Planes, Booths & Automobiles
The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council hosted its own version of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” on Monday morning, April 17, mulling to various extents airplane traffic over the island, a potential Times Square information booth, and another parking dilemma, following its recent decision to table Surplus Parking.
Speaking for the Town’s AIR Advisory Group, Tom Babcock requested Council approve a resolution to confirm its concerns over aircraft overflights, to make specific requests for improvements, and encouraged Council to set a meeting with appropriate personnel from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Southwest Florida International Airport (SWIA) to implement an action plan.
In the late 1980s, only about 35% of SWIA flights flew over Fort Myers Beach, until areas like Fiddlesticks and the future community of Estero experienced population explosions, forcing more air routes to come in over the island. In 2008 SWIA received approval for a redesigned landing route that brought air traffic down the center of the State, dramatically increasing that figure to 75 to 90% of aircraft flying in over Fort Myers Beach, with 14% from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and 50% coming in over a half-mile-wide mid-island section. In addition to this, pilots at their own discretion can fly over the island as low as 1,400 feet, making that four times as loud as the normal cruising height of 3,000 feet.
Tom said the AIR Advisory Group goal is to convince SWIA and the FAA to reduce the number of flights over the island, and suggested the Town reach out to consultant Rodney Slater, the former Transportation Director under President Bill Clinton, who was a great help in previous efforts, as there is a real possibility some issues can go in favor of the Town as early as this June, with the ultimate goal to have the planes fly higher while reducing flights over the island by as much as 90%.
Following a lengthy discussion, Council unanimously passed the Resolution, and it will set a meeting shortly with appropriate SWIA and FAA personnel once its new fulltime Town Manager is in place.
Under the Times Square Information Booth, the Town received two proposals from Moss Marine, Inc., and the Tourism & Information Center, Inc., with the Town Selection Advisory Committee recommending Moss Marina to Council. Vice Mayor Tracey Gore took exception to this process, saying that the proposal request stated that up to the top three candidates would make their presentation directly to Council to make the final determination, and the Town did not follow this process. Council member Joanne Shamp agreed, saying, “I have a concern about why it was not done this way.” She pointed out the policy allows the bids to remain relevant up to 90 days after the opening, so there is still time for Council to hear them and “decide what we want to get done from there.”
Interim Town Manager James Steele said “I apologize for how this moved forward, as obviously we did not follow the language as defined by Council on how to proceed.” Mayor Dennis Boback suggested Council “table this, because it was not the way it was advertised, and I cannot comfortably move forward with something that is not how we advertised it,” with Council member Bruce Butcher in agreement. Council unanimously approved a motion to table the decision, and will meet with the applicants at an upcoming management planning workshop.
Council next addressed four disputed parking spaces in the Town right-of-way at 50 Chapel Street, including hearing arguments from the property owner, David Tezak, as well as from the Town Attorney This matter already made its way through the court system, with the final determination that the Town owns the land. The property owner does not want a new licensing agreement but permanent ownership.
Resolve This In a Friendly Manner
Council member Anita Cereceda said “in my mind all of this legal activity comes down to a policy decision by the Town Council as to whether or not those parking spaces fall into the same pile as any other public right-of-way spaces or if for some reason these four are exceptions, and it is that simple.” Shamp agreed, although she thought the lease amount charged by the Town to Mr. Tezak was too high, while Gore saying that “they used that property since the early 1900s, so there has to be a way to resolve this in a friendly manner.” Town Attorney John Turner stated the Town attempted to negotiate a fee with the property owner, as its fee of $4,016 is to increase to $5,855, with Mr. Tezak countering with no payment. Council unanimously tabled this until June, to complete a property survey and to suggest a new licensing agreement to the property owner.
Under the Town Attorney report, John Turner stated the Town Attorneys are supporting Mayor Boback in contract negotiations with Roger Hernstadt to be the next fulltime Town Manager. The Mayor stated he has a face-to-face meeting with Hernstadt on Tuesday afternoon, April 18.
In other matters, Council unanimously approved the three Homestead Exemption Ordinances per the recently passed State Amendment of November 2016; unanimously approved an updated Budget Amendment for increased income with no additional expenses; unanimously agreed to formally object to the Department of Environmental Protection to issue a permit to allow private boardwalks over the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area; approved The Taste of The Beach permit for Sunday, May 7, by a 3 to 2 vote, with Gore and Shamp Against because of the amount of fee waivers requested by the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce; unanimously approved the permit for the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival to host Disney’s 2016 smash hit, ‘Moana,’” on the Mound House grounds on Friday, April 28, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.; and approved a partial settlement on the advice of Town Counsel in Orlandini/Kline vs the Town by a 4 to 1 vote, with Gore Against.