According to the Town of Fort Myers Beach, the objectives of its Local Planning Agency (LPA) is to further the welfare of the Town’s citizens by helping to promote a better, more positive community environment and to ensure and preserve the island’s unique and natural characteristics. In addressing a bizarre situation for the Mango Street Inn at 126 Mango Street, however, the LPA took on the added unusual responsibility of playing “Dr. Phil” to bring a longtime husband-&-wife back together! LPA member Scott Safford was an Excused Absence, making all unanimous votes 6 to 0.
The Mango Street Inn began operation as a Bed-&-Breakfast in 2008, without the Town logging a single complaint against it throughout its 12-year existence. Despite this, co-owner Dan Andre, who served on Town Council from 2012 – 2016, needed to appear before the LPA for a Residential Multifamily (RM) Zoning District Special Exemption, as well as to address a related sign issue, because previous Town Staff never signed off on his initial paperwork.
“When we bought the property back in 2008, it was a crack house,” Andre testified about his 6-room Bed-&-Breakfast, with four units in one building and two in the other. “We did our due diligence with the Town and they gave us the Certificate of Use that we filled out with all the appropriate signatures. We gave it back to the Town but did not follow up to ensure the Town signed it! The Town came back to us 12 years later saying no one signed it. That was an era of great turmoil for the Town, with a lot of turnover. I agree 100% we need a Special Exemption, as I want to make this right.”
LPA members quickly agreed with Andre, with Vice Chair Jane Plummer stating, “I wonder if anybody is legal – interesting!” Chair Megan Heil added, “I am surprised we are here, to be honest.”
Mango Street Inn
Andre, however, presented a bizarre personal fallout from the situation, explaining that the current regulations require a caretaker to remain onsite anytime the Mango Street Inn has overnight guests. “I understand the reason why this is in the Code – to not turn these units into ‘Animal House!’ The unintended consequence, however, is I had to move out of my house and onto a day bed at the Bed-&-Breakfast, so now my wife Tree lives in one place and I in another! If we had 3 units in each building, this would not be an issue, but it is because we have 4 in one and 2 in the other. I request the addition of a condition to rectify this, as we will never have more than 6 units, so 3 plus 3 or 4 plus 2 should make no difference.”
Contract Community Development Director Jason Green informed the LPA that they could do this through a deviation based on density but not as a condition, adding that Andre “has been very easy to work with.” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., reminded the LPA that a deviation required the panel to hear it at a future LPA session, with their recommendation then forwarded to Town Council for the final determination, meaning the process will drag into early 2020. This caused Andre to protest, “I don’t want to be away from my wife for two more months!”
LPA member Dan Hughes stated, “I understand we have a technical difficulty here, but it seems like a bureaucratic snafu,” then suggested that, to expedite the situation, the LPA allow Andre to orally request the deviation and return the paperwork later, saying “I just think it is a waste of time and energy to require him to submit something that everyone obviously favors.” Herin objected, reminding the LPA that other applicants who require deviations must do so in writing and return for a hearing, stating that “we have policies and procedures we must follow.”
Heil said, “There must be some temporary relief so he can spend the night with his wife!” Herin sympathized, saying, “I appreciate the situation and your willingness to entertain his application, but past practices dictate how you must proceed with his deviation request. There are, however, all kinds of ways to skin a cat! We can process the deviation and return this one item to you next week, then Council can hear it at their December 9 meeting.” Heil polled the LPA members and all can attend a special meeting to hear the deviation on Tuesday, November 19, at 9 a.m.
In the related signage issue, the LPA unanimously recommended that the Mango Street Inn retain its current illuminated sign, since the Town’s approval for it became null-&-void when it did not sign the 2008 paperwork, with Plummer noting that “the potential expense to all this is amazing!” Should the Mango Street Inn ever require a 50% or more sign repair or replacement, it must do so to the current code.
Pearl Street & Fences
In a matter the LPA continued from its October 16 Meeting, it heard a request to rezone 200 Pearl Street through the Pre-Disaster Buildback from Residential Conservation to Residential Planned Development, to replace four lock-off units totaling 652 square feet with two residential units at roughly 3,000 square feet. After hearing from property co-owner Barbara Salemi and her representative, Town Staff who recommended approval, and three neighbors who were against it, several LPA members expressed disappointment that the applicant did not use the past month to open a dialog with her neighbors, and felt much of the information in her request was incorrect or did not meet the Pre-Disaster Buildback guidelines to attain so much additional square footage.
Following this, Heil gave the applicant the option to have the LPA immediately vote on her application or she can request a second continuance, based on the comments and critiques she heard, to the LPA’s January 14, 2020 session. Salemi chose to revise and resubmit her request and the LPA unanimously granted the continuance.
In the final Public Hearing, Staff presented recommendations to alter the Land Development Code provisions that regulate fences, walls and entrance gates, specifically those that allow fences in right-of-way yards to be no taller than 42 inches in height. Staff noted that a 42-inch-high fence is not a typical height and that the minimum Pool Safety Act fence requirement is 48 inches. The LPA unanimously forwarded these recommendations on to Town Council.
Green initiated a discussion on mural guidelines and rules, saying that Town Council has expressed interest in creating regulations and guidelines for murals in the town. Staff created some preliminary guidelines based on council’s discussion and wanted feedback from the LPA.
Proposed guidelines include a required concept drawing to the Town staff for review and approval, with appeals of Town decisions to the LPA; a mural maximum of 80% on one wall on a four-wall building; the remaining 20% of the wall should match the mural color pallet; repaint the remaining building; the prohibition of words, symbols, signs and logos; and a signed agreement that the property owner will maintain the mural or incur a $500 fine if a violation is not resolved after 30 days. The LPA will review the content, then make recommendations to Council.