Deems Them “Government Intrusion”
The Town of Fort Myers Beach’s Local Planning Agency (LPA) came out in strong opposition to a proposed amendment to the Town’s Land Development Code regarding businesses renting their ‘surplus’ parking spaces, saying the new ordinance requiring them to get permits represents government intrusion. They also bid goodbye to member Al Durrett, who has asked not to be reappointed to the committee after 5 years of service.
Principal Planner Matt Noble said that the parking ordinance is based on the County’s.
“We have had complaints,” he said. “Particularly during season.”
The amendment specifically deals with Chapter 34-2019 of the LDC, a section titled ‘Other Use of Parking Lots’. Language has been added requiring a permit to ‘rent to the general public’ the use of spaces that are ‘designated surplus’. The permit application must include: a survey, an analysis to determine that the amount of required spaces is met, a parking plan and regulations regarding signage.
“What does the Town care if I want to park extra cars in Santini Plaza?” asked Durrett, and LPA member Jane Plummer said that the ordinance is “nothing more than another layer of government to harass people.”
In response to Durrett’s question, Noble said. “You would apply for a temporary use permit,” after which Al said he doesn’t want to because it ‘would be a pain in the (butt).”
“This is to address when you go up and down Estero, and see signs that say $5/parking – they probably don’t have surplus parking but we have no way to enforce that,” Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert explained.
Member Suzy Katt pointed out that the regulation applies to those places with 10 or more spaces, which most of the little shops don’t have.
“Can you craft something more in line with what you want to do – since Santini and the condominiums aren’t your concern?” Katt asked.
“What about people who have cross-parking agreements with other businesses?” Durrett asked, and Lehnert replied that the Town would be aware of those situations because they will be on file with the permit.
Chair Hank Zuba asked for public comment, and John Richard, Crescent Street resident since 1984 and owner of a parking lot on Crescent, spoke against the amendment.
“This will be a nightmare for business people,” he said. “I have parking lots, and these changes don’t seem to affect me. I don’t think government should micro-manage businesses – we need less cars on the road, we need people to park their cars. Let’s send a message that the Town is a friendly place to visit and do business.”
Lehnert said that what’s happening now is not currently permitted by the Town, and this regulation would give the Town a way to permit it, rather than cite those businesses.
Vice-Chair Joanne Shamp said that each parcel must have a site plan on record.
“So you must know already if they’re allowed to park on the grass,” she said, and Lehnert said the issue is the use – you’re not allowed to sell your surplus parking.
Program Developer Kara Stewart made the analogy that if a building is constructed for a particular use, for the owner of that building to use extra space for another type of use without going through steps to comply with regulations would make the building in violation.
“This is no different,” she said.
Shamp asked if staff could look at this ‘in another way’.
“Is there a simpler way of doing this – just say whatever outdoor space a building has can be used for parking, and then define what cannot, such as residences,” she said. Kara said she would take a look at it.
“Keep in mind you also have design standards,” she said. “I don’t think anyone thinks we don’t need the parking.”
Katt asked if nothing is in place by season, then businesses will be cited, and Stewart said she believes that is the direction staff will go in.
“What about different guidelines for season and off-season?” Katt suggested. “I think if you will bring back something that makes sense and still let these people have parking – with some minimal standards, for instance.”
Zuba suggested tabling the amendment and forming a committee that may include the Beach Chamber of Commerce.
While the LPA did not vote on the proposed amendment, Plummer did make a motion to approve surplus parking as a use by permit for any business on any commercial property that has surplus parking, Zuba seconded.
“The business would have to come in and get an application, and show where that parking is,” Plummer said. It was approved 3-2 (Shamp and Durrett dissenting).
Lehnert asked if the committee had a recommendation for the proposed amendment, and all members of the LPA present said they are opposed to it.
Shamp said the LPA is not given all applicable information on a regular basis.
“If you’re not telling us where the specific problems are, I can’t visualize it,” she said. “Our job is to look at something with seven different perspectives before it ends up in Council’s lap as a steaming bag of poo.”
Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli then gave the LPA a report on what the planned Capital Improvements are for the coming fiscal year.
“The new items reflect Bay Oaks – both the facility and the pool area, as well as beach and bay accesses, including Bayside Park, those are the elements we have.”
Zuba said that the LPA’s role in this is solely to determine whether or not the CIP projects are consistent with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
Other than some minor editing, such as correcting footnotes, the LPA agreed that the CIP projects are in compliance with the Comp Plan.
During member’s items, Plummer asked why variances are being granted administratively for new construction – variances that are not minor because they involve setbacks on empty lots.
“One is the end property on Ostego, whose address was changed to Caroline,” she said, and Matt replied that variance went to Council and was approved.
Zuba asked Noble to return to the LPA with clarification on the rules as to what gets done administratively and what must come to the LPA.
“I want to thank Al Durrett for his service on the LPA, and for all the work that he and his wife, Kathy, do for the community,” Zuba concluded.
Newton Park Signage
The LPA then adjourned and reconvened as the Historic Preservation Board, where they discussed new interpretive signage that will shortly be installed at Newton Park.
“This project began two years ago, and it is funded by the Tourist Development Council (TDC),” said Museum Director Alison Giesen, and Noble said that all signs fit within the Town’s Sign Ordinance, even though the Town itself is exempt from the ordinance.
All members agreed that the signs are beautiful, and recommended their approval by Town Council.
In addition to Durrett, Zuba, Shamp and new member Dan Hendrickson (not present at Tuesday’s meeting) have terms expiring next month. All have asked to be reappointed. After his final meeting, Durrett told us he plans to spend more time ‘playing golf and spending time with my beautiful wife’.
Keri Hendry Weeg