Dune Walkovers & Building Heights
At their January 8, 2019 meeting, the Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency approved a Special Exception request from Lee County to construct four dune walkovers at Lynn Hall Park in the Environmentally Critical (EC) zone. The project will also require two variances, one for width and one for height above the sand dunes, but those requests were not ready at this meeting. The LPA also discussed, but did not take action on two Land Development Code (LDC) issues, one a text amendment regarding engineering standards and construction details and one dealing with building heights.
Lee County’s Lynn Hall Park has four at-grade access points between the parking lot and the beach. The widest one, next to the pier, is used to bring equipment onto the beach.
Mark Kincaid of Coastal Engineering Consultants explained that the county would like to improve the access points and environmentally improve the dunes. “We also need to accommodate handicapped access and to do that we have to put in switchbacks.” The current accesses do not extend over the EC line but the elevated walkovers will, as the required slope of the ramps means a longer ramp to meet handicapped accessibility standards.
Kincaid explained that the furthest west access will be used for equipment access after the renovation. The other three walkovers will have foot wash stations and showers.
The height of the walkovers will be equivalent to the floor of the park’s current restroom building. In fact, one walkover will begin at that building and extend over the sand dunes toward the beach before ramping down and turning right to the sand level.
In response to a question by Jim Atterholt, Kincaid explained that the project would not increase dune height, but would widen it and add plants to stabilize it.
Jesse Lavender, Lee County Director of Parks and Recreation, told the LPA that the Board of County Commissioners has already addressed the turtle friendly accommodations needed for the project. He also said that the project price tag was about $438,000.
The project is expected to begin after turtle nesting season, which ends October 31. He was unable to estimate a completion date, but when Scott Safford asked, “before Estero is done?” Lavender agreed with a chuckle.
Jason Green, Town planner, requested LPA approval of an LDC text amendment that references an Engineering Standards and Construction Details document. The standards are being pulled from the LDC and Council will be asked to approve the Engineering Standards document and the text amendment. When LPA members asked about the document, Green admitted that changes had been made to it since the LPA saw it in October and said that he did not think they wanted to delve into the technical details or changes so he did not provide it to LPA members for this week’s meeting.
LPA Chair Megan Heil expressed her concern that the LPA was being asked to approve an LDC change without the document that the change would be referring to. Green explained that the Engineering Standards document would include standards that do not need to be in the LDC, but can be referenced in the LDC. If it’s not in the LDC, the standards document can be changed via resolution that will not require two public hearings, he explained.
New Town Attorney John Herin explained that the Town inherited their LDC format from Lee County and about half of Florida municipalities have a separate document for engineering standards and construction details now.
In response to a question by Dan Hughes, Green said that the Engineering Standards document was prepared by the Town and Weiler Engineering. (The Town contracts Green’s planning services from Weiler Engineering.)
After discussion, the LPA consensus was that they would prefer to make a decision after they had access to the updated Engineering Standards document and continued the discussion to their February 12 meeting.
In the LPA’s ongoing LDC “glitch” review, building heights were discussed Tuesday. The LDC allows building heights 25-40 feet above base flood elevation depending on zone. An extra 3 feet can be added for additional flood protection. The roof and any towers, attics, or non-habitable space above it are not included in the building height limit.
Town planner Sarah Probst introduced the topic noting that the overall height of buildings, with roof structures and architectural additions have been a topic of concern.
“Not all communities measure building heights the same way,” Probst said, showing three different examples. She also discussed “massing” which requires a step back design over a specified height so that new buildings don’t overshadow existing residences. Using examples from Fort Myers, Marco Island and Surfside, Probst introduced the concept of minimum yards and setbacks tied to building heights.
Following a long discussion, Heil summarized the LPA discussion asking Green and Probst to return with more specific options including massing, reduced architectural roof heights and 16 foot floor heights.
During the Historic Preservation Board portion of the meeting, Green told the board that they have final say on designating historic properties; the decision is not made by council.
A planned January 17 joint meeting with Town Council, cancelled after LPA members were not notified and two members were unable to attend, will be rescheduled.
By Missy Layfield