Vacates Land for Margaritaville
The Council for the Town of Fort Myers Beach held a marathon meeting on Monday, November 18. The session began at 9 a.m. and ended at 4:25 p.m., just under 7-1/2 hours. A large chunk of that time was the hearing for a Special Exception to the Land Development Code (LDC) in the Environmentally Critical Zone for a dune walkover and boardwalk for Texas Hold ‘Em LLC and Squeeze Me Inn LLC at 8150 & 8170 Estero Boulevard. Town Staff advised Council to deny it, but the 7-member volunteer Local Planning Agency unanimously recommended its approval with conditions.
Martha Collins of The Collins Law Group represented the Town and Audubon Florida since the matter began in September 2016. Near the end of her roughly hour-long presentation to Council, she concluded, “The Town has a longstanding history of protecting the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area for the public at large, for the Town residents, economy and natural resources, so we recommend you support Staff’s recommendation of denial.”
Amy Petrick of Lewis, Longman, & Walker spoke for the plaintiffs. During her approximately one-hour summation, she stated, “The applicants spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to address your concerns about environmental issues, with the Department of Environmental Protection and Administrative Law Judge already ruling in their favor, so we ask the Town to very carefully consider those decisions.”
During Public Comment, 13 people spoke, with 8 urging denial, 3 approval, and 2 addressing related issues.
Council Member Comments
Council member Bruce Butcher recalled, “When I was a kid, we stayed at the Leonardo Arms and waded through the lagoon there all the time; today the lagoon is gone and that may happen further down the beach one day – who knows? I don’t know how these houses get to the beach, so I understand the inconvenience. That’s all I got!”
“My history at the south end of the island is long,” said Vice Mayor Ray Murphy. “That area is very dynamic and continues to change. I am very proud of my environmental record, but I will support this and let me tell you why: I can’t remember ever being in a public park without a walkover built to encourage us to get out and observe wildlife. Matanzas Pass Preserve and Lynn Hall Park have walkovers and beach access.”
Council member Rexann Hosafros recalled, “I was on the Council that first moved this forward. I am a bird person but having said that, I endeavor to go through this with an open mind. I see both side of this question, but this is not a public park but a CWA so you cannot compare the two. At my core, I do not believe you build something like this in a place like this, so I am not in favor of granting the Special Exception.”
“We on Council are the protectors and stewards of our precious beach environment,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “It is all about the beach! This is not a public access but private for these few homes. I believe the Town has the right to deny this through the LDC and I will vote to do so!”
Mayor Anita Cereceda noted, “Your application has to meet the Special Exceptions in our Code and I don’t believe you did that. This does not provide public access but neighborhood access and that is not public. It is critical, in my opinion, to the future of Fort Myers Beach for that area to remain intact, so I cannot support the request.” Council then voted 3 to 2 to deny the application.
STRs & Margaritaville
Council heard two other Public Hearings: They unanimously approved the “2nd Reading & Public Hearing: Amending Short Term Rentals, Qualifying Condos” to allow condominiums whose bylaws allow 3-day minimum Short Term Rentals if those were in place prior to the Town passing its original Short Term Rental Ordinance on March 3, 2003, and the Condominiums can provide this to the Town by January 31, 2020.
The panel unanimously verified the “Resolution to Approve with Conditions the Vacating of Town Right-of-Way and Plats for Margaritaville.” The four plats Council considered included the Canal Street Beach Access. Should the Margaritaville FMB Resort not proceed within five years, the vacations revert to the Town.
During Public Comment, the only two who spoke were Christine Patton, who filed a 2nd Tier Writ of Certiorari appeal against the Town to prevent Margaritaville construction, along with her attorney, Ralf Brookes. Patton argued that the loss of Canal Street would deny her decades-long access to Fort Myers Beach. Brookes questioned if the Town provided sufficient legal notice prior to the meeting and whether the loss of Canal Street would impede ADA-access to Fort Myers Beach. Town Attorney John Herin, Junior, assured Council the Margaritaville improvements will provide greater access including ADA than currently exists, and the Town met all necessary legal notices. Council then unanimously approved the four vacations.
Bay Oaks & Estero Deputies
Council had four items on their “Consent Agenda,” but pulled each for individual discussion. The panel then unanimously approved the “Adoption of Bay Oaks Recreational Center (BORC) Strategic Plan”; $94,800 for the purchase and installation of fitness court equipment for BORC; up to $63,422 to the Lee County Sheriffs Office for traffic deputies daily at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge and weekends only at Old San Carlos & Estero Boulevards from December 28, 2019, through April 12, 2020; and $31,539 to upgrade the Council Chambers sound system.
Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously authorized Town Manager Roger Hernstadt to apply for and administer a $118,125 Florida Department of Emergency Management Mitigation Bureau grant for Residential Prevention Drainage; authorized $71,600 to Agnoli, Barber & Brundage, Inc., to design new traffic and intersection improvements for the Old San Carlos & Estero Boulevards traffic signal; and approved the Selection Committee’s recommendations to employ any of Conidaris Builders, Mitchell & Stark, or Gianetti Contracting Corporation for “Underground Utility Construction & Emergency Services.” Council moved the final two items, “Discussion about Guidelines & Regulations for Murals” and “Weekly Vacation Rental Duration” to future Management & Planning Sessions for additional discussion.
“Don’t Take This Personally”
Under “Town Attorney Items,” Herin noted his Town contract inadvertently lapsed on September 30 and he requested that Council schedule the item on its December 9 meeting agenda. In the meantime, he would like to meet individually with each Council member to discuss his performance and how he can improve.
Hosafros stated, “Don’t take this personally, as I like you, John, but before when I was on Council, I fought to have an attorney here at Town Hall and that the attorney be from Southwest Florida and not so far away, as we function better when we have an attorney who is present and part of the staff, so I would like us to consider going back to that at some point. To me, all law is local, with a deep knowledge of the local judges and attorneys. Why don’t you ask your wife when you go home how she would feel about the West Coast of Florida?” Herin, whose office is in Miami, replied, “my wife is from Cape Coral! She just made the comment to me she hopes to come over to Fort Myers Beach in the near future!”
Shamp noted, “I call John all days of the week, including nights and weekends, whenever things come up, and he always answers or instantly returns my calls, so I feel like I am getting great service.” Cereceda asked Hernstadt to provide Council members with a review evaluation form they can fill out during their meetings with the Town Attorney, then to schedule his review for the December 9 meeting.
Under “Council Member Items,” Council discussed in-depth the proposed replica of the Fort Myers Beach arches for Crescent Beach Family Park that is covered in another article in this edition of the Island Sand Paper.
Hosafros asked Hernstadt if the Town used drones for Code Enforcement. His answer wan an emphatic, “NO!” Hosafros said, “I thought that was the answer but I wanted you to say that!” Hosafros also wanted to ensure as well that there will be public stakeholder sessions for the Town’s Branding process, with Hernstadt assuring her, “We will set up public meetings for input.” Cereceda asked the status of the Town’s search for a Public Information Officer, with Hernstadt stating, “The Screening Committee is down to the final half-dozen candidates for interviews.” Murphy said he would like Council to receive an update on the proposed new Big Carlos Pass Bridge, hoping that this Council will reiterate their preference for a lower-span replacement. Butcher believes Lee County will schedule its next bridge public presentation in January or February 2020.
Council’s next Management & Planning Session is Thursday, December 5, and its final 2019 Council Meeting is Monday, December 9, each at 9 a.m.
Caption: Christine Patton addresses Council about her opposition to the four Margaritaville Town property plat vacations. Photo by Gary Mooney.