A voluntary Town advisory committee approved specific regulatory suggestions relating to a proposed ordinance amendment about selling alcohol at beachfront businesses on Fort Myers Beach at Town Hall on Friday. The Beach Town Council will now look into those ideas.
Members of the Consumption On Premises Task Force consensually agreed to size limitations of a proposed expanded area to sell alcohol on the sandy beach; no entertainment within that extension; ropes and posts to establish dominion and control; restrictive signage on each side of the expanded area's entrance; and no requirement for establishments to have their business' names on plastic cups. All mentioned conditions would need to go through the special exception process before approval, while an annual fee will be charged to affected businesses.
The task force is comprised of one Councilman, two Town staff members, three restaurant managers/owners and two residents after Beach resident Tom Babcock resigned from the group last week.
COP Task Force chairman Joe Kosinski discusses the regulatory measures his advisory committee comprised in Council Chambers Friday.
"For those that get the privilege to (be able to serve alcohol in the expanded area), they should have some responsibilities to help offset the ability to get that privilege," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "That's the concept behind this."
The logo cup issue produced the most discussion. Many of the task force members agreed proper signage and each establishment's policing techniques to not allow alcohol outside its perimeter would be better than having establishment's names on cups.
"I think that signage is a great first deterrent. Depending on the parameters that were put on this ordinance from the policing side and maintaining control ourselves, I think that's going to add a hell of a lot more weight than putting a logo on a cup," said Neil Hopgood, general manager at DiamondHead Beach Resort.
"I'm not against the names on the cups, but I can see from an operator's standpoint where the issue lies. You can be unduly penalizing a good operator for something that really is not under his control," added Beach resident Dennis Boback.
"It seems like the prevailing consensus here is that there isn't enough a rational benefit to have this requirement in the ordinance," said Stewart.
Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel stated the logo cup concept enabled "enforcement partners to work together in concert because you have an ABT (Alcohol, Beverage & Tobacco) issue, Sheriff's issue and code enforcement issue" and establishing zoning enforcement powers within the Town's jurisdiction.
The signage language and controlled access to the expanded beachfront areas were two main factors in the overall decision to forgo logo cups. The proposed language would read, "No alcohol beyond this point," with a Town ordinance number and fine fee ($125) if violated.
"Controlled access and education is key," said Surf Club owner Bruce Cermak.
Boback recommended no logo cups until an establishment violates certain conditions. Hopgood suggested flagrant violators could have their COP privilege taken away.
"The recommendation would be no logo at this time but the possibility exists if Council determines there is an issue and (the establishments) are aware that at some point in time they may have to have logo cups," Boback said.
The task force offered a defined expansion area involving seven feet side setbacks, one-third of the distance between the EC Zoning Line and the mean high water line or 25 feet (whichever is more restrictive) or a 1,500 square-foot maximum. The original ordinance reads 100 feet, and the smaller area is less intrusive to the family atmosphere of the Beach.
The "no entertainment" recommendation in the extension area protects residents from excessive noise. Only special event permits would allow non-previously granted COP businesses to have that right.
No new establishments outside the downtown-zoning district will be under consideration for COP licenses unless the existing business already has rights approved over the EC Zoning Line.
The fee schedule needs further analysis from the Town attorney and should be reviewed during the task force's next meeting Friday at 2 p.m. One point was to charge annual permit renewals for each business within COP rights. Violating businesses may not receive renewals during reapplication.
"This is environmentally sensitive sand. I see a situation where we should have a fee setup that is different than an annual fee," said Beach resident Tom Merrill. "I don't understand why there can't be a fee based on the square footage of use, the number of tables or percentage of the business' gross profit as a way of mitigating and creating revenue for the Town for the privilege of being able to use that property."
Future enforcement cost should be weighed in, says Merrill.
"(These establishments) will have more people and bigger business," he said. "We don't know what the enforcement issue will be."
Council expressed no desire to address or review a referendum for ordinance amendments relating to this issue.
Another task force member resigns
Beach resident Tom Merrill officially announced his resignation from the Consumption On Premises Task Force on Monday. He is the second Beach resident to resign from the advisory committee.
"Rather than alleviating concerns, two meetings on the COP Task Force have solidified my fears, and I recognize that further involvement is useless," he said. "Alternative voices of reason are limited and a consistent mantra to treat the pending ordinance as a done deal speaks volumes.
"If Council has a legitimate desire to look at options for a smaller expansion, Task Force discussions have dealt with that issue well. Along with the comprehensive work from Joanne Shamp, Town Council members should have far better options than they had with the limited information available up to the last public hearing." Unfortunately, if this ordinance is passed, it is still difficult to understand what will have changed to make this issue so worthwhile, except that more alcohol can legally be sold on the beach."