Town Council to Hold Final Hearing on Newsrack Ordinance

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On Thursday September 7th, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council will hold the final hearing on a new ordinance regulating newsracks. The definition in the proposed new ordinance defines newsracks as “any self-service or coin operated box, container, storage unit or dispenser of any kind, installed, used or maintained for the display, sale or distribution, even if complimentary, of newspapers or other periodicals of any nature.”

This ordinance will affect the availability of daily and weekly newspapers, shoppers, real estate guides, maps, coupon books, tourist guides, visitor guides and magazines – anything that is distributed via a rack, stand or box.

After one public hearing on August 14th and a council discussion on August 24th, several key points of the proposed ordinance are still undecided. At the August 14th hearing, council members indicated that they wanted the ordinance to ban all newsrack placements in the public right of way (ROW). After a lengthy discussion about placement on private property, council members appeared to concur that they wanted placement on private property to be at least one foot from the ROW.

The ordinance brought back to them for a Management and Planning session on August 24th failed to reflect those two requests, still including requirements for ROW placement and specifying that newsracks could not be placed within 20 feet of a ROW or “private property-shared boundary line.”

During their M&P discussion, Vice Mayor Tracey Gore and Council Member Bruce Butcher questioned the $50 annual permit fee per box deeming it excessive. Mayor Dennis Boback agreed that the permit fee should only cover the Town’s costs to register and monitor the newsracks and renewals would probably not need to be $50.

Town Attorney Jack Peterson explained to council at the August 24th meeting that he had added location standards for private property and a section on how violations would be handled.

Private Property Rules

Newsracks on private property would require permits and would only be allowed on “properties designated for commercial, lodging, industrial or multi-family uses.” They would not be allowed in any required landscape buffer or required parking stall. They also would not be allowed along the front lot line of any property.

Newsracks could not be placed on private property anywhere visible from the street or adjacent properties. They would need to be screened from view ”by a visual barrier such as a building, wall, fence, hedge, berm or combination thereof.” In simpler terms, the ordinance says that if the box is visible from the street or from anywhere on your lot line, it’s in violation. Sec 8(b) and (h)3.

Newsracks would also be prohibited within 20 feet of any: Marked crosswalk, Curb return of any unmarked crosswalk, Fire hydrant or fire access lane, driveway, bus stop, bus bench or shelter, mailbox, utility pole or other permanent fixture in the ROW, handicapped access way or ramp.

Engineering

Council spent quite a bit of time debating the “engineering” requirement in the newsrack ordinance. It calls for each newsrack to be “certified by a Florida licensed professional engineer, as to design, construction and installation, that it is securely mounted to a concrete surface in a manner that meets the Florida Building Code.”

Both Butcher and Gore expressed some concern about requiring certification for each newsrack. Boback said he would be comfortable with one certification for each type of newsrack a company wants to place.

Butcher asked why the ordinance doesn’t just specify the size of concrete pad as Cape Coral has done: 24’ x 24” x 2” anchored using galvanized lag bolts. Boback rejected that idea saying that the wind speed in Cape Coral is different than on the beach in a storm. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said that the variability in concrete quality was a problem.

Newsrack Complaints: 0

The Island Sand Paper, noting the stated rationale for this ordinance — newsracks are unsightly and dangerous in a storm — wondered how many complaints had been received by the town and filed a public record request last week. The request asked for any communication to or from Town Council or Town staff about “newspaper boxes,” “news rack” or “newsracks” since August 1, 2016.

The number of complaints received? Zero.

The search turned up only our request and Council Member Joanne Shamp’s sharing of a draft Bradenton Beach newsrack ordinance, but not a single complaint from the public.

A review of newsrack regulations for several Southwest Florida communities revealed that none of them ban newsracks outright in the ROW and none require a permit for or regulate placement on private property. Ordinances from Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Naples, Collier County and Lee County were reviewed.

If passed, this ordinance’s restrictions on newsrack locations would limit access to local newspapers for residents and visitors. Island Sand Paper Publisher Bob Layfield said, “As a free newspaper covering the community of Fort Myers Beach, we provide coverage of local government meetings, news and community events. Anything that lessens Islanders’ ability to obtain a copy of the Island Sand Paper or other newspapers would seem to have a chilling effect on the First Amendment.”

Town Council will hold a Final Public Hearing on the Newsrack Ordinance on Thursday, September 7, 2017 during their 6:30pm meeting.

 

Missy Layfield