The relationship between the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach and the beach business community over the past 5 years has been tenuous at best. That relationship took a turn for the worse this week as council voted unanimously to approve a couple of ordinances that fall squarely into the anti-business realm. One of them concerns The Sand Paper so we’d like to talk about that this week.
If readers think its difficult finding a Sand Paper in season, they are really not going to like council’s move to restrict newsrack placement.
The new ordinance, which sure appears to be a solution in search of a problem, originally included both a ban on placement of racks in the right-of way (ROW) and a list of requirements for placement in the ROW. Those requirements included a $50 per rack annual permit fee, plus certification by a licensed engineer for each rack. Plus a long list of 20 ft. setbacks from everything from fire hydrants, driveways, utility poles to my favorite, “any unmarked crosswalk,” whatever that means.
Oh and that permit would only be valid until January, when each rack would require another $50 permit and professional engineer evaluation. No money grab there.
Council chose a total ban in the ROW. But they also want to dictate rules for placement on private property. A very odd thing for a council brimming with private property rights advocates.
Why all this regulation of newsracks? The mayor has shared his disdain for newspaper boxes in previous council meetings, so we know where it began. (At Monday’s meeting he referred to doctors on our island as “quacks.” Wonder if there will be a move to ban doctors next…)
Ostensibly, council wants news racks to be cleaned up and made safe. OK. We aren’t happy with the proliferation of untended publication boxes either – the ones that are dropped off, filled once or twice in season and then abandoned the rest of the year or forever. However, this ordinance takes a shotgun approach when a much narrower one would do. Say, like the Bonita Springs ordinance that calls for uniform color for any news rack in the ROW. Oh my! They allow news racks in the ROW!
Let’s talk about safety. The Island Sand Paper had about 60 newspaper boxes in 2004. Every single one of them survived Hurricane Charley in place and upright. Can council say the same about lawn furniture, bicycles, awnings and all the other things that did fly during Charley?
Where are the ordinances to address those items? Lots of outdoor items are at risk of becoming projectiles in a hurricane, Sand Paper boxes are not among them.
Our distribution team cleans up not only our boxes, but any trash around other boxes near ours also. It’s in our best interest to have the area where our product is available look as nice as possible.
Bottom line, this ordinance was a bad cut and paste job and it shows. The town’s attorney admitted that he based it on three different communities’ ordinances – Phoenix Airport Authority, AZ (population 1.6 million), Raleigh, NC (pop. 458,880) and Clovis, CA (pop. 106,583).
None of them in Florida, none beach towns, none anything like Fort Myers Beach. Did anyone bother to look at Bonita Springs’ ordinance, which isn’t nearly as strict or punitive as the proposed FMB ordinance is? Could that be the reason why it was ignored?
If the mayor is to be believed, this is not an attempt to restrict access to newspapers. Of course not, that would be treading on the Bill of Rights. This is to clean up the town and make it safe. Yep, that $50 per box per year will make our town much more pretty and safe.
There are a lot of publications available on our island. The Island Sand Paper is the ONLY one based right here. Owned by taxpaying town residents and dedicated to sharing FMB community news and information. We support community events and service groups every year.
We are a free newspaper which means that the paper is financially supported by our advertisers, primarily beach businesses, who recognize that Island residents and visitors want to read our paper and are able to pick up a copy of the paper in a number of convenient locations on Friday mornings.
That support allows us to support our community, including sharing an immense amount of town information that we publish at no cost to the town – Bay Oaks, Mound House and Newton Park events plus anything the town asks us to share.
This ordinance looks like another attempt to restrict local business. The more this council does that, the less local businesses will invest in this town.
All those benefits, tournaments and special events with raffles – where do those gift certificates and raffle items come from? Beach businesses.
Community events like Paint the Beach, Film Festival, Pirate Festival? Who makes them possible? Beach businesses.
Council needs to decide just how far they are willing to go with their string of anti-business ordinances. And the people of this town need to decide if they really want a town where businesses don’t feel welcome.
Council will discuss their newsrack ordinance on Thursday August 24 at 9am in a Management and Planning meeting where no public comment is allowed. The second hearing is set for September 7th at 6:30pm.
The Sand Paper will continue to call things like we see them, newsrack ordinance or not.
Missy & Bob Layfield
Island Sand Paper