Public complaints regarding inequality on Town right-of-way issues on Estero Island have driven Beach officials to seek more consistency in common methodology to stop private property owners who may be misusing the right.
At a workshop on Tuesday morning, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council gave staff direction to develop a general framework on how to handle these conflicts. Town staff expects to be more proactive to solve the issues. Individual cases will be brought in front of Council before approval.
"Staff is going to approach from the perspective of trying to work through a solution. We have no intention in being confrontational or adversarial in addressing these matters," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "We want to move forward with some consistency in a fair and logical manner."
Businesses on Donora Street and Chapel Street were cited as using the Town ROW for parking. The former, eventually recognized as Red Coconut RV Park, was said to have parked vehicles blocking traffic in that ROW and also allowing tents to be pitched within a foot of the street to create a safety issue.
"If someone misjudged the way they were driving, they would run right over them," said Mayor Bob Raymond. "That's in the Town ROW, and that bothers me."
"We just want to make sure that we are protecting the Town's financial interest," added Stewart. "We've taken a beating from some residents about what they view is our failure to enforce issues like the one at Donora."
Town ROWs are a use controlled via a lease agreement based on a per square foot charge that Council established years ago. Town officials would like to reclaim the public ROW by removing signs, landscaping, dumpsters, displays, construction staging areas and newspaper/periodical boxes as well as parking.
Stewart stated there are a "number of locations in the town where there are conflicts between our right-of-way and how the public is using them."
Examples were given about how similar conflicts were resolved after the redevelopments were completed on North Estero and Old San Carlos boulevards. Agreements in the form of leases were made to allow certain businesses rights to the Town ROW for a fee.
"You made some decisions at that time about how we would handle those various conflicts. We put those into play and worked out agreements with a number of property owners along the way," said Stewart.
Outdoor seating leases within Town ROW run on an annual basis and can be modified upon renewal if need be.
"That outdoor atmosphere just brings a charm to the Beach," said Councilman Joe Kosinski.
Councilwoman Jo List was concerned about ROW rights at bay accesses. In the future, Gulf Beach Road may see metered parking at the end of its street, while Delmar Street may be developed into a park to be accessed by bicycle or foot.
Community Resources Advisory Board has been involved in envisioning the bay accesses. But, some residents have taken it upon themselves to beautify their end of street ROWs, then consider the Town property as their own by shooing off people they call trespassers.
"That isn't their property," said Mayor Bob Raymond. "These people don't even want (their neighbors) to go down there."
Town Attorney Marilyn Miller sent caution on how to handle the issues legally.
"Typically, if it is listed as a street ROW, we have to be careful allowing it to be put to use for anything that isn't truly transportation related," she said. "You have to be careful that the use you are allowing in that ROW is not inconsistent to what the sub divider intended for that property."
Town officials agreed that residents must submit a proposal for any work before implementation.
"I don't think other people should be able to make money off of our right-of-ways," said Councilman Dan Andre.
To date, all island properties and encroachment have not been thoroughly evaluated. Situations may be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Town Public Works Director Cathie Lewis has been working with County officials to discuss Town ROW issues before any work begins in the Estero Boulevard Redesign project.
"Now that we are moving into design work on Estero Boulevard, I am hoping to provide them with some consensus as to what some of the expectations are along the boulevard," she said.