To the editor:
Late last spring, an article appeared in local news regarding serving alcohol on the public beach. The issue was discussed by Council but appeared that not much attention was given to the issue. However, since that time, the Community Development Director Walter Fluegel has rewritten the LDC Ordinance under the guidance of the Town Manager Terry Stewart. The new ordinance was specifically written to legally permit the serving of alcohol by frontline bars and saloons facing the Gulf.
At the time it was thought that only three bar establishments were using portions of the beach on their own recognizance to serve alcohol. Presently, this new open ideology of public beach alcohol appears to be acceptable by town staff and Council members. Under these new rules, 16 special requests have already been filed for the extension of privileges of alcohol use onto the public beach, including two of the original three establishments. For some reason, one of the originals was denied; on what basis, it is not clear.
I mention the above because it is my understanding that no records have been found granting permission to use the public beach by anyone for the sale of alcohol on it. The Lee County Sheriff's Office agreed with the town at an earlier time that no alcohol should be allowed on any part of the beach, and they did enforce the "no drinking on beach" issue. However, the Town manager and CDD's new draft ordinance seems to have set the ground rules for legalizing the use of alcohol on the beach by beachfront property owners, even though they had never broached the idea before. Accordingly, things seem to be working toward approval by Council.
Recently, two or three LPA members were replaced because they refused to approve what Council told them to approve. I sat in on an LPA Meeting several weeks ago as the new revised group discussed, prepared, and voted their decision to send Council what they wanted. Fluegel was acting as their only advisor whereas before LDC Members were guided by a paid attorney. It was disturbing to note how agreeable the new LDC members were. A great principle of our town may have just collapsed.
Since we became a Town in 1995, not one town manager or council has voted to approve such alcohol requests, and there were requests. I do not believe that visitors, permanent residents and families with children come to this island for the purpose of buying booze on the public beach. A few coolers showing up from time to time have never been a problem. This new issue is quite different.
The town has not really changed nor has the make-up of Council. They are essentially the same as previous residents who served on Council. Why such a radical change in our leaders behavior and philosophy? Could this possibly be a reaction to upcoming political issues? Have we found out how the Beach residents think? I don't believe we know at this time. For some reason, they have chosen to not participate in the decision of the issue of serving alcohol on the white sandy public peach. But, they are beginning to show that they do care, but not in numbers to keep Council honest enough to preserve our public beach as a free alcohol zone. I have come to know many of our town residents. They are seasoned and honorable people who are often referenced as "salt of the earth." They should not be ignored, and town traditions should not be violated.
Why doesn't Council present such a serious town issue as a referendum and hear from those who pay the 'piper'? Plan to attend Council meeting on April 19 for open public input.
Beach resident and former Councilman