No Sidewalk Needed
Near the start of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council meeting on Monday morning, April 15, Council members learned the historic Mound House received the Historic & Archaeological Designation as a site on the National Register of Historic Places. Immediately following that announcement, several Connecticut Street neighbors ridiculed the oldest standing structure on Fort Myers Beach, preserved by the Town as a museum complex, in opposition to a possible sidewalk extension from Shell Mound Boulevard to the Mound House.
Roughly a decade ago, the Town received Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) funding to construct a Connecticut Street sidewalk to link the Gulf of Mexico to Estero Bay, but neighborhood residents so vigorously opposed that plan that a previous Town Council agreed to only construct it from Estero Boulevard to Shell Mound Boulevard, leaving Mound House visitors to walk in the street to reach it. With two council seats replaced in the March 5 election, council decided to reexamine the issue, resulting in roughly 40 Connecticut St. residents attending the April 15 session to protest any sidewalk extension.
Beating them all to the podium, however, were Friends of the Mound House President Ellen Vaughan and long-time volunteer Ceel Spuhler. “The Mound House just received its Historic & Archaeological Designation to be on the National Historic Register,” Spuhler informed a visibly happy Council. “Our first Council in 1996 had the vision of what the Mound House could become and took that leap of faith. November 14, 2015, was the Mound House Grand Opening and on November 14, 2019, we will celebrate this wonderful news!” Vaughan reported the recent “Artful Intersection” fundraiser raised more than $23,000 and its newly-established Endowment Fund has over $7,500.
That joy quickly dissipated when eight neighborhood residents spoke against the proposed Connecticut Street sidewalk, with several vehemently opposed to the Mound House. Pam Abraham reminded Council that many Connecticut Street residents totally objected to the Town purchasing the Mound House for concerts, kayak rentals and noisy events that would destroy the privacy of their local street, and they have been suffering ever since, “with all our fears becoming fact!”
Abraham stated that Mayor Anita Cereceda met with the Connecticut Street neighbors several years ago to gauge resident opinion about the sidewalk “and that you would abide by our opinion, but that was a phony set-up and you totally ignored us.” She said the previous Council agreed to terminate the sidewalk at Shell Mound Boulevard, and called this new proposal “bad government and residents be damned, to destroy our property, landscaping and safety. The vast majority of residents do not give a hoot about the Mound House and do not think our taxes should pay for it, and visitors do not come here for a history lesson or to learn about the Calusa, as the parking lot is always empty, so stick with the compromise and end the sidewalk on Shell Mound please!”
Council then moved the discussion of the Connecticut Street Multi-Modal Improvement Project up in the agenda, with Council Member Rexann Hosafros advising her colleagues that the MPO informed the Town if it wished to extend the Connecticut Street sidewalk from Shell Mound Boulevard to the Bay, it must do so with its own funds. Cereceda then addressed the audience.
“I voted against that change last year, but this weekend, I thought about a comment made by Chelsea O’Reilly, the Town’s Public Works Manager, about stamping crosswalks and sidewalks with striping that looks like a path, so I am changing my mind. Maybe we can do a striped path on the street to get people where we want them to go but out of your front yards.” An audience member called out, “Follow The Yellow Brick Road!” Cereceda responded: “Bingo! I understand you folks are clearly upset with me, but the more I thought about it, I saw something different.” Council then unanimously denied the project, receiving a hardy round of applause!
Food & Water
Council addressed two additional Administrative Agenda items. It unanimously approved the “Taste of The Beach” permit for Bayside Park from the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce for Sunday, May 5. The Chamber must pay $180 for electric usage and park rental, but Council waived the $100 permit fee. Council then unanimously authorized $5,075,373 for the “Estero Boulevard Waterline Replacement Project, Phase 3B” to Mitchell & Stark to install new sanitary sewer, sidewalks, and stormwater drainage from Lanark Avenue to Albatross Street.
In its only Public Hearing, First Reading of the Land Development Code Chapter 10 Text Amendment for Street Design & Construction Details, Council unanimously recognized the “Engineering Standards & Construction Details” document that creates flexibility for design professionals, permit applicants and others to have a manual to use during their design and permitting process, standardizing many typical items that the Land Development Code does not detail. This moved the process to its Second & Final Reading on Monday, May 6.
Council unanimously approved the “Consent Agenda” for signature authorizations for the Small Business Association Investment Accounts and the Fourth Amendment to the Interlocal Agreement Between Lee County & the Town for Utility Relocations.
Commercial Fishermen & Mobile App
Council heard two presentations. The first was from the Southwest Florida Commercial Watermen, a non-profit working with National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists to provide up-to-date Gulf of Mexico water conditions to find Red Tide solutions. They utilize an $8,000 unit carried by local fishermen to attain water quality samples as they go out and return. Vice Mayor Ray Murphy made a motion for the Town to purchase one, but Council member Joanne Shamp pointed out that previous Councils eliminated contributions to 501c3 organizations and suggested the current members discuss this in the upcoming 2019-20 budget process.
Becki Weber, who is on the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB), displayed for Council their Town Mobile App Prototype. “It utilizes Google Traffic for Fort Myers Beach travel conditions and even lets visitors know where they can park and the location of the nearest public restroom, even informing you how long to walk there! Other features include About FMB, Our Island Tools, Beach & Water Conditions, Parks & Recreation, Wildlife, Beach Events, and other topics. Remember that this is still a prototype, so we have not done everything yet.” “This is fantastic,” raved Cereceda! Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said that “we hope to launch this to the public in the next month or two!”
Under “Town Manager Items,” Hernstadt said the Town received a $43,000 Boater Infrastructure Grant from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to assist with the $104,730 price to repair existing Mooring Field balls; and the Town is improving its fiber network, band width, routers and other equipment to provide better public information and service. Council unanimously instructed the Town Manager to work with Times Square performance artist Brittany Sparkles to obtain her Times Square operational permit for the next 30 days, while Council finishes updating its new regulations. Council adjourned at 11:43 a.m.; it will not meet again until Monday, May 6, at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney