Trail Loop and Pot Talk Highlight Council Meeting

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The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council heard a bike trail presentation, approved improvements to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center and Del Mar Avenue, and addressed special event waivers, Times Square information outlets and a prospective Medical Marijuana moratorium before roughly 15 residents on Monday morning, May 1, beginning at 9am. This marked the first meeting with Roger Hernstadt as the Town Manager, with former Interim Town Manager James Steele now in a transitional role through May 25.

Don Scott of the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization provided a presentation concerning the potential of Fort Myers Beach becoming a Coastal Loop off the Southwest Coastal Regional Trail. If approved, the Coastal Loop would bring bicyclists from the main route near US41 down Gladiolus Drive and Summerlin Road to San Carlos Boulevard and across the Matanzas Pass Bridge the length of Fort Myers Beach to a future connector at Lovers Key. It would take advantage of the 9-foot-wide sidewalks from Downtown to Lovers Lane, then the dedicated bike trails that will be part of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects for the balance of the island. The possible Coastal Loop is a Land Opportunities Plan, meaning it combines natural, recreational, cultural and historic sites with safe accessible experiences that address transportation, recreation and health.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore asked what benefit the Coastal Loop could bring to Fort Myers Beach, with Scott replying that the system will encourage people to walk or bike to Fort Myers Beach rather than bringing their cars to add to congestion. She asked if the Town could opt out, but Scott said since the Coastal Loop is a Land Opportunities Plan, it could still occur whether or not Fort Myers Beach requests it. Council Member Bruce Butcher commented, “It does not matter if we vote to be part of this or not; you are just here making us aware this is happening. Had we planned this with Estero Boulevard, we could have had a roundabout at the foot of Matanzas Pass Bridge, with roundabouts and bike lanes rather than all the left-hand turn lanes, and this is how this should have been done in the beginning.”

Under Del Mar Avenue Bay Access Improvements, Council voted unanimously to approve a replacement dock, along with mangrove trimming for the kayak launch and improved waterfront view. The Town will construct the project with its own funds rather than Tourism Development Council (TDC) moneys. “Everyone on Del Mar seems happy with this,” commented Gore, “and it will come in at $28,000, making this under budget and a better deal than before.”

Fees Are There For a Reason

Town Council unanimously approved a Special Event Permit for the Fort Myers Beach Lions Club to host an evening at the Mound House, waiving $250 in rental fees that were the result of inaccurate information, but it did retain the appropriate amount of $140. Council Member Joanne Shamp, however, urged the establishment of a standard set of event requirements. “Anytime we waive charges, we essentially have the taxpayers pick up the cost of the maintenance, staff time and utilities. Fees are there for a reason, and it is very hard as a council member to pick one of these wonderful organizations over another, so I would appreciate a review of this policy.”

The Town received two proposals to provide a Times Square Information Booth from Moss Marine, Inc., and the Tourism & Information Center, Inc. Both were present at the council meeting and were each asked to present their proposals to council.

Following these, councilmember Anita Cereceda called this “a hot button. To me this a big picture decision and Council needs to talk about what needs to do done there. I suggest this is an item for our Strategic Planning Sessions in June. We are basically looking at opening a business in the public space, so we should take it through the planning process, and think outside the box, so to speak.” Shamp said, “I share Anita’s concern; we need to review the Comp Plan to create a provision that goes with this.”

Mayor Dennis Boback agreed, “We need to establish what is our vison for that area, and we have time now before next season, but I think this is better for a workshop.” Gore suggested adding it to the May 4 workshop, though Shamp felt it required “a bigger vision then that,” and Cereceda reiterating, “This in on my list for strategic planning.” The Town Manager Hernstadt suggested continuing the item to the May 4 Management & Planning Session, with a decision at the May 15 Council meeting that passed 5 to 0.

A High Point

Under the proposed Medical Marijuana moratorium within Fort Myers Beach, Town Attorney John Turner said the Florida Legislature is now approving regulations following the passage of Amendment 2 in November 2016 to approve medical marijuana, “so no one knows yet how this will all turn out, so the Town needs to be ready to deal with this issue.” He recommends the Town pass a Medical Marijuana moratorium for one year, “to give us the opportunity to review and digest the information, to determine the best way to handle the new legislation.” He can have the Ordinance ready for its First Public Reading at the May 15 Council Meeting.

Shamp pointed out that Sanibel, Bonita Springs and Cape Coral have all enacted medical marijuana moratoriums, and the Land Development Code has restrictions against drug paraphernalia, so this is a good time to review all that material. Cereceda stated she initiated the paraphernalia legislation “back in the day, and it was hard-fought. Now that the citizens of Florida voted to make this product available. I will not carry it in ‘Local Color,’ but it is a profitable item, and I agree with discussing this under the moratorium because no one is prepared to deal with this yet.” Butcher added, “This is a waste of time. The State has a long way to go so why are we even talking about it,” but Gore supported the moratorium as a means to determine how to regulate the issue. Council authorized the Town Attorney to prepare the Medical Marijuana Moratorium document for the May 15 meeting by 4 to 1, with Butcher Against.

Hernstadt asked Council if it would pay $4,300 for three trolleys to service Fort Myers Beach on Memorial Day, May 29, as Lee Tran does not operate its buses on holidays. Since the Town did not offer this in 2016, nor budget it for 2017, it will not.

Cereceda reported the Town will receive $1,040,292 in 2017 TDC funds, pending final approval by the Lee County Board of Commissioners: $955,400 for general beach maintenance; $70,000 to renovate the Newton Park public restroom; and $14,892 for beach access environmental interpretive signage.

In other items, Council unanimously passed its Consent Agenda for Matanzas Pass Bridge maintenance and an updated Code of Ordinances; authorized $25,910 for new Bay Oaks gymnasium lights, and approved the Town’s six-month financial review. Council adjourned at 11:35 a.m.

 

Gary Mooney