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P&Z approves fence for downtown church

January 9, 2013
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A roar of happiness came from those attending Wednesday's Planning & Zoning meeting at City Hall, mostly parents and parishioners from a downtown church.

Their excitement was that the board approved a request by Vineyards of the Islands Church to build a fence around its facility at 923 S.E. 47th Terrace despite a recommendation of denial by staff.

And it may have gotten a small miracle, thanks to a memo from city manager John Szerlag recommending the fence's approval.

"It's a God thing. I understand the law is the law, but through Christ all is possible," said parishioner Viki Mikusek, who was among the 30 or so who came in support of the measure. "We saw some changed hearts from people who weren't going to go along."

The motion, which passed 4-2 vote, will allow the church to build a fence 74 inches high at the gate, with the majority being 48 inches, with no setback from the front property line.

The church requested the fence surround the church's playground as a way to protect children who play there.

However, city staff was concerned that since the fence was at the property line, it could impede pedestrian traffic, and certain special conditions were not met, such as hardship, special privilege, minimum variance, public interest and public intent.

Pastor Jamie Stilson implored the commission to take into account the church's location, near several popular bars, and the safety of the children.

"The uniqueness of the location makes this a challenge. To call the fence non-essential is shortsighted," Stilson said. "The biggest problem is space for children at a church that has grown. They have no relief valve and the outside area is dangerous."

Stilson cited the night scene as an issue. He said he has had to clean up his property on Sunday mornings after a hard night of partying by downtown visitors.

"We want a smoke-free and alcohol-free area. We have to clean beer bottles and human feces off our property left by irresponsible people. We have to go through more hoops than others whose buildings are far less attractive," Stilson said.

Stilson had a point, considering a memo sent to city staff by Szerlag on the topic of variances, professional neutrality and the setback issue.

"there does not exist a state or local requirement that staff makes such a recommendation. As such, I believe our role should be one of professional neutrality, where we empirically identify elements in the variance process, but do not render an opinion," the memo states.

Board liaison, Cape Coral Council Member Chris Chulakes-Leetz, also brought up how the zero-setback rule applies to certain businesses.

"Across from the CRA office is a bar that allows outside seating right up to the sidewalk. That seems to be an example of a zero lot line," Chulakes-Leetz said.

Most on the board commended staff for the way it did its job. It also complimented the church for turning what had been an old American Legion building into a visually pleasing structure and for its work downtown.

Despite the glowing compliments, board chairperson Patti Martin couldn't support the request.

"The staff is doing its job when it recommends denial. We have procedures, though I also wish we had conversation (between the church and staff)" Martin said. "We're bound by the five standards and if we can't find them met, we can't approve. They are not met."

Martin and Max Forgey gave the no votes in the motion.

Stilson said construction on the fence, which will be easily seen through and asthetically pleasing, will start immediately.

 
 

 

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