Second Forum Brings Answers
The seven candidates for the three Town Council seats on the March 17 ballot faced off in the community’s second Candidate Forum at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening, February 26, before roughly 90 people. The forum was sponsored by local citizens Doris Grant, Tracey Gore, Judy Haataja, Becca Nakaya and Deborah Groll. Council candidates are Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt, Robert Burandt, Bruce Butcher, Forrest (Butch) Critser, David Drumm and Bill Veach.
Do you favor turtle-friendly Estero Boulevard lighting?
Veach: State law requires we do no damage to nesting sea turtles with our lights. Technology progresses quick, especially with amber LED lights, so there ought to be options out there to provide enough safe light for people and turtles.
Critser: This is the 21st Century; surely we can get turtle lights that are safe for people. Florida Power & Light (FPL) told Council all they can offer is what is in their catalog so they need a bigger catalog!
Drumm: I personally don’t know but I know a lawyer who does! Turtles and people should not come down to a Yes or No.
Butcher: I am the Light Guy or so people say, and this has been on my mind since at least 2013. For me, the primary reason for bright Estero Boulevard lights is to improve pedestrians, bicyclist and driver safety. Bright lights are only illegal if they lead to massive turtle disorientations and we can take precautions, like shielding that will not bother the turtles while protecting people, but I am open to other solutions.
Burandt: I am all for the legal protection of turtles but we also have a legal obligation to protect our citizens. My question is, why is this taking 7 years to fix? Find someone who knows how to make this work!
Atterholt: As a former Regulatory Commissioner for the State of Indiana, let’s take this to the Florida Public Services Commission and put the pressure on them, as all FPL does is dance around this issue – we must go to the top!
Allers: I do not know the answer but am smart enough to ask those who do. That said, it comes down to cost – what are we willing to pay to take care of the turtles and our citizens. Tell FPL to come back with a better solution, even if we will pay more for it.
What is your opinion about the controversial private Dune Walkover near the Critical Wildlife Area (CWA)?
Since Council member Butcher voted twice in favor of the boardwalk construction, he was exempt from this question.
Allers: I was part of the unanimous 7 to 0 LPA vote, based on the information brought to us, but Council heard more details from more people with more information. Personally, I am against it; now the property owners claim the CWA is not legitimate and I don’t want to lose the CWA, so I would have to look at it again.
Atterholt: I was also part of that 7 to 0 LPA vote. The property owners have top legal counsel and now claim the CWA may be illegal. My wife and I live near there and walk along the shore every day and want to preserve it, but with the CWA in question, we need to proceed cautiously, with many questions still to answer.
Burandt: I don’t support the Dune Walkover and you can’t worry as a Council member about litigation when making a ruling.
Critser: I looked at the CWA and the nine houses involved, and in my heart I can’t vote for something like that on our beautiful beach.
Drumm: I am proud Council stood up for this, as morally it is completely correct. I don’t see a public benefit to the Walkover and don’t favor building across our beach.
Veach: If you know me, you know I would have voted against this. They have a good attorney but a Dune Walkover is a structure across the primary dune and this is a bridge over the lagoon that ends before the primary dune, so it is not a Dune Walkover by intent or design. They say there are no birds there but when I visited the homeowners, I saw plenty. This is a jewel worth fighting for!
Your opinion on Commercial versus Residential Zoning, to keep commercial enterprises out of residential areas.
Butcher: This would be a wonderful thing to do but State Law does not allow it and that is a real shame!
Burandt: I am a big Property Rights Guy but not at the expense of neighborhoods. It seems unfair for someone to buy a house just to rent out on a fulltime basis; what is next – turning your backyard into a BBQ place to make a few bucks?
Atterholt: Airbnb must comply with all our regulations, to level the playing field.
Allers: It is all about accountability. There are reputable rental companies on this island who do not have any issues, because they do not rent to people who trash a neighborhood or party until 2 a.m.
Critser: I worked for a rental agency that cared for 120 rentals and we were strict to the Code, and in 12 years we had three problems! Neighbors knew our 24-hour number and it was me who answered at 1 a.m.!
Drumm: I may lose all your votes but I like Code Enforcement, as it is our first line of defense in the craziness of the rental industry, but I don’t like the way we run Code Enforcement! If the renters ever gain control because of a law from Tallahassee, we are done and will slowly get rolled over.
Veach: Our Short Term Rental Ordinance is really fragile and if we touch it, it can go away, so there is not much the Town can do, as Tallahassee rules. One of the most valuable parts of the Ordinance is there is a 24-hour-a-day contact number, and you can call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office as well.
Do you favor renovating the Bay Oaks Recreational Center?
Allers: I am a Bay Oaks Guy and our Town needs a modern community center, but if you ask me whether to approve community development funds for Estero Boulevard lighting or Bay Oaks, I put the money in street lighting.
Atterholt: I too support Bay Oaks, but in a fiscally responsible way by sharing the cost with Lee County and the Lee County School District.
Burandt: We have the Mound House, Newton Park, Bay Oaks and the Community Pool, so for a small Town, we have a lot on our plate. I would encourage a public/private partnership or even a private corporation taking it over.
Butcher: You cannot see Bay Oaks from Estero Boulevard, so I favor using the new lot we recently acquired off Estero Boulevard to have an entry enhancement to invite people in, but we must improve it with Lee County and the School District, as they own a big chunk of the land.
Critser: I am in Fort Myers Beach because of my four grandkids, so I am at Bay Oaks all the time and what they do with what they have is amazing, but that place needs updating. We need a musical amphitheater and that is the best place for one. We increased our taxes last year to set funds aside for a capital improvement like this.
Drumm: The new direction sounds great but we are a community with few children. The plan paints a wonderful big picture but we must be cautious about throwing away our money, though I support a renovation as it is rundown.
Veach: I go to Bay Oaks all the time, but the concept calls for moving most of the pieces around and that seems expensive. I have yet to see that ‘A-Ha’ presentation that would excite the community.
What do you think of TPI / Margaritaville FMB and the related lawsuit?
(Critser and Burandt were asked about the “electioneering” postcards sent to voters by “Save our Beaches” supporting them. Both indicated that they have no idea who the organization is and have not consulted with them but that the card’s message is consistent with their views.)
Critser: When I first ran for Council in 2016, I supported TPI and still do! Council did a great job in toning down the original concept and it is now in compliance. Council unanimously approved it, so I abide by that.
Burandt: TPI is now water under the bridge, although I personally would like less hotel rooms and more parking. I however do not favor swapping land with them and that bothers me. I do oppose all the bullying of Christine Patton, as she has the right to file her lawsuit, without people saying what a bad person she is.
Drumm: I keep hearing the same question about Margaritaville – am I for or against it, but Margaritaville is here to stay. We have a great deal of work ahead of us, to hold the developer’s feet to the fire to build it in a responsible way.
Atterholt: I strongly support TPI. Council approved this unanimously in a very transparent process.
Allers: I strongly support TPI as well, as it is most likely the most scrutinized project in the history of Fort Myers Beach! It is no secret that members on that Council had different views concerning the project, yet they voted for it 5 to 0. I go up and down this island and 95% of the people I speak with favor Margaritaville, so I say to Christine Patton, “please stop for the community’s greater good and let us move forward!”
Butcher: As you all know, I am one of the five who voted to approve Margaritaville, and I am probably the guy Bob is talking about who is upset about the lawsuit and appeal. Yes, she has that right but she waited until the last minute of the last hour of the last day to file the lawsuit, then when she lost, she did not appeal the next day or week or even month but once again waited until the last minute of the last hour of the last day, so to me she is doing nothing but dragging it out.
Veach: Council hammered out the deal and I support that, with no reason to stop it.
Do you have issues with the Town Permitting Process?
Drumm: I get Town permits all the time without any problems, so to me this is Folklore!
Veach: The Town expects your plans to be in order, so the key is to educate the public.
Burandt: The permitting process became complicated when Lee County dumped it back on the Town and then the Town hired people who are not as competent as they should be. Council is the captain of the ship but the Town Manager steers it, so he needs to come up with a plan to expedite this.
Atterholt: I go door-to-door and hear about this often. My issue is that Code Enforcement fines quadrupled in the last three years, so people fear and are frustrated with Code Enforcement. Our purpose should not be to fine people into compliance in an adversarial way, so it all goes back to education.
Allers: People hate coming to Town Hall to find out what to do, so this should all be on the website. People should not be berated when they come to Town Hall over what they can and cannot do.
Butcher: What people don’t understand is the Florida Building Code is what everyone must obey and the Town does not set that. If we do not follow that standard, FEMA can pull our flood insurance or jack up our rates and they are high enough already. My biggest complaint is the worst offenders are the contractors who don’t get or follow the permit, but the homeowner gets stuck with the fine and that irritates me!”
The final Candidate’s Forum is the “Commotion By The Ocean” with the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce at Beach Baptist Church at 130 Connecticut Street on Thursday, March 5, with a Meet-&-Greet at 6 p.m. and program from 7 to 9 p.m. Questions for this forum may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on the March 17 election, call the Lee County Elections Office at
239-LEE-VOTE (533-8683) or see www.lee.vote.