the original agenda item for the meeting, EAR, Green said that the LPA would “see that in March.” He explained that the EAR is a summary of changes in state law in the last 7-10 years and what the Town needs to change. “There’s not a substantial amount of changes.”
Heil asked why the Lani Kai Special Exception was “pushed through so much faster than other people? They applied on the 18th and we got called in for one thing and we hear something else. It’s a little unnerving for us and those out there waiting for a while.”
Green said that if anyone is waiting for a hearing, it’s because of an issue with their application. “I will say we want to be done with this (Lani Kai Special Exception). I’ve spent three years dealing with it.” He said the town feared that it would not happen this year and would be kicked down the road to next year, again.
The Lani Kai Special Exception is expected to have a Public Hearing in front of Town Council on March 2, according to Green.