Council Planning Session
The Council for the Town of Fort Myers Beach hosted its Management & Planning Session on Thursday, February 7, where it discussed three agenda items and heard an unscheduled presentation on the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update. While not on the agenda, Rob Phelan, Senior Engineer for the Lee County Department of Transportation, and Darin Brown, Chris-Tel Construction Project Manager, were in attendance should Council have any questions.
Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp inquired about the lack of sidewalks on the bay side between Lovers Lane to Donora Boulevard that includes the Red Coconut RV Park and Gulf View Shops. Phelan explained that there are alignment issues in that area, due to the Right-of-Way shifting in width from 50 to 65 feet, but there is a temporary asphalt sidewalk in that section. Brown added that the narrow 50-foot Right-of-Way adds a fourth step to what is ordinarily a three-step construction process, as that loss of 15 feet “is huge and makes everything difficult; I wish I could make it bigger.” He explained that traffic lanes would flip to the Bayside lane on Monday, February 11, so crews can concentrate on the Beach side, including new concrete sidewalks and TECO Gas lines under Estero Boulevard, “so it will be a couple months before we return to the bayside.”
Council member Bruce Butcher inquired about that section’s sidewalk width, with Phelan replying, “we will make it as wide as we can – most likely 6 to 8 feet.” Brown reminded Council that 50-foot Right-of-Way areas prevent dedicated bicycle lanes, but once they move past this point, there will be 5-foot lanes on each side of Estero Boulevard for the remainder of Fort Myers Beach.
Council member Dennis Boback stated that Lee County Assistant Manager “Doug Meurer stood right where you two guys are standing and told us this section would be complete by last December 31 and obviously that did not happen. How realistic is it that you will be done in 2 and not 4 months?” Brown said prior work found undocumented sewer mains in that area “and that was disheartening to us all and prevented us from meeting that date. We are going to pick up the pace, with more crews, to get the ball rolling, as we know the Red Coconut area has taken a long time. That is a tough little curve, but now that is the focus area and we will knock it out as quickly as we can.”
“Hey – Tow This!”
Under “Towing Ordinance,” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated that the Town has not updated its rates schedule for several years, to keep pace with Lee County, and suggested the Town link its rates to those of Lee County. “I like these changes,” said Shamp: “these are pretty thorough.” Council member Anita Cereceda suggested the Town policy “should actually identify its rates.” Hernstadt countered that “Best Business Practices just refer to County rates. If Lee County triples its rates next week and Council is uncomfortable with that, you can come back and set your own rate structure, but Lee County elected officials are careful about those adjustments, to not let rates get out of control.”
Cereceda reminded her colleagues that a Tow Ordinance is necessary “because in the olden days, there was actually tow poaching! A property owner must be the one to call for towing and not just some random person saying, ‘hey – tow this!’”
Council next reviewed the Town Noise Ordinance. “The question is if there is a way to augment the decibel criteria for noise violations,” explained Hernstadt, “to provide some language in the Code as an alternate to a decibel meter. This would be an ‘or’ and not replace the decibel meter standard, but to kick in after a certain time of day. It would be simple – if you are standing ‘X’ distance from the offending property and you can hear it, that means it exceeds the allowable level.”
“The ‘or’ concept does not bother me,” commented Shamp, stating that any potential Noise Ordinance revisions must consider more than just music. “New houses have giant air conditioners that make so much noise they overwhelm neighbors.” “We have to consider the transition we are undergoing, from a small sleepy beach town to whatever we are becoming,” said Hernstadt. “We need a simple way to address these matters without a noise meter or the proper training on one.” “If we are talking about something for like after 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., I would support the ‘or,’” said Shamp. “We have to do what we can to help the residential,” stated Mayor Tracey Gore. “I like it!”
Opening Pandora’s Box
Cereceda stated that Fort Myers Beach is surrounded by water, “and nothing conducts sound better than that.” Gore would like to review restaurants with outside entertainment, to ensure they can do so, “as sometimes you feel the bass in your house, and that can be a health hazard, so we must get ahead of this.” Cereceda said businesses should have a master machine so management and not bands control sound. Boback stated that, “I like the ‘or’ because you can call the Sheriff’s and they can control the noise.” Hernstadt added, “I don’t want to speak for the Sheriff, but having another tool to apply judiciously is usually a good thing.”
Cereceda said she did not favor the “or,” as “it is not realistic or fair; we need a happy medium people can live with.” Boback said that to only rely on decibel meters “leaves too much to chance, with too many loopholes. Determining the problem by distance is a good way to solve it that evening, to allow people to sleep.” Shamp said to Boback and Gore, who were strong supporters of the “or” provision, that “I was on the fence, but now I will be your third person.” Cereceda, however, warned that “you are opening a Pandora’s Box over the Noise Ordinance; the Public Hearings on this will be brutal!”
Finally, Council reviewed synchronizing the Town’s Land Development Code (LDC) with the “International Property Maintenance Code” standards, particularly LDC Section 6-14 pertaining to stormwater management systems to minimize neighborhood flooding, along with the fill permit process. “We do not do this as a kneejerk reaction,” explained Hernstadt. “It will help to get all the neighborhood policies in one spot in the Code, for people to easily understand how to achieve compliance, so we will attempt to do that for you, but you will not see it next week!”
In other items, Hernstadt reminded Council it will have a Town Strategic Plan Review session on Thursday, April 11, in Council Chambers at 9 a.m. He reported as well that LeeTram was investigating a transportation station at Sea Grape Plaza, across from the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, with seats and coverage from the elements, where the Lee Tram has its turn-around, but the Sea Grape tenants have objected due to loading zone and safety issues. Finally, Council announced that it will schedule a discussion on potential Town canal dredging on an upcoming Management & Planning agenda, before adjourning at 11 a.m.
By Gary Mooney