Mound House, STR, and Permits
The Local Planning Agency (LPA) for the Town of Fort Myers Beach addressed several interesting agenda items at its monthly meeting in Town Hall before a handful of residents on Tuesday morning, June 4. LPA members in a series of unanimous rulings discussed a Mound House Rezoning request, controversial verbiage in the Town’s Short Term Rental Ordinance, and the meaning of the word “Permit” for a roof-over-dock boathouse Variance at 405 Harbour Court.
The LPA heard a Mound House Rezoning Amendment to change the schedule of its Commercial Planned Development (CPD) uses for the site at 451 Connecticut Street, to add alcohol and the possibility of rental functions like fundraisers and wedding receptions to last later than its current curfew of 9 p.m., but only for specific events with the express permission of Town Council on a case-by-case permit basis. This rezoning would make the Mound House legally consistent for many of its uses that evolved over time, from just a museum complex to include programs like the “Movie on The Mound” and yoga classes, so it needs the appropriate language should people inquire about it for a rental, along with deleting obsolete language dating back to at least 2005.
“The Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board (CELCAB) worked with us on this,” explained Alison Giesen, the Town Director of Cultural Resources, Mound House Director & Interim Parks & Recreation Director. “This will expand the hours of the grounds to sunrise to sunset, so the community can enjoy the property at those times. The process for Special Events needs to go past the current 9 p.m., with the ability to sell beer, wine and alcohol.” Jane Plummer asked if any Mound House Special Events to date resulted in neighbor complaints, with Giesen saying, “I don’t know of any complaints personally.”
During Public Comment, two Mound House neighbors spoke. Tom Abraham was vehemently against any regulation expansions, calling the Mound House “a pain in the ass!” Cindy Richardson, however, stated that “we are there right on the water by it, and are never bothered by the noise.” LPA Chair Megan Heil asked Town staff if they have had any complaints against the Mound House, with contract Community Development Director Jason Green replying, “None we have on record.” The LPA unanimously approved the Mound House Zoning Amendment and forwarded their recommendation to Council.
Single Family STR Limit
During a discussion of an Amendment to the Land Development Code for Short Term Rentals (STR), Green recommended the removal of the controversial phrase, “Single Family” as one of the primary and mandatory rental criteria, and to replace that with an “Occupancy Load” of maximum people per rental through statistics from the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District (FMBFCD).
While LPA members were unanimous in wanting to eliminate the “Single Family” regulation, they were adamantly against using the FMBFCD calculation as the rental formula. “Loads will be ridiculously high, with 27 people in a house,” reasoned Plummer. “We need another way to determine occupancy, like ‘heads in beds.’” Scott Safford suggested a better calculation would be two people for each bedroom, plus an extra two persons.” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., understood these concerns, stating that “fire codes follow the building code, with an occupancy matrix, to determine how many people to allow in a movie theater or restaurant for seating, and not how many people to sleep in a house.”
The LPA made a determination to recommend that Council remove the “Single Family” regulation, but before they move the matter forward, staff will do additional research on the “Occupancy Load” and remand it back to them for further discussion. Plummer briefly urged immediate action, to pass it on to Council, “because with the ‘Single Family’ stipulation, almost every single rental here is illegal, and everyone can be fined for every rental!”
What “Permit” Permits
Kirk Schroeder of 405 Harbour Court appeared before the LPA seeking a Variance for a “Roof Over Deck” that became an illegal boathouse that he built without the necessary permit, resulting as well in setbacks that are against the Code, and he offered a unique defense: He confused the word “Permit” with “Permission!” He offered as well that other structures on his canal are exactly the same as his.
Dan Hughes said that the language misunderstanding or similar construction are irrelevant: “The issue here is if you meet the criteria for a Variance, and unfortunately, I don’t see how we can grant one based on the five necessary criteria that this does not meet.” “I think we all feel the same way,” agreed Heil. “As unfortunate as this is, our hands are tied!” Schroeder said he did not wish to work with Town Staff to find a suitable remedy, opting for an LPA rejection and then he would take his case directly to Town Council; the LPA unanimously denied his Variance.
In other matters, the LPA unanimously forwarded to Town Council its recommended approval of Land Development Code Amendment language to the Elevated Swimming Pool Ordinance pertaining to fencing and enclosures, pool height and ground level, primary versus accessory uses, commercial versus residential pools, setbacks, and acceptable flood elevation reference terminology standards.
The LPA recessed into its role as the Historic Preservation Board at 11:41 a.m. Lorrie Wolf reported that the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club at 175 Sterling Avenue will soon receive its Historic Recognition Plaque, while two other structures at 214-16 Pearl Street and 261 Fairweather Lane are in the process of approval. The Historic Preservation Advisory Board is updating the application process to streamline the procedure, with its next meeting in Town Hall on Tuesday, June 25, at 9 a.m. The LPA reconvened at 11:45 a.m.
Liki Tiki & Special Magistrate
Under “LPA Member Items,” James Atterholt reviewed Town Council’s decision at its June 3 meeting to delay any action on the Liki Tiki BBQ request for live outdoor music over an incomplete application, though at least one Council member had significant issues with several other potential Code violations resulting from its recent extensive renovation, so the LPA may see that come before it again at some future point.
Plummer expressed her “shock over the whole situation with several recent Special Magistrate cases, by the amount of the fines and the liens, with the top five property cases alone adding up to $376,000. That is very scary and I feel horrible about this, as people are worried about losing their houses over Code violations, so this is bad and makes me sick!” Herin pointed out, however, that the large fine violators have ignored the Town’s compliance process for 3 to 5 years, even continuing in violation of Stop Work Orders. “Most cases receive no fines because the property owner comes into compliance,” he stated. “The ones with the high dollars grab everyone’s attention because of the fine amounts, but those are not the norm.”
The LPA will take a summer break in July, with their next meeting on Tuesday, August 13 in Town Hall at 9 a.m. Its next joint meeting with Town Council is Thursday, September 5, following the Council’s Management & Planning Session. The LPA adjourned at 12:16 p.m.
By Gary Mooney