Certain businesses on Fort Myers Beach will now be allowed to expand the sale and service of alcohol onto the sand in an established area of the beachfront of their properties.
The action was approved when the Town Council unanimously decided to amend a chapter of the Town's Land Development Code revising regulations for the consumption on-premise permitted use into the "Environmentally Critical Zoning District" - the sandy beach that runs from the rear of a beachfront building towards the Gulf.
Council, which conducted numerous workshops on the matter, assembled a task force to look into particulars and held three hearings over 14 months, listened to more public input before settling on conditions to address community concerns. The revisions include: 1) establishing side setback standards for area of service; 2) establishing maximum area standards; 3) adding authoritative ability to require special exceptions; 4) prohibiting the dispensing of alcohol in glass or aluminum containers; 5) establishing signage requirement for area of service; and 6) establishing no additional COP outside the downtown zoning district.
"I can't think of a bigger subject matter that has received more public scrutiny, and I know that our community development department has done a prodigious job of research and analysis on this," said Town Manager Terry Stewart.
Public input issues involved what some said was poor timing due to the absence of out-of-town residents, marine and eco-tourism concerns with the expansion's hourly extension, reduction of beachfront passageway, sending the wrong message for a family environment and enforcement problems. Clarifications to the ordinance were added due to the concerns.
Regarding the latter, Stewart pointed out it will be the responsibility of the business owners to police the expanded area and keep patrons from stepping out of the designated boundaries.
The Sheriff's Office holds responsibility to regulate beyond the business property on the public beach.
Councilwoman Jo List believes the established domains will also help regulate other beachfront activities that include alcohol, coolers and public drunkenness.
"I think enforcement might be improved simply because the impact of the kind of behavior would be intolerable to the businesses," she said. "I think there would be more awareness on misbehavior."
Mayor Larry Kiker addressed the "poor timing" issue.
"This is the third hearing. We discussed this during season. It just lasted that long," said Kiker. 'There is absolutely no way we can pick a perfect time to have a discussion when everybody is here all the time. We have to conduct business 12 months out of the year."
Council members limited the hours of "on sand" service and consumption from 11 a.m. to one hour after sunset or 9 p.m. and no later to comply with sea turtle protection requirements contained in the Land Development Code.
The area of service expansion also is limited to no more than 33 percent of the permitted land area between the private property boundary and the mean high water line (up to a maximum of 100 feet). Establishments with 100 linear feet can extend out to a maximum area of 2,500 square feet. The erosion control line will be used in place of the mean high water line in areas of nourished beachfront with at least 50 feet of passageway between the Gulf and the water end of the permitted land area.
The passageway clause was added after public input concern.
Ropes and posts must be to mark the expanded areas and signs stating no alcohol beyond the area must be posted at each entrance.
In case of storm activity reducing the expansion area, an LCD provision protects that.
"There is a provision that allows the town manager to pull back that area of expansion during neutral tidal events or storms," said Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel. "The manager can pull that back to protect the public's right of passage."
The approved expansion applies to 18 beachfront establishments -all of which can make application for the usage within a six-month time frame. The Lani Kai Beach Resort is the only one of the 18 validated with pre-existing use, according to the Town manager.
"(Lani Kai) is not compelled to come in and apply to be able to serve out on the sand area because they have been doing this for years," said Stewart. "We hope they do come in and apply with the process and follow our regulations. Our records indicate that any of the rest of the establishments must go through the process."
No establishments will receive administrative approval for expansion after March 4, 2013. Request for a special exception -a long, detailed and somewhat expensive process, according to Stewart- may be an avenue for such application afterwards.