Town of Fort Myers Beach Community Development Director Walter Fluegel gave a report on code enforcement efforts on Estero Island during the Council workshop last week.
In doing so, Fluegel relayed numbers and spoke about zoning violations that are under the umbrella of Beach code enforcement. The issue was brought up due to a request from Council members.
Fluegel reported that during this fiscal year to date (between Oct.1, 2012 to present), there have been 127 active cases, 414 cases closed, 306 cases opened and 23 cases that have gone to special magistrate to be heard as a case. During that period, $22,627.50 has been collected in liens as well as $1,115 recovered in prosecution costs.
The property at 80 Avenue E has been cited a notice of violation under property maintenance for unsafe structure determination.
The open code case violations in descending order range from zoning to property maintenance to signs to outdoor display to erosion control to short term rentals to accessory uses to floodplain regulations.
"One of more common ones is zoning violations related to anything in Chapter 34 (of the Town Land Development Code) like outdoor display and short term rentals," he said. "So, zoning could incorporate use violations, someone opening up a business without a certificate of use or a fence not set back properly on one's property."
Fluegel mentioned sign ordinance cases as an ongoing effort due to flags, banners, sandwich signs and window signs without permits. Businesses may face repeat magistrate hearings due to replacement of signage after code enforcement officers ask for removal.
"We are asking magistrate to impose repeat violation for those type of sign violations," said Town Attorney Marilyn Miller.
If someone has already been cited for an illegal sign, tries to place it outside his or her business and is caught again, it is brought to a hearing where the magistrate may not levy a fine but judges as guilt.
"That way if it happens again, and it comes back before the hearing officer, a larger fine (will be imposed)," said Town Manager Terry Stewart.
Fluegel stated Council adopted the International Property Maintenance Code on Jan. 22, 2013. So far, 25 cases within that realm have been opened. A total of 63 have been opened this fiscal year.
"Last week, we issued a notice of violation for 80 Avenue E," he said. "There was an unsafe structure determination in coordination with Lee County's unsafe structures team along with numerous property maintenance violations. That was probably the first major case that you will see going through the process where we've used IPMC. Literally, staff used a checklist from the code and went out and evaluated the three building that comprise that property and issued the notice by identifying every little property maintenance violation (roughly 20) that occurred on the property."
Fluegel said other properties are also being looked at in this regard, including Helmerich Plaza.
"We are going out to proactively look at these properties," he said.
It was brought up that the current methods for property maintenance violations are complaint driven and staff initiated or with the assist from the Beach Fire District when officers go out to do their annual fire inspections.
Potential methods that may be time and labor intensive include neighborhood sweeps, interactive neighborhood outreach efforts, comprehensive blight assessment as well as identification and prioritization by maintenance issue type with ties in with monthly identification and outreach education.
"(The latter) is where you as Council members may identify as maintenance issues that you see consistently or hear about from your constituents," said Fluegel. 'This is similar to what we did with the outdoor displays, although the genesis of that was a little bit different. It was in response to some complaints we received, but we decided to do a more comprehensive look. A component of that was an outreach program where we sat down with the retailers and talked about what the outdoor display regulations are and the probating process. That dialogue evolved into what is working for them with this regulatory framework.
Stewart and Councilman Dan Andre both attended the program and commented that is appeared to be "very popular" among the retailers. The Town manager also pointed out the number of cases closed out in the past few years.
"The great majority of these cases by far are closed out before we even get to the hearing officer," he said. "We work as hard as possible to try to clear up anything that is a violation. Most of the time, a code violation officer will notify the individual and give them a specified period of time to correct it. If it's corrected within that specified period of time and it's not a repeat violation, then it's just written off. Frankly, we don't want to take any of them to a hearing. The Town as a whole has a very good job of bringing that number of outstanding, continuing liens to a bare minimum."