No, Virginia – There Is No Kayak Launch
“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” is one of the Holiday season’s most-beloved classics. Perhaps it is appropriate for this time of year, then, that the residents of Virginia Avenue left no doubt that they do not want any kayak launch gift from the Town of Fort Myers Beach!
Representatives of the Town, including Council Member Anita Cereceda, Interim Town Manager James Steele, and Public Works Director Scott Baker, with new council member Joanne Shamp in attendance, intended to pitch 13 residents of the Virginia Avenue neighborhood the benefits of a proposed kayak launch to be paid for by Tourist Development Council (TDC) funds, but the crowd already arrived with their minds made up against any potential changes. This was clear when Cereceda and resident Mike Schikora engaged in a heated disagreement even before the session began on Wednesday, December 7, in Council Chambers.
When the meeting officially began, Scott attempted to talk everyone off the ledge by stating: “Take a breath! This is for information only – we are not deciding anything. There is nothing bought, and nothing will blow up in your face. We simply want to hear your wants and wishes to present to Town Council. No one has made up their mind, and nothing is set in stone.”
When Nature Calls!
Bill Stover owns the property closest to the proposed launch. He worries about increased traffic on Virginia Avenue, where people will park to access the launch as there is little room on the street, and if visitors will use it for boats and inflatables as well as kayaks. Scott said the Town can control that by creative landscaping, but Bill countered this by saying “you underestimate the public’s imagination.” His greatest concern are people using his property for “garbage and facilities,” meaning When Nature Calls!
Rosanna Wiley lives right across from another launch, down the road at Bayview Drive and Ohio Avenue, “that you can find on YouTube, with people coming from as far away as Miami. They do not care about landscaping, and walk all over our property. I have a beautiful 7-year-old child and this increased traffic is not a great situation for my child. Putting two of these launches in the same neighborhood is a joke!”
Scott appreciated hearing the issues about the Bayview launch, as he had no idea residents were having these troubles: “This is why these meetings are great – you learn things about issues that we can fix.”
A gentleman who declined to provide his name said that “I love kayaking but we are looking for peace, not a commercial venture in a residential neighborhood. People who use these launches are often abusive – I used to yell at them but then I gave up.”
Schikora asked why the Town would want to put anything on Virginia Avenue “unless we as residents come to you with an idea, but we are coming to you to ask that you keep it just the way it is. We do not want increased traffic, noise and congestion. You already did this with the Anchor Inn Cottages and I already pick up beer cans and trash from my front lawn. I don’t need any more issues with you folks putting in something we do not want. We formed the Town of Fort Myers Beach so we did not have to fight Lee County over the kinds of issues we are having now.” Cereceda reminded him that the property does not belong to the residents of Virginia Avenue but all the citizens of Fort Myers Beach, to which he responded, “I don’t care!”
Cereceda stated that she is sympathetic to their concerns, and her job at this session is to take their opinions back to her Council colleagues. The Interim Town Manager then polled the crowd, with no one supporting the kayak launch and all 13 against.
With the issue seemingly settled, Judy Haataja stated that funds for the launch would come from the TDC that are tourism dollars designed to “put more heads-in-beds on Fort Myers Beach, so this is a tourism venture and a heavy traffic situation. Why do you keep coming at us? You need to have more respect for your residents. People do not want tourism in our backyards; we are entitled to the quiet of our neighborhood.”
Someone called out: “Let’s disincorporate,” to which Cereceda replied that “this theme comes up every so often, usually around election time!”
The Interim Town Manager concluded by saying that they will pass along the unanimous recommendation from the Virginia Avenue neighbors to the remainder of Town Council, and thanked all for attending.