Several topics were on the Management & Planning Session agenda for the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council on Thursday, April 4, including the possibility of shifting its election date from March to November, a Mooring Field expansion discussion, initial conversations for the 2019-20 Budget and potential design proposals for Times Square, Bayside Park and a new parcel for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center. The meeting began, however, with a reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update from Assistant Lee County Manager Doug Meurer.
“Things are going well,” he reported. “Cooperation between the County and Town is as good as it has ever been and we are moving along right now on the current schedule that will have Segment 2, where the bulk of the construction is now, complete by June. We are already working on Segments 3 and 4, that we are combining into one segment, and that should be done by July 2020, and we will combine the final two segments 5 and 6 into one, with that complete by December 2021, so we are on-track for our 2021 completion date.”
Council member Bruce Butcher commented that Segment 2, particularly around the Red Coconut RV Park, “seems like it is taking a long time.” “We discovered some gravity sewer lines under the road,” Meurer responded, “and that is taking a long time. Section 2 turned out to be difficult, but it will be complete by June.” Butcher asked about Estero Boulevard bus stop shelters, but Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated a possible obstacle is the Town policy preventing advertising in such structures, as well as the narrow Estero Boulevard Right-of-Way in many places. Butcher suggested identifying potential bus stop shelter locations, “so we can talk to landlords while we still have opportunities.” Council member Rexann Hosafros suggested that Council “discuss changes to the advertising policy, if that will help us.”
Meurer cautioned Council that the completion of Estero Boulevard will not end the era of Fort Myers Beach major construction: “We are still working with the Florida Department of Transportation and the Town for design concepts at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge and San Carlos Boulevard, and as soon as we finish reFRESH Estero Boulevard, we will begin the Big Carlos Bridge replacement, so there will be major projects at both ends of Estero Island.”
Expanded Mooring Field
Mark Kincaid of Coastal Engineering Consultants, Inc., gave Council an update on the Town’s Mooring Field between Estero Island and San Carlos Island, east of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, including its possible expansion to the other side of the span and the Town having its own Harbor Master location, rather than contracting that operation through Matanzas on The Bay Hotel at 416 Crescent Street.
“The mooring field operates pretty well,” Kincaid related, “but during season it is at capacity for months, so the Town should consider expanding it west of the bridge.” Kincaid stated that the Town actually began this permit process in 2005, to become a “Special Anchorage Area Designation” and received tentative approval, but various Town Councils since then did not rate it a priority and dropped the proposal. When Kincaid broached this again recently, to his shock, the United States Coast Guard verbally stated they would not approve, but have yet to put this in writing. Butcher suggested the Town “contact United States Representative Francis Rooney to resolve this bottleneck.”
An area requiring immediate attention is replacing the current dinghy dock that is too small and sustained Hurricane Irma damage in September 2017. “Town staff did a great job in authoring a Florida Department of Environmental Protection Grant for $65,000 to replace this,” related Kincaid. “It ranked 2nd in the State out of 70 submissions, so kudos to them! This will begin this Summer and will be ADA-accessible.” Kincaid stated that topnotch mooring fields, besides providing the mooring ball, offer services such as a dinghy dock, restrooms, laundry, trash and recycling, showers, and a Harbor Master office, with these currently at Matanzas on The Bay, but suggested that Council consider bringing these in-house to increase profitability.
Hernstadt added that the current management agreement with Matanzas on The Bay is “nearing its end, so that is why we bring this to you.” Kincaid stated that if the Town constructed its own facility, “you could drastically improve services.” He suggested a site near the end of Virginia Avenue that the Town already owns, or perhaps the purchase of a new property near Town Hall. A third option “would be to talk to Matanzas on The Bay to expand and improve their facilities.” Hernstadt offered that if the Town constructed its own site, “it would pay for itself in three years, if there is no land acquisition,” with Kincaid stating “there are grants for these amenities.”
Butcher said Council is currently examining design possibilities for Bayside Park at the Bay end of Old San Carlos Boulevard and suggested that as the Town-owned mooring field office. Kincaid recommended the Virginia Avenue site, “because you can visually see the mooring field from there.” Mayor Anita Cereceda asked how much it would cost to expand the mooring field. “$2,500 to $3,000 per mooring ball,” Kincaid replied, “with space for up to 25 new ones.” “Us boaters know that places to anchor are few and far between,” said Council member Joanne Shamp, “so that would be wonderful!”
As for a new Harbor Master office, Cereceda envisions “pushback from Virginia Avenue neighbors.” Shamp would “love to see the Town move in this direction but I have reservations about Virginia Avenue.” Hosafros, however has “fewer reservations about Virginia Avenue, as a Harbor Master office is not a restaurant or bar or a place where people hang out, except for doing laundry. We own it so that would be a lot cheaper than purchasing new property.”
Council discussed the scope for future design proposals for Times Square, Bayfront Park and the new Estero Boulevard parcel near the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, with Dyer, Riddle, Mills & Precourt (DRMP) of Orlando, Florida, to do the work.
Cereceda “assumed that the new parcel near Bay Oaks would be for an entry drive,” but Butcher strongly responded, “NO! I did not even dream of that, as that would just be more Estero Boulevard congestion.” Hosafros, however, agreed with Cereceda, stating that the “Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) cried for years about no one knowing Bay Oaks is back there, as there is no direct access. An entry there will create no more congestion than the current one on School Street. I thought the whole idea of acquiring that parcel was to enhance Bay Oaks.” Shamp seeks “a higher inspiration for that parcel, as the entry to the ‘Heart Of The Island’ community.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy thought “a combination of these may be the option.”
While discussing possibilities for the Bayfront Park site, Council reflected some confusion in its own deliberations, referring to it throughout as either Bayside Park, Bayfront Park, Fountain Park or Bayview Park!
For Times Square, Council discussed removing the current troublesome pavers; updating the signature clock and possibly recreating identical ones for Bayfront Park and the Bay Oaks parcel; upgrading trash cans and benches; creating nature-themed directional sidewalk and plaza markings; and unifying existing umbrella or potential awning themes to eliminate clutter, among other items. Hernstadt said that DRMP will provide three designs for each site, possibly by early May, followed by “robust public participation.”
March or November
Council examined moving Town elections from March to November, as the Lee County Board of Elections stated it would be much cheaper if these occur on the Fall Federal or State cycles. While the Town can move election dates without a Referendum vote, it may need to go that route if it alters Town Council terms from three to four years. Even if it maintains terms at three years, the current five Council members would require 6-month extensions for a new November timeframe. Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., will continue to investigate the matter, as Council seemed to favor November elections.
Under “Proposed 2019-20 Fiscal Year Budget,” Hernstadt said he would like Council members to bring new Budget ideas to the Management & Planning Session on Thursday, May 10, “so we can discuss a tentative millage in June.” Butcher said it is hard to know how much surplus the Town will have for new projects, calling Hernstadt and the Finance Department “’sandbaggers,’ as you save $120,000 here and $40,000 there – you guys do a good job!”
Hernstadt informed Council that the 2019-20 Budget will not rely at all on the roughly $400,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement the Town has yet to receive from Hurricane Irma, saying “when we do get that money, it will seem like a windfall for the Town!” Council adjourned at 12:01 p.m.; the next Town Council Meeting is Monday, April 15, at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney