"Funky, Not Junky”
That was how the Town should look and the ultimate goal of the advisory group working on revising a Town ordinance related to outdoor displays of merchandise according to John Richard, a member of the group, during a second public workshop Tuesday morning.
Director of Community Development Walter Fluegel offered a short history of the ordinance revision to begin the meeting.
"Last season, we received several complaints about the proliferation of outdoor displays. Instead of doing selective enforcement, we decided to do a sweep of all outdoor displays. This highlighted the fact that the process and the rules were very confusing for everyone. A working group was formed to look at the current outdoor display ordinance and suggest changes that would maintain the island look.”
Tuesday’s morning workshop included LPA members, Town Councilman Dan Andre and several members of the working group along with members of the local business community participating.
Key changes in the draft ordinance included outdoor displays limited to raised porches only no ground-level patios. A new definition of ‘enclosed merchandise area’ was included. Merchandise outside must be the same business as inside and the point of sale must be indoors. All outdoor displays would have to be removed at the end of each business day.
Zoning Coordinator Leslee Chapman explained that the ordinance would hopefully be easier to understand for everyone and easier to enforce.
Business owner and member of the advisory group, John Richard commented on the focus of the working group.
"First of all, everybody that is in business now should stay in business. What this ordinance is meant to do is bring the community forward in a funky, not junky way,” Richard said. "I’m for the merchants. I want to move forward in a way that’s going to be productive for the town.”
Local business owners took exception to the draft ordinance. Joni Hermanson of Joni’s Gallery told the group that the ‘no patios’ restriction would hurt her.
"I have a patio outside. There’s a concrete wall on this side and umbrellas on the other side. There’s no way my landlord is going to build a porch for me.”
Robin Thurston, who operates a business kiosk in the Time Square area between Dairy Queen and Time Square Bazaar, told the group that she is also directly affected by the new ordinance.
"I am one of the main problems. We were permitted in 2006, it was about the time the town didn’t have a zoning person…we paid our certificate of occupancy…The Fire Marshal signed off on our property. (But) we are not permitted now, as of February 2013.”
Fluegel noted that there is no record that the Town approved anything in 2006 when Thurston opened her business. He explained that the magistrate has already heard the case for Thurston’s business and ruled that it is not in compliance. When the concept of grandfathering in existing businesses came up, Fluegel explained that it’s very difficult to grandfather in a business that was declared illegal by a magistrate.
Thurston indicated that she is appealing the magistrate’s decision and the case is pending.
Former Mayor and Local Color owner, Anita Cereceda asked for clarification on the ordinance.
"I think the town can do whatever it wants to. We’re not using common sense. Fort Myers Beach is hard to blanket. The business people that I live with every day are mavericks…What’s the point of all this discussion? Are you trying to eliminate outdoor display or allow some people to do it and some not. If you’re trying to grandfather, is it the business, the person or the property? And what does that do to the town of Fort Myers Beach? It doesn’t fix anything because you have the same thing you have right now.”
LPA member Al Durrett urged the Town to figure out a way to be more proactive and helpful with businesses.
"We’re trying to make our town better, but I don’t think we’re doing that…We need to figure out how to keep these people in business.”
Fluegel reminded the group that Town staff does not make policy. They only do what they are directed to do by Town Council.
"Give us a consistent perspective and policy directive and we’ll go write the ordinance.”
Bud Nocera, President of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, suggested a compromise.
"Clearly what I have heard is a desire by staff to make it easer to enforce. As they say in the medical world, ‘first do no harm.’ If we can move forward with the idea of having a line in the sand, from this day forward…We do no harm to businesses that are already there, but don’t allow more from this day forward.”
After a two hour meeting, consensus was reached that there were approximately six businesses affected by the revised ordinance and the group wanted to find a way to allow those businesses to stay in business.
"It was never the intent of the working group to put people out of business,” said Nocera.
Fluegel and Town staff will bring a revised ordinance back to the LPA reflecting the working group request.