Meeting at a different time and day, the Local Planning Agency spent a good portion of Wednesday, October 16 working through four Public Hearings, eventually adjourning after 4 hours and 45 minutes.
The first hearing on a dune walkover and boardwalk at 8150 and 8170 Estero Blvd. drew a crowd to the normally sparsely-attended advisory board meeting. The walkover has been a contentious issue for over three years, with multiple hearings and legal challenges, which have led to the property owners, Texas Hold ’Em LLC and Squeeze Me Inn LLC, requesting a Special Exception for the dune walkover in the Environmentally Critical (EC) zoning district.
The proposed boardwalk and dune walkover are about 300 ft in length and would begin at the shared lot line for the two properties, extending perpendicularly toward the Gulf of Mexico, before turning southeast to avoid the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area (CWA). Several changes to the plan originally proposed three years ago have been made, including the width and location of the boardwalk and removing handrails to prevent predator birds from using them to prey on nesting shorebirds.
LPA Attorney John Herin, Jr. began the hearing by reminding the LPA that the Public Hearing “is a quasi-judicial hearing. Your decision should be based solely on what you hear here today. You can’t consider anything that was said to you outside this hearing.” His comments led to a conversation about a judicial decision that sent the matter back to the Town.
Members of the LPA initially expressed concern that the full application, including the complete 71-page judicial decision, was not included in the agenda packet, a decision that Herin said was a Town Staff decision. “I find it disingenuous that staff decided what is relevant. We should have got the whole package,” said Dan Hughes.
Chair Megan Heil polled LPA members and found that four had not read the decision. After discussion regarding tabling the hearing, the LPA agreed to continue after the applicant’s attorney stated that her presentation would cover the pertinent parts of the decision.
Representing the property owners, Amy Petrick, Esq, of Lewis, Longman & Walker, began by summarizing the Consolidated Final Order from Florida DEP: The walkover is outside the CWA; it would provide public benefits by channeling foot traffic off native dune vegetation and it would not be harmful to vegetation, dunes or birds. She also emphasized that due to the location, approval of this walkover would not lead to a flood of more walkover applications.
Jason Green presented Town Staff’s evaluation of the request, saying staff does not recognize a public benefit as it would only serve two properties. While the Comprehensive Plan encouraged dune walkovers in appropriate places, it didn’t intend one for every property, he said. He concluded by saying that staff believed the applicant had misread and misinterpreted town policies and how they apply in our community.
During Public Comment several neighbors spoke, all in favor of the walkover. During LPA discussion, the use of the walkover by nearby properties that also are blocked from beach access due to the lagoon in that area, led to the applicants stating that they would allow that use.
The LPA then voted 7-0 to approve the special exception with additional conditions: agreement to allow neighbors to use it; replace vegetation disturbed by construction and reduce the width to 4 feet as a variance to make it wider had not been filed.
200 Pearl Street Rezoning
The second hearing was a request to rezone 200 Pearl Street to Residential Planned Development, using pre-disaster buildback rules to convert the current 652 square feet, four-unit structure to approximately 3,000 sf and two units. A few neighbors spoke against the rezoning and LPA members voiced questions regarding current unit status. The LPA then decided to move the hearing to their next meeting and asked that the property owner attend..
Short Term Rental Condos
The Short Term Rental (STR) Ordinance adopted in May 2018, was back on the LPA agenda this month as Town Staff requested a change that would allow condos whose regulations have traditionally allowed rentals of greater than 3, but less then 30 days, to continue those shorter rentals provided they submit their condo rules to Town staff proving the prior use. There was no Public Comment. The LPA approved the ordinance 6-0, with Dan Hughes now absent.
Tiki Hut Variance
Kelly Bhutada, speaking for Town Staff passed out a list of new conditions for this variance at the start of the meeting, and LPA members rejected the last minute change when they approved the 4.4 foot back setback and 3 foot side setback variance for a tiki hut at 3597 Shell Mound Blvd, opting to use the conditions in their agenda packet instead.
Attorney Ryan Murphy represented the current homeowners, who were not informed that two existing tiki huts on the property when they purchased the home were not in compliance with town code. They have removed one.
A lengthy discussion on tiki huts, permits and maintenance, led to a final motion to approve the variance with the original conditions, plus the allowance for a one-time re-thatching of the remaining hut.
During the discussion Hernstadt stated that the Florida Building Code does not eliminate the need for a permit if a tiki hut is built by a native American, it only eliminates the builder’s need for a license.
During the Historic Preservation Board portion of the meeting, Chair Scott Safford relinquished his seat on the HPB board, leaving no LPA member on the HPB. With no volunteers to serve on the HPB, the board will be inactive this month and the LPA will discuss how to proceed next month.
The next LPA meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 12 at 9am at Town Hall.