LPA Approves Pool Variances, Joint Meeting Focused on LDC

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The Local Planning Agency approved three pool-related variances on Tuesday morning.

The first, for Waterside I & II, allows a 15.3 ft. variance from the Land Development Code (LDC) required 25 feet setback from a non-sea walled natural body of water. The proposed deck expansion is not expected to impact adjacent mangroves, though the association has promised to plant additional mangroves in any open areas between the pool deck and bay. The new deck will comply with requests the condominium association has received from the Florida Department of Health regarding the narrow deck around the pool.

Tim Smith asked about environmental impact studies, leading Town Planner Sarah Propst to explain that the association has a current mangrove trimming permit. “Anything they damage, they must repair.”

Three condo residents spoke in favor of the project which will serve 116 units. Lucinda Keller, a north end resident spoke against it, quoting Lewis Carroll, “The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” She continued, “Critters deserve to have a space of their own on this island. There should be nothing that changes that.”

Dan Hughes then made a motion to approve the variance, saying, ”Evidence I’ve heard does not indicate any adverse impact on wildlife habitat.” The variance was approved. 6-1 with Smith voting Nay.

The second request was approved unanimously. Tom VanderBie, owner of  3860 Estero Blvd, told the board that he would like to put in a pool, “to lure our grandkids to Fort Myers Beach.” The house sits near the Coastal Construction Control Line and a pool behind the house is not possible. Code prohibits pools in front yards. A plan was presented that would place the pool along the northern property line. Several LPA members praised the plan. “This is exactly what we want to do – save older homes,” said Scott Safford. The LPA voted 7-0 to approve the variance.

The third variance requested involved a corner lot at Madison and Shell Mound owned by Lisa and James McKenzie. Due to the positioning of the home, a pool in the rear of the property is not feasible and they are asking to place one in the front. Propst explained that the proposed pool placement would meet setback requirements for primary structures. Though the pool would be constructed 25 feet from the right-of-way plus an additional 10’ or so from the pavement, Jane Plummer expressed concern that visibility be maintained at the corner. Community Development Director Jason Green explained that the LDC requires maintenance of a sight triangle at intersections. Plummer moved that the variance be approved, with an increased sight triangle of 10 feet and it was approved unanimously. All three variances are tentatively scheduled for the May 6 Town Council agenda.

During the Historic Preservation Board portion of the meeting, Chair Scott Safford announced that the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee is still seeking another member.

Jim Atterholt asked LPA Attorney John Herin, Jr, about the status of litigation over a proposed boardwalk near the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area. Herin explained that an administrative law judge has issued an order that the applicant had met all the Florida Department of Environmental Protection qualifications and the FDEP could issue an order for the boardwalk. The judge also concluded that the town had not met the requirements to have standing in that litigation. The Town will not participate in any appeal, he said. “The Town’s position is that the owners of those parcels must come before the Town to obtain a special exception. That matter has been litigated and the Town has prevailed…They have to come to the Town for, at bare minimum, a building permit.”

Joint LPA/Town Council Meeting

Following the Local Planning Agency meeting, the LPA met for two hours in joint session with the Town Council to discuss potential changes to the Land Development Code (LDC) related to residential building.

LPA Chair Megan Heil introduced the first topic, a possible change in side setbacks that would be 10% of lot widths rather than the current 7.5 feet for most residential lots. Jane Plummer commented that such a change would reduce property values.

Mayor Anita Cereceda weighed in, “I think we should challenge ourselves to not think in terms of blocking the big houses. A man asked me recently, ‘What’s wrong with our house? Why can’t we be part of the community?’  I think we should be talking about what we want the boulevard to look like, rather than what we don’t want so we won’t be alienating anyone.”

Bruce Butcher added, “It seems to me that we’re chasing the horse that’s already left the barn. As you go down Estero, how many houses still have a view corridor? 3 or 4.”

During a discussion of regulating landscape that blocks the view corridor and enclosed ground floor levels, Joanne Shamp commented, “People have the right to privacy and landscaping…I’m not in favor of regulating landscaping to solve the problem.” She also opposed the 10% side setback idea. “If you switch to 10% the only lots impacted are those greater than 75’ width.”

“Our job is to decide what the town should look like,“ Cereceda said.

When Butcher asked what the original goal for residential housing was, Cereceda responded, “Our goal was open view corridors to the water. You should know all the time that you’re on an island. That was the goal. If I could pinpoint it, we were so focused on commercial redevelopment that we did not think about residential redevelopment…we never anticipated these buildings.”

Jim Atterholt suggested using a “carrot” approach, instead of a “stick,’ suggesting a tax credit for those who leave the view corridor open.

When Heil polled the combined 12 meeting participants, all were in favor of changing setbacks in some way, with the exception of Butcher, who was undecided, and Plummer who was opposed.

Sunlight Plane, Stoops & Pools

The Sunlight Plane design style where upper floors are stair-stepped in, was discussed at length with several indicating that allowing buildings to have more height, if the width is reduced, was acceptable to them.

Heil summarized the concept, “We’re looking at incentivizing. To go higher, you need to come in.” She added that these discussions were preliminary and that the LPA and council would need a full basket of options to choose from as they addressed any LDC changes.

“I want people to know,” said Vice-Mayor Ray Murphy, ”that this is not a land grab by the Town or an attempt to clamp down on people. This could increase property values.”

Reviewing the Land Development Code for Stoops Balconies and Porches and elevated pools, the group decided that the current code is poorly written for both and needs clarification.

The final topic of the day was a discussion on code as to placement of mechanical equipment. The staff report indicated that the current code does not adequately address equipment location and most are located in the side setback. Pool equipment location is especially unclear.

Alternate locations and sound buffering were discussed. Town staff agreed to research what other towns have done with mechanical equipment placement.

Before adjourning the group agreed to meet next on September 5 following the Council Management & Planning meeting.

 

By Missy Layfield
editor@fortmyersbeach.news