Happy Snappy Council Moves Forward
In the waning days of 2016, a divided and contentious Town of Fort Myers Beach Council in a split vote threw a major wrench into the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Project, by threatening to withhold funds for joint outfalls for the stormwater system, as well as refusing to authorize the 30% Design Plan to prioritize future costs and projects. Fast forward to March 6th, when a united and polite Council unanimously approved both, to the audible astonishment of the handful of residents attending its afternoon meeting.
Town Staff requested Council appropriate $393,578 to allow Tetra Tech Engineering to survey the Laguna Shores area and design a 30% stormwater plan for Estero Island sidestreets. Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros, in her last full Council meeting as she did not seek reelection on March 7, pointed out the word “survey” appears just once in the verbiage, as the Supplemental Task Authorization “says ‘design’ and they are different things.” Tetra Tech project manager Brett Messner agreed, “Laguna Shores is the only area requiring a survey; the remainder is for the stormwater design plan for the remainder of the island, to document what streets need the closed system, swales or only minor work.”
“We know what streets flood and don’t flood so why don’t we just tackle those, as I don’t want to get into a debt we don’t need,” said Council member Tracey Gore. “We are the keeper of the peoples’ money.” Town Public Works Director Scott Baker explained, “That is why the survey and design are so important; to get that data and identify the streets that we should logically help first, with two-dimensional drawings and appropriate modeling.”
Piecemeal Costs Money
“With all due respect, it is irrelevant which streets flood,” emphasized Council member Anita Cereceda, “because if Hercules Drive does not flood, that is because another street elsewhere on the island does! We need to know the cost of this project so, as crazy as this sounds, you have to put flooding aside and think of the system as a whole and not piecemeal, as piecemeal costs money. I support moving forward with this, to have the lightbulb go on.”
Council member Joanne Shamp asked, “How far can Council go without changing our minds before we affect reFRESH Estero Boulevard?” Rob Phelan, project manager for Chris-Tel Construction, replied, “If you require changes, we need new surveys, designs, and permitting and that can take up to a year; without permits, Segment 2 work comes to a standstill.”
Mayor Dennis Boback said, “This money is not really for the survey but the design, so this may amount to a poor choice of words.” Gore asked what the Town would receive if Council allocates the funds, with Messner replying, “a model for every sidestreet with stormwater options and video to create a plan to move forward. This will let us to start work on the Town’s hot sidestreets in roughly one year.”
Why We Have Discussions
Shamp related “I voted against this last time for neighborhood input and to fully understand what we want to do, so I am changing my mind, as moving forward is the correct decision that I can sleep with at night.” At this point, Council surprised everyone by voting unanimously to allocate the $393,578 for stormwater survey and design, with Hosafros turning to Gore to say, “I am just shocked,” with Gore replying, “I understand this now; this is why we have these discussions and talk.”
Following this, Council unanimously appropriated $2.1 million to Mitchell & Stark Construction to build the first four Segment 2 outfalls, once Interim Town Manager Jim Steele assured Council he “feels confident our $20.3 million stormwater estimate will hold firm.” Council next unanimously allocated an additional $1 million for Phase 2 Potable Water Sidestreet Improvements.
In other matters, Council continued its ongoing vexing discussion on Surplus Parking – barely! Gore said “I don’t like this; if you only have so many parking spaces, why would you have no place for your customers to park, and this is an enforcement nightmare!” Shamp agreed, saying “I am very conflicted about what real benefit this is to the community, as to me the goal is to get people off the street and parked. I am just not sure this serves the public good.”
Hosafros, on the other hand, called “this whole discussion weird! We talk for an hour about how many parking spaces we need for Mom’s Restaurant, and now we say to businesses, ‘rent out your spots!’ We have a parking shortage and people who have extra spaces should use them and we should regulate that. I find this puzzling and it makes no sense.” Shamp said, “This is a philosophical question.” Boback added, “We should never tell people how to use their property so how they use those spaces is a financial decision a business owner makes. I just don’t think we regulate how they use their business.”
Council then passed the Surplus Parking Amendment for its second reading on March 20 by a 3 to 2 vote, with Boback and Gore against. Shamp stated, “I am voting ‘yes’ to better discuss this.”
Under the Red Coconut RV Park Lease Agreement for the Town right-of-way on Donora Boulevard, Council voted to approve this 4 to 1, with Gore against. “I don’t like the administrative code at all!” Gore explained.
Council in other issues unanimously approved its Consent Agenda, Matanzas Harbor Management Plan, and the Town’s Smoke-Free Policy, as well as presenting Historic Structure Recognition Plaques to the Sea Gypsy Inn at 1698 Estero Boulevard and the 1945 cottage at 226-232 Ohio Avenue. Finally, Council discussed interview procedures and tentative dates to hire the new Town Manager, with the initial step to reduce the 77 candidates to a reasonable first-cut number by March 20.
Following this, Council adjourned at 5:07 p.m., in just over a snappy three hours.
Caption #2: Sea Gypsy owner Jacki Liszak with her Historic Structure Recognition Plaque.