No Fireworks Over Fireworks

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Vice Mayor Calls Staff “Flying Monkeys”

Not that long ago, any mention of a community fireworks display on a Town of Fort Myers Beach Council agenda would guarantee more rockets’ red glare from the leadership dais than even Francis Scott Key could imagine! This week, though, the fireworks discussion was calm and agreeable. It wasn’t until the Council Member Items that things got a bit tense, with Vice Mayor Tracey Gore saying that the town should send their “little flying monkeys” to do something about loud music that disturbed her weekend television watching. She complained of an ongoing noise problem in her neighborhood.

Fireworks Wins Unanimous Council Support

Maureen Rischitelli, director of Administrative Services, presented Council a $26,000 quote from Garden State Fireworks for the annual evening display on The Fourth of July off the Fort Myers Beach Pier. She stated the Citizens Group in charge of fundraising has roughly $21,000 to contribute to the show, with several other events over the next few weeks to raise the balance. She requested the Town approve the remaining $5,000 to seal the contract, with the Citizens Group to reimburse that in the near future.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore asked Maureen if she had an estimated cost for the entire evening, including security by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, with Maureen replying between $52,000 and $58,000. Gore said she had approached the Sheriff’s Office to see if it could waive its $15,000 fee but they cannot. Council member Joanne Shamp called The Fourth “a special event for the Town, whether you are a visitor or resident. The Citizens Group is doing their part to transfer the balance of the funds away from the taxpayer’s share, so I support and appreciate these events.” Council member Anita Cereceda said that “Council’s endgame should not be discussing this every time we have one of these shows; we should know upfront that we will split these costs down the middle so we know how much to allocate.”

“Let’s be honest,” said Gore, “we are going to have this. Fort Myers Beach is known for two things – the Shrimp Fest and The Fourth of July fireworks.” Council member Bruce Butcher asked how much the Town has in its budget to help pay its share, with Maureen replying $42,000: $30,000 in Special Events and $12,000 for the Sheriff Office. After this, Council unanimously approved the Fireworks allocation.

 50% Floodplain Regulation Amendment OK’ed

Earlier, Council considered approving the 50% Floodplain Regulation Amendment and sending it on to its 2nd Public Reading. This would change the Town’s 50% Rule for making substantial improvements to your home from 50% of its value over a 5-year cumulative limit, to renovations on a permit-by-permit basis, to allow homeowners to make repairs or improvements of up to 50% of the home’s value without having to meet current building codes, specifically for elevation.

Shamp said she would like the Local Planning Agency (LPA) to review this again prior to Council’s 2nd Reading, with the Vice Mayor saying that is a requirement. Shamp said she is “very excited about this change, to give citizens the right to make their own economic decisions about how to best invest in their own property, while retaining the historic character of the community we all care about so much.”

Gore asked her colleagues to be sure they are not acting too fast. “I spoke to the National Flood Insurance Coordinator who suggested we not do this, as it is a radical change to go from 5 years to a permit-by-permit basis. Fort Myers Beach has a rank of ‘7’ so that gets us a 15% flood insurance discount; Sanibel has a ‘5’ so they get a 25% discount. This change will cost us 29 points; we should look for any way to get down to a ‘5’ to get lower flood insurance rates.”

Cereceda said, “This topic has been discussed by every Council since I have been back with the Town, including work sessions, so I am excited about this. I think we already answered all your questions.”

(For previous articles on the 50% Floodplain Regulation Amendment, see the Island Sand Paper articles: “Council to Consider Changing 50% Rule” (May 10, 2017) and “LPA Approves Major Change in 50% Rule” (April 20, 2017) at fortmyersbeach.news)

Be Realistic

“I am very concerned about people with high insurance, and don’t want to price them out of their homes,” insisted Gore. “I am not comfortable making this decision until we discuss this more comprehensively.”

“I looked at it when I was on the LPA for over a year,” said Shamp. “We can never get more points than Sanibel because it has so much open space; we must be realistic. I am excited that the benefits far outweigh the loss of those points, so I am very comfortable with this.”

Mayor Dennis Boback agreed, “The 50% Rule now means people cannot do the things they need to do, so I am in favor of this change, and I understand your concern, but we’ve talked this thing to death.” Cereceda called the Amendment “the single largest tool we can give our Town to maintain our community character.” Council then unanimously forwarded the 50% Amendment to its 2nd Reading at its June 19 meeting.

Following a similar discussion, Council voted unanimously to forward the Land Development Code Amendment with permitting survey requirements to a 2nd Reading at their June 19 meeting.

Under the Administrative Agenda, Jim Rodwell, Audit Committee Chair, recommended that Council accept the 2015-16 Audit: “There are no deficiencies or weakness in our financial statement, with all transactions properly handled, so we recommend you accept the report.” Gore complimented former Interim Town Manager James Steele, “You put into place a system that put us in a better place than before you came here, so I really appreciate you, Jim, and thank you,” with Council unanimously accepting the report.

Town Council unanimously appointed John Goggin to the Audit Committee; Bill Veach to the Community Resources Advisory Board; Ron Fleming and Edward Scott to the Public Safety Committee; and Larry Wood to the Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizens Advisory Committee.

“A Ridiculously High Amount”

Even the session’s only non-unanimous vote was basically unanimous, as Town Council approved the Special Event Permit for the Sunset Celebration hosted by the Times Square Merchant’s Association each Friday and Saturday by a 4 to 1 vote, with Cereceda voting against, only because she considers the permit fee too high at over $21,000. “It is astonishing to me that we have a fee that allows for this high a dollar amount, when we should only charge them one time rather than 52. This to me seems like a ridiculously high amount.” “They have to request a fee waiver,” said Gore. “We cannot just grant it to them; we can only approve what is in front of us right now.”

Under Town Manager items, Roger Hernstadt reported that the Town received a $250,000 matching water quality grant, and under Town Attorney items, John Turner stated that he will request an Executive Session with the Council to discuss settlements for two of the Town’s lawsuits on Tuesday, June 6, prior to its Council Meeting, at 8 a.m.

In other matters, Council unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on Medical Marijuana dispensaries, as well as the purchase of a new Bay Oaks Recreation Center HVAC system at $100,420 that is already in the budget, with installation this summer.

“Flying Monkeys”

During Council Member Items, Gore may have upset a few members of Town staff by referring to them as, “little flying monkeys” in a long tirade regarding a noisy weekend. Gore told council that the noise near her house (Primo Drive) is “out of control” and reported on what she felt was excessive noise about 11pm last weekend while she and her daughter were trying to watch Netflix.

“I don’t know if it’s the noise ordinance that needs to be tweaked. It was to the point where first it was singing to almost ear-piercing, then the singing stopped and the bass started.”

Gore said she didn’t know where the noise originated and usually would drive around the neighborhood to determine that, but didn’t last weekend.

“Where I live on the water, you can’t tell if it’s coming from the Tiki Bar or Yucatan or the Surf Club…I will tell you this. Bruce Cermak (former owner of the Surf Club) was so wonderful about taking care of the community and the neighborhood. As new owners come in, they just don’t have the same kind of…relationship with us. It’s all about money, money, money, you know.”

She admitted that she had not called the Sheriff’s Office to complain about the noise, stating, “It does nothing to call the Sheriff’s Office because there’s no communication.” She complained that there is no system of sharing information on noise complaints between the sheriff and town, no way to track the number of complaints against businesses.

“I’ve been there longer than we became a town…Fran Santini is the longest living person on Fort Myers Beach. She’s my neighbor. She’s been here a long time. So it’s not like we moved into this neighborhood and it didn’t used to be this bad,” said Gore.

Commercial Vs. Residential

“It’s like the commercial has taken over the residential. I don’t know if it’s because councils and staffs have been more lenient, but in the past…when Dan Hughes was the Mayor (2000-2004) this stuff did not fly,” she added while sitting next to current Mayor Dennis Boback. “I don’t know what has happened. We have to do something…it’s going to keep going south.”

Gore mentioned how noise complaints in the Santini Plaza area are handled. “I remember when Alan Mandel was Mayor. I’ll never forget this, he said, ‘The music was so bad that I just called up Al Durrett (owner of Santini Marina Plaza) and he went down there and shut  ‘em down.’ It’s different. There’s something in the south end down by Santini Plaza. The owners, the managers – they’re more respectful.”

Cereceda commented that Santini Plaza has just one property owner to deal with. Gore fired back that there are different owners that rent from him there, leading Cereceda to explain, “Yes, but there is a king.” Gore then said that council was the king of Times Square and should do something.

“Our little flying monkeys need to make sure that they do something about this,” Gore said apparently in reference to Town staff.

“It’s not OK. Just like with the noise ordinance when we talked about trash pick up – there’s nowhere you can go where there’s not residential right next to commercial.” She commented that one of the reasons for incorporation was to prevent commercial intrusion in residential areas.

“I don’t know the answer. This has been a fight going on forever. Even Tom Kolar, who owns the Yucatan and Lighthouse, back in, like, ‘99, he was up there fighting against the Matanzas (on the Bay).”

Hernstadt offered to gather data to analyze where the problem areas are and then determine if codes are working. He also urged Gore and anyone else with a noise complaint to call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, assuring council that he is able to get information on noise complaints.

Gore continued, praising the behavior of patrons at Santini Marina Plaza as compared to downtown.

“When I go down to, like, Santini, I can have just as much fun down there. I can have drinks. I can listen to music and the behavior down there is so much nicer than behavior downtown. I don’t know why.”

Cereceda interjected, saying, “You can go to The Verandah or go to Hooters. They’re both restaurants. One group acts one way, the other acts the other way. It’s just different. Fort Myers Beach is very fortunate in the fact that we have venues for a lot of different tastes for people to enjoy.”

“Let’s take a venue by my place and send it somewhere else and I’ll take the south end venue,” Gore concluded.

Council adjourned at 12:04 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney
Missy Layfield contributed to this article