It’s not only Lee County’s Right Of Way (ROW) that’s giving Red Coconut owner Fran Myers heartaches these days. On Wednesday afternoon, crews from the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s Public Works department installed permanent signs along her property’s Donora frontage advising guests of the RV park not to park their vehicles within 20 feet of the road, citing a section of the Land Development Code Myers says was never meant to apply to Red Coconut.
“We bought this park in 1980, and when the Town incorporated in 1995 and created the LDC, rules were created for anyone who came in and bought three big tracts – our property, Santini Plaza and Time Square,” she told us. “They were never meant to apply to the current owners. (Then-Town Manager) Marsha Segal-George promised us we’d be ‘grandfathered’ in.”
Fran says she’s never heard a peep from Town Hall in all the years since, until last year when then-Town Manager Don Stilwell told her that vehicles would have to be 12 feet away from Donora.
“We thought the ROW was the palm tree line,” she told us. “Now they’re telling us that our RV’s are in the ROW, and that it’s 20 feet. That’s only supposed to apply if our property was sold.”
A check of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan shows that a ‘Village’ concept is outlined as a Future Land Use for the Red Coconut property, and a plan is outlined with rules for the property should it be sold and redeveloped. We also spoke with Marsha Segal-George, who told us that Fran and Tom Myers were present when the redevelopment plan was created and agreed to it after they were told that what they have now would remain as-is.
“As far as telling them they were ‘grandfathered’ in, my memory is not a 100% correct but I probably did say that,” she told us. “We were always talking to them because everyone was scared about what might happen to that property since it’s such a big piece of the island but looking at future plans made them nervous because they wanted their park to stay as it was.”
Interim Town Manager Jim Steele says he knows of no such ‘grandfather’ agreement regarding Red Coconut, and that he’s simply applying the codes as they are written.
Land Development Code Section 34-694 (d) specifically mentions Red Coconut as part of a site plan approved by Lee County on June 2, 1987. Included in the subsections is (3)f, which lists the sites along Donora and states that ‘transient recreational vehicles cannot be placed closer than 20 feet to any publicly maintained street’.
The Village concept is also outlined in the LDC, and Section 34-692(2)a states: “Continued use of existing mobile homes and recreational vehicles: The continued use of existing mobile homes and recreational vehicles is permitted in accordance with Section 34-694” (which is mentioned above).
“When I started this job in June, I told Town Council that I’d follow the code and that’s what I’m doing,” Steele told us. “We’ve gotten several complaints about that property, so I’m going to enforce it.”
Fran told us that she’d worked out a ‘deal’ with Stilwell in that she’d pay a monthly fee of $2,310 for use of the ROW for the months that Red Coconut uses it – New Year’s to Easter, along with one more month’s payment to account for the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays.
“We’re okay with paying that so long as it’s not ‘selective enforcement’ and all the side streets on the island get treated the same,” Fran said. “We had a verbal agreement on this with Stilwell, then on August 31st the temporary signs got put in. We asked that the Town wait to put the permanent ones up until we could have a meeting with the Town Attorney and Steele to discuss the deal we made with Stilwell, but Public Works Director Scott Baker told us that Steele told him the signs are going up anyway.”
Steele says he’s aware of Myers’ proposal but told us that the Town Attorney informed him such an agreement would violate the Town’s Administrative Code.
“It has to be a yearly lease,” Steele said. “Just before Labor Day weekend, after Scott put up the temporary signs, I suggested that it be done based on the fiscal year (October 1-September 30)– and that we would prorate her rent for the month of September. She said no.”
Steele told us that code enforcement visited the site on September 2nd and issued warnings to 8 RV’s that were parked in the ROW, with a notice that citations ($50 fine) would be forthcoming if the vehicles were not moved. This led to a heated exchange between Steele, Tom Myers and several guests of the park.
“He (Steele) was arguing with a couple from Miami – these people have been coming here for years, spending money in our town – so I asked him to leave,” Fran said. “We can’t move the vehicles back because they’d block the fire lane.”
Steele confirmed that some of the guests were unhappy about getting warnings, but said that ultimately no citations were issued as all the vehicles had been moved when code enforcement returned the following day.
“Nobody got any tickets and I haven’t heard from her (Myers) since,” he said.
Myers says she fears what will happen when season arrives and that she doesn’t know what to do at this point. Steele told us that it’s going to be up to Town Council.
“They are the only ones that can change anything,” he said. “If they see fit to change either the LDC or the Administrative Code, then I will follow it. I really do hope we can get things worked out.”
Keri Hendry Weeg
Photo by Keri Hendry Weeg.