Beach and Bay Access Improvements Approved
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach agreed to move forward with upgrades to two Town beach accesses and two bay accesses on Monday. They also held a workshop in the afternoon where they asked that items such as the parking at 216 Connecticut and the location of the Town's dumpsters be brought back to the council agenda.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council read proclamations declaring April 24th as Arbor Day, and the month of April as both Water Resources and Water Conservation month.
Just before public comment, Mayor Anita Cereceda introduced a change in procedure where folks can leave their numbers or emails if they would like council to respond.
Chapel Street resident Jay Light wanted to know why the Town dumpsters were moved near his property without a public notice and hearing before the Local Planning Agency (LPA), when something as simple as a six inch sign variance requires this.
"There was a huge push to get these dumpsters moved, but you haven't solved the problem," he said. "I would like to invite all of you to come to my house in the morning when they are emptied and if you can tell me you don't think there's a problem then I will shut up."
Next, Delmar resident Hugh Thimlar told council he was against the cutting of mangroves to create a park on the end of Delmar Avenue.
"If the mangroves are cut, a house that's back there that's been there since the 1920's will slide into the water," he said. "George Brett, Larry Byrd lived there, all friends of mine. Those mangroves have got to be saved."
Barb Hill then handed council a letter asking them for their support in making the jacaranda tree the Town tree.
"There are several planted at the Mound House, and they are considered Florida-friendly and are beautiful," she said. "I am asking for you to consider reimbursing residents $20 for purchasing these trees. My goal is to get 200 trees planted on the island and to hold a festival once a year when they are in bloom as they are spectacular!"
Town Environmental Science Coordinator Keith Laakkonen opened the discussion on an application from Leonardo Arms by explaining that the residents are seeking to extend a permit for sandbags placed in front of their building until a permanent retaining wall can be constructed.
"The sandbag wall was constructed two years ago to stop erosion," he said. "The sandbags there are four feet by four feet, and did protect the foundation of the building from Hurricane Debby. We did get an upland retaining wall approved, so we are asking for an extension until December 31st as no work can be done during sea turtle nesting season and this would allow all necessary permits to be pulled."
A resident of Leonardo Arms asked that the sandbags be left in place longer to give the condominium association boards enough time to put out bids for the project and gather all the information needed.
"Our board does not reconvene until January," he said, and Council approved the extension until February 1st of 2015. They also agreed to replace the seawall at Newton Park.
Next up was a request for Council approval of the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB)'s designs for two beach and two bay accesses.
"They have been working diligently on this, including new signs for all the beach accesses," said Public Works Director Cathie Lewis. "This is simply a beautification program, and this goes hand in hand with the Town's continuing activities to improve ADA accessibility. This also includes two bay accesses, with the one behind Topp's to include a dock which the Anchorage Advisory Committee is really excited about because this is something that residents of our mooring field have been asking for."
Lewis explained that Delmar was chosen because some residents asked the Town for it a couple of years ago.
"All the funding is now in place, and we are asking for Council's direction." she said.
One of those Delmar residents - Angela Rippons said she has spoken to her neighbors and they are all delighted.
"We can work around the mangroves," she said.
CRAB Chair Miffie Greer said that CRAB members have been working on this project for two and a half to three years and the idea is that they will be used as models for the remainder of the beach accesses on the island.
Lewis said that there is no intention to remove any mangroves at Delmar, and those removed to make room for the kayak launch would be replaced elsewhere on the island.
"The intention is simply to trim them to make room for a view corridor from the benches," she said. "The area also needs to be cleaned up a little bit, where Keith will be actively involved, and includes improvements to the shoreline to help with erosion."
Rita Oben, property manager of Dock of the Bay - four single family homes at the end of Delmar - said she is opposed to the park because they already have issues with people trespassing in the pool and bathroom areas.
The Council then approved CRAB's recommendations, with the exception of the signs, which Council sent back to CRAB to simplify and to make sure the translations are accurate.
During Council member's Items, Councilman Alan Mandel said there have been discussions on possibly moving the Town's dumpsters to somewhere near Time Square.
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros suggested changing the public comment policy to require folks who wish to speak to fill out comment cards as a way to eliminate emotional outbursts in the middle of council meetings.
Following a break for lunch, Council returned for a continuation of the workshop held on March 28th. There was no published agenda for the workshop as the plan was for every council member to give their ideas of what should be placed on agenda management.
This began with a discussion on the Town's dumpsters, where council agreed to ask staff to look at alternatives to the current site at City Hall, where they were moved after public outcry forced them from Bay Oaks.
Stockton then asked about construction on the weekends, saying that builders shouldn't be allowed to wreck residents' Sundays with loud noise. Town code currently has no restrictions on construction activity on the weekends.
Vice-Mayor Dan Andre pointed out that some homeowners can only do improvements to their property on the weekends.
Staff agreed to set up informal meetings between complainants, staff, and members of the construction community.
Finally, Stockton wanted to know what was happening with the comfort stations.
"CRAB is in the process of looking at alternative locations, and my guess is we're not going to find any anywhere," Andre said. "The only place where we are looking is near the Sunoco station and there has been one on Palm Street for quite some time that has not been contested."
Vice-Mayor Andre suggested having an outdoor retreat once a year, perhaps at Newton Park or the Mound House, that would serve as a strategy session. No action would be taken, but rather direction would be given to staff.
Andre also suggested the elimination of long PowerPoint presentations at council meetings as council already has the information in their packets and the presentations take too much time and are redundant in nature.
Mayor Cereceda initiated a discussion on the Town's special events permit by saying that the process is too complicated.
"The Town should be service friendly, period," she said. "The special events permit is 17 pages long and it is absurd. It shouldn't be that difficult to do something. I think we need to re-look at it, and that there should be different categories. For instance, events like the Shrimp Festival, Santini Plaza events and the Pirate Festival are pretty much the same year after year, and should be almost automatic."
Discussion was held on the possible creation of a multi-event permit, and the fact that staff has issues with people waiting to the last minute to pull permits for large events.
Hosafros asked why permits were required for non-alcohol, non-food events such as book sales in the library parking lot.
Council agreed to hold a stakeholder workshop with all involved.
The Mayor's next item was the parking at 216 Connecticut Street, a vacant lot that the Town purchased with the idea that it be used as off-site parking for the Mound House.
"This issue went before the LPA as a zoning change with a provision that should the Mound House ever close, it would revert back to residential, and nothing ever happened," she said. "That shouldn't have happened as this property was purchased for a specific use, so I'd like to see this come back to us."
Town Clerk Michelle Mayher offered to pull together a history and return with it at the workshop on April 21st.
Keri Hendry Weeg