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COP expansion issue goes back to hearing

August 21, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It has been more than four months since the Fort Myers Beach Town Council has placed any weight on a controversial, yet equity-based issue that has since been examined by a Town-led task force. On Monday, Council decided it needed morning, afternoon and evening hours of interest on the matter.

The proposed expansion of Consumption on Premises is going back to a hearing, its third. Council approved to hold the final COP hearing on Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday evening.

"In our process, we are only going to do one more hearing," said Beach Mayor Larry Kiker, "I believe we have had enough public comment up until now."

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Town officials visited certain establishments on the beachfront of Fort Myers Beach —like Junkanoo on the Beach here— where stakes were placed for potential areas of expansion for Consumption on Premises.

On Monday morning, Council and Town staff members reviewed their plan of attack, and then visited seven previously staked Beach establishments in the morning that may be affected by the expansion.

Upon visiting Pierside Grill, Gulfshore Grill, Nemo's on the Beach, Wicked Wings, Beach Pub, Junkanoo on the Beach and Holiday Inn, Council members took notes, but did not confer amongst each other about ideas surrounding the sites. Red-flagged stakes were marked for Town staff recommendations, while green-flagged stakes were marked for COP Task Force recommendations.

During the afternoon, Council members and staff discussed recommendations made by the COP Task Force and Town staff to aid in implementation for proposed COP ordinance amendments. Since it was a formal work session, their input from the field trip was noted.

"I think the number one criteria is how much room is there between the water and where all this starts," said Kiker. "We have to make sure that there is room for people to use the beach and walk by. It's a public beach."

COP task force recommendations somewhat narrowed the area of expansion and beachfront business requirements. The afternoon review of those specific provisions for the proposed ordinance that will be redefined included certain factors: it should not recognize any new or additional COP outside of the Downtown area; required double-sided sign at establishment entrance to beach depicting fine and ordinance; no glass or aluminum on such expanded area; administrative approval used for incentive to have businesses come into compliance within a six-month time frame only, then special exception applies; limit the area of expansion to so many feet per establishment's linear footage; and requirement of seven-foot setback where there is a beach access.

The whole concept of an ordinance or amendments made to an existing ordinance involves uniformity benefits within the commercial district and beyond.

"I don't see a major change," said Councilman Aland Mandel. "I think anything we adopt from this is either going to be limiting or it can still be said in such a way that it's confining to know more from what was in the original (ordinance). We then present a document incorporating what we discussed today at a public hearing for people to comment on, and Council takes action based on the public input and what we have in writing at that point."

The final hearing will be the third hearing for the COP expansion hearing. Council held the first hearing on April 2 and the second on April 16. The latter hearing was closed before a vote when opposition to revising the ordinance caused Council members to take a longer look before final legislative decision.

The main public objection involved beach business intrusion into the Environmentally Critical Zoning District (the sandy beach that runs from the rear of a beachfront building towards the Gulf) and the expansion of that area for the designation of service of alcoholic beverages as a permitted use.

Town staff will take some recommendations to the Council-approved findings of the COP Task Force and reword the amendments before the final hearing. There was no public comment on the matter Monday evening, but input is expected on Sept. 4.

"The minor revisions were changes that we made as staff to our original staff recommendations, based upon what we heard from the COP Task Force," said Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel. 'There were a couple of concepts that they came up with that we thought had some merit."

COP task force findings allowed

While there were public ethical challenges on COP Task Force findings, those challenges have been put to rest.

Back in May, certain members of the Beach community stated there was a violation of the Town ethics code due to some members of the COP Task Force directly involved with affected businesses of the proposed expansion.

During its first meeting in August, Council discussed the verbal determination by the Florida Ethics Commission on the certain proposed ethics violation, but complainants sought a written opinion by that state commission.

On Monday morning, Town attorney Marilyn Miller summarized the results of the particular findings, which are now published.

"Because it was kind of a unique issue, they didn't feel there was sufficient precedence, so staff took it to the full ethics commission. It is published as a formal ethics opinion," she said. "It's what is called 'remote and speculative' in nature, so it is not a voting conflict."



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