No Fourth of July Fireworks
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously postponed the annual Fourth of July Fireworks Show & Parade, concurring with similar decisions from Fort Myers and Cape Coral, among other Southwest Florida communities, due to COVID-19 health concerns.
At its May 18 meeting, a divided Council approved by a 3 to 2 vote a $27,000 Garden State Fireworks contract to provide a Fireworks Display for a date uncertain between July Fourth and New Year’s Eve. Council left the actual date open due to the coronavirus situation. At their June 1 meeting, two weeks later, a united Council opted against a July Fourth display.
Prior to hearing from Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Chief Matthew Love, Murphy stated, “No one loves the parade more than I, and I never miss our fireworks, but we live in a different time now. With the rest of the adjacent municipalities postponing their fireworks, it would not be prudent for us to carry on with these events at this time. As was noted at our last meeting, businesses will do good business on the Fourth regardless if we do fireworks and a parade or not. If the Town is the only Southwest Florida municipality to have fireworks, I can only imagine from where all the people will come.”
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros stated to Chief Love, “I want to ask a question that is a little off topic. If we do not have a larger fireworks show, what might happen to fireworks in the neighborhoods, with all the rooftops – is that a legitimate concern?” “I share that concern!” Chief Love replied. “It is one thing to shoot fireworks off from the pier, but neighborhoods are full of roofs, so that is absolutely an appropriate concern.” Hosafros noted the ambiguity of Florida law: you can buy fireworks but it is illegal to shoot them off, adding to residents, “If you see this, call the Lee County Sheriffs Office and not the FMB Fire Department, unless you see an actual fire!” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated that the Town “has been fairly successful in toning down these events, but we suspect you may see an uptick this year.”
Council member Dan Allers admitted that he was a prime motivator “to get us to the point where we are now, but people may not know that a lot changed since we first voted to get here. Over the past few weeks, I spoke to several business owners, assuming they would support fireworks on the Fourth, but to my surprise, all but one felt we should hold off. I was amazed to hear that, as I thought it would be completely the opposite. When you add that Cape Coral and other places opted not to host fireworks, that led me to change my mind about moving forward. As much as I think these events are important, and I enjoy them all, I will make a motion to deny a Special Events Permit for fireworks and the parade, as right now I don’t think we should do either.”
Council member Jim Atterholt seconded the motion, saying “While I think it is really important to have fireworks on the Fourth to celebrate our nation and economic development on the island, the Mayor is right when he talked about our surrounding communities not hosting fireworks, so we must keep an open mind, and the fireworks contract allows us that flexibility. We should research to find a time on the calendar when our businesses will be really hurting and schedule them for a time or with a festival to bring people to the island at an appropriate time.”
Veach said he was encouraged by Allers and Atterholt’s comments. “We have the Island Hopper Songwriters Festival coming to the area from September 18 to 27 and that might be an ideal time to reschedule fireworks, to make it a bigger event at a slower time for a lot of our businesses.” “That is a great idea,” concluded Murphy, “and this is a step in the right direction,” with Council unanimously delaying Fourth of July Fireworks to a future 2020 date uncertain.
Lean & Mean Design
Introducing an aesthetic review of the TPI/Margaritaville Pedestrian Walkover, Hernstadt explained that while Lee County approved the engineering aspect for the proposed Margaritaville walkover pedestrian bridge across Estero Boulevard, “one of the Town’s conditions for the resort approval was that Council could review the bridge’s aesthetics, to make sure it has the look and feel of Fort Myers Beach. Right now, it does not feature any signs, though Council may want permanent or temporary sign banners. You may however like that clean look and prefer nothing at all, but if you do wish to add something, TPI should know that for their structural designs.”
Representing TPI/Margaritaville, Tom Torgerson stated, “It will be a roofed bridge, with a railing, a little bit of shading, and protective screening, to prevent someone throwing something over the edge onto traffic. Other than that, our design keeps it ‘lean & mean!’ We are before you to see if Council prefers artwork on it or to leave it blank. Please remember that any illumination would require a re-review from Lee County and the Florida Department of Transportation over traffic safety issues, along with nesting turtle concerns, so we prefer not to go down that path. Structurally, it can withstand winds up to 170 to 175 miles-per-hour. It has two staircases and an elevator, so the general public and not just resort guests can use it to safely cross Estero Boulevard.”
Atterholt said the pedestrian bridge “will be a great benefit, as pedestrians can access it and not obstruct traffic while crossing the street – that is great! At one point, someone floated the idea of recreating the historic Fort Myers Beach arches up there. Would TPI like that, leave it as is, or have additional artwork?” Torgerson replied, “Personally, I prefer to keep it open, clean, and lean & mean, but that is your decision. I think the design as it is will jump out at people and will be a heck of a place to take photographs of the Pier, Times Square and Crescent Beach Family Park, but there is the opportunity to hang a banner for special events.”
Hosafros said she preferred not to hang banners that can rip or tear, “It looks beautiful this way!” Veach stated, “I concur with the Vice Mayor, as anything else would be a detriment.” Allers added, “I am with you both. I considered temporary banners for things like the Shrimp Festival but I like the way it looks right now.” Council unanimously approved the open-aesthetics design.
And The Rest
Under the Consent Agenda, Council unanimously authorized Mayor Murphy and Vice Mayor Hosafros as signers of the Florida State Board of Administration Accounts and amended the Town’s retirement plan to comply with the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act options.
Under Administrative Agenda items, Council unanimously denied a rehearing request for 200 Pearl Street. In March 2020 Council held two hearings, ultimately denying the request to rezone the property. Allers noted that he and Atterholt “went through this on the Local Planning Agency (LPA) several times so we are quite familiar with this! I read through this several times and do not see anything that warrants a rehearing.” Atterholt concurred, “We went through this on the LPA and the previous Council handled it very appropriately. It does not meet the threshold for a rehearing.”
Using a written ballot, Council chose Karen Swanbeck and Forrest (Butch) Critser to fill the two LPA seats created by Allers and Atterholt’s election to council. The other candidates were Doug Speirn-Smith and Karen Woodson. Council unanimously authorized Hernstadt to execute a grant from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to partially fund the replacement of 55 of the 70 Mooring Field balls. In a related item, Council unanimously approved an $87,000 Coastal Engineering Consultants contract for the Mooring Field System Replacement. Council also unanimously approved a Road Resurfacing & Pavement Maintenance contract for $137,482 for Gulf Drive, Gulf Road, Seaview Street and Shelby Lane.
Hernstadt reminded Council that he currently retains Emergency Authorization Powers granted him due to the COVID-19 situation, but that Council can always call an Emergency Meeting to settle any issues. Hosafros said she prefers that Council keep this stipulation in place, should a second wave of coronavirus cases require prompt Town action. Town Attorney John Herin, Jr. informed Council of Executive Sessions scheduled prior to the June 4 Management & Planning Session and the June 15 Town Council Meeting, meaning that each will open their public meetings at 10 a.m.
The TPI proposed resort, now known as the Margaritaville Resort Fort Myers Beach was unanimously approved by the Fort Myers Beach Town Council in May 2018. The $260 million project has been stalled since August 8, 2018 when Island resident Christine Patton, with the public support of Lani Kai Island Resort owner Robert Conidaris, filed a pair of lawsuits against the Town claiming the project should not have been approved and that it would negatively impact her quality of life. Though the legal actions name the Town, TPI/Margaritaville was granted the right to intervene as an interested party.
She withdrew one lawsuit on June 30, 2019, leaving the Writ of Certiorari request in place. On September 11, 2019, that was denied, with Judge Alane C. Laboda ruling that Patton’s due process rights were not violated and the Town’s approval was consistent with the Land Development Code and “supported by competent substantial evidence.” A month later, Patton filed an appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals. That appeal is expected to focus on whether the Town followed procedural due process and whether Judge Laboda missed any essential points of law in her ruling. Patton claimed in the appeal that Laboda did not have any facts to support Council’s approval of the zoning and land use changes.
After cancellation of an April court date due to COVID-19 related schedule changes. Florida’s Second Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments on June 9 at 11 a.m. in a virtual meeting of the three-judge panel. The public can view the hearing live via YouTube at bit.ly/ispAppeal Each party is provided 20 minutes to present their case, plus a 5 minute rebuttal. There is no timetable for the panel to issue their decision.