Sign Variance Approved
On Monday morning, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach agreed to a sign variance request from the Dolphin Inn and agreed to rezone the property on which the Heavenly Biscuit is located to Commercial Boulevard. They also decided to participate with the City of Sanibel in a program to educate people on the impacts of excessive fertilizer use on our water quality.
During public comment, Edwina Foster protested the increase in water rates, saying that she has to pay $50 a month even when she is away for the summer, and that the Town’s water utility should use the extra money coming from snowbirds like her to offset the county’s increase.
Mayor Bob Raymond then mentioned that he watched Town Manager Terry Stewart sing at a concert at Barbara B. Mann Hall on Friday night.
"Terry did a wonderful job, and things like that do a lot to promote the image of Fort Myers Beach,” he said.
During Local Achievements and Recognitions, Vice-Mayor Alan Mandel congratulated fellow councilman and Mango Street Inn owner Dan Andre for a great job on last Saturday’s fundraiser for Matanzas Pass Preserve.
"I would also like to thank Dan and Tree Andre for another great Wine Dinner event, where they raised over $1,200 for the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve,” he said.
After agreeing to partner with Sanibel on fertilizer education, the Council listened to the second public hearing regarding a request from the Dolphin Inn for two variances on the Town's sign ordinance.
Leslie Chapman, speaking for the Town, explained that staff continues to recommend a height variance of six feet instead of the requested nine feet, and another variance for a zero foot setback.
"The nine feet that we’ve asked is from the ground level, while the road itself is about 12 inches higher, so the sign will actually be more like eight feet,” explained Dolphin Inn owner Travis Owen.
Andre said that he has seen several other businesses with the same issues - cars parked in front of signs - but they are in compliance.
Councilwoman Jo List agreed that cars in front of the sign would not be enough for her to approve a variance, but said that since the Dolphin Inn is located way back off of Estero, the sign would not be visible at even the staff-recommended six foot height.
"I don’t want to grant variances either, but I walked around that property several times and think the owner should be given the variance he’s requesting,” she said. Kosinski agreed, adding that he thinks nine feet is reasonable so drivers can see the sign.
Mayor Raymond agreed, and council voted 3-2 (Andre and Mandel opposing) to approve both variances.
Next came a rezoning request from the owner of the property where the Heavenly Biscuit is located.
Town Manager Terry Stewart and Planning Coordinator Josh Overmyer explained that the property used to have a commercial designation, something that was changed after the Town’s incorporation in 1995.
"In 2004, a consultant hired by the Town made the recommendation to change to residential based on aerial photographs that showed the property as a cottage, but no field visits were ever made that would have made clear it was being used as a business,” Overmyer said. "In 2006, Town staff made this same request to clear up the issue - which was approved by the Local Planning Agency but denied by the council at that time.”
"According to the Town's Comprehensive Plan, up to 12% of the Mixed Residential category can be used for other things, and this property - being .126 acres - would be a minimal change and consistent with surrounding properties,” he continued.
Council agreed unanimously to approve the zoning change.
During a discussion on the water rate increase, Stewart once again explained that the increase is based on an increase from the county for what the Town pays for its water, and that the Town will not make any money off of it.
List asked about what Foster said during public comment, asking why there is no ‘vacation rate’.
"Customers that are seasonal can elect to have their water turned off, but there is a fee,” explained Lewis. "But the base rate – which is based on ‘readiness to serve’, not usage, never goes away.”
Stewart added that there is a cost to providing any utility service.
"If you took the base rate away, the cost would still remain and create higher usage costs across the board,” he said.
Mandel pointed out that the Town is in the process of doing a rate study, and Stewart agreed to have that consultant speak to the council directly on the issue of seasonal rates when they make their presentation.
The rate increase was approved unanimously.
Council then approved a resolution regarding a proposed development on San Carlos Island that would require the developer to provide a traffic mitigation plan for Estero Boulevard
"Our main concern is how this will affect the traffic on the island and what will happen to our back bay,” Mayor Raymond said, adding that he will appear at the Lee County Hearing Examiner's public hearing on November 14th to speak about the Town's concerns. If there’s anything else someone would like me to bring up, please let me know.”
Town Attorney Marilyn Miller agreed to add ‘issues related to impacts on Estero Bay’ to the resolution.
Finally, Public Works Director Cathie Lewis gave an update on the Mound House, saying that all the bids that have come in for the restoration work have been too high.
"We have been reviewing those submittals, and due to a lot of issues - including price - it is our recommendation that we reject those bids and look for other ways to get the project done,” she said. "The lowest bid came in about 18% higher than what our consultant recommended.”
Lewis went on to say that - not only are the bids coming in too high, but also the two lowest bidders are not qualified.
Miller explained that there are other options the Town can pursue to lower the price.
Mayor Raymond asked what the timeframe would be if the council agreed to reject, and Lewis said that the new Request For Proposal (RFP) would be on the street by the early part of December.
Stewart said that staff will return with an adjusted timeline, and council agreed to reject the bids.
Eddie Foster spoke again during the final public comment, requesting that council add a sign to the bottom of the beach access signs informing people that the ‘beach is not an ashtray’.
During Councilmember’s Items, List said that there would be an installation ceremony for the Seafarers' kids’ mural this Saturday, November 10th at 10am at Crescent Beach Family Park.
"It was a great project - really beautiful - and I want to commend staff for a job well done,” she said.
Andre suggested allowing San Carlos residents to serve on the Town’s advisory committees, saying that might result in the vacancies being filled. During the discussion that followed, the council then agreed to appoint Al Durrett to the Traffic Safety Committee and Elizabeth D’Onofrio Halladay to the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB).
The next meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will be held on Monday, November 19th at 6:30pm at Town Hall, 2523 Estero Boulevard. For an agenda, go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.
Keri Hendry Weeg