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Council approves sign variances/ rezoning

November 7, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council has allowed a sign variance to another business on Estero Boulevard. The action passed by a narrow 3-2 margin at a hearing Monday morning.

Just three weeks after Beach Shell Inn at 2610 Estero Blvd. was granted a zero-foot setback and an overall sign height of nine feet, Dolphin Inn at 6555 Estero Blvd. was approved the same right-of-way setback and sign height. Both businesses placed requests to erect new monument signs that are higher than the overall sign height of 6 foot, six inches as stated in the Town sign ordinance.

While Beach Shell Inn's approval dealt with "no feasible location on-site" for signage relocation, Dolphin Inn's situation was one of location distance from the main County road.

"This business is way back off the road," said Councilwoman Jo List, one of the three who approved the variance. "I personally will agree with the owner (Travis Owen) that it should be higher than 6', 6" after walking all around that property and driving by it several times."

Councilman Joe Kosinski agreed. "Nine feet is reasonable considering all the circumstances. He's pretty much locked in to this location."

Vice Mayor Alan Mandel, who dissented, wanted to postpone the hearing so that Town staff could have time to speak with County officials about ROW issues.

"From what I understood is the owner would have like to gone three feet into the right-of-way. I do not understand why the County, according to the owner, did not even talk to him about it," he said.

Councilman Dan Andre cited several businesses that had to come into compliance before voting no to the request.

"By giving away too much on this one, you'll open the door for anyone to come back and asked to raise their (sign) too," he said.

"I think they have insinuating circumstances," said Mayor Bob Raymond, who voted yes. "I am in favor of giving them the nine feet."

Town Attorney Marilyn Miller added the legal terminology on the record.

"The justification for this (approval) is that it's unique and that it has a medium which causes the right-of-way to be so far set back," she said.

Right before the Dolphin Inn Sign Variance hearing, the sign variance case for Neptune Inn was sent to the Town's Local Planning Agency to be heard during a hearing there. Neptune Inn's additional variance was not included in the original application request, so LPA officials did not hear the case. LPA did recommend the minimum variance for Dolphin Inn's sign.

Both hearings were first brought in front of Council on Oct. 1.

The Town sign ordinance grants "exceptional or extraordinary conditions," but Council members gave indications that neither case appeared to possess such a required hard case situation last month.

Dolphin Inn's existing sign measures roughly 20 feet tall and is more than 32 square feet in sign area. On Oct. 1, the requested height in the variance by Owen was 11 feet. The inn has 19 parking spaces and 22 rooms.

Neptune Inn's existing sign measures 23 feet in height from the top of the triton to the parking lot grade and 45 square feet in sign face area. The prior request was for an overall height of eight feet, 10 inches. There are 75 parking spaces in the lot and 71 rooms at that inn.

Both businesses were developed under the Lee County zoning ordinance more than 40 years ago. Regulation for new signs under the Town sign ordinance began in January 2012.

Before Council members allowed a grace period in April 2008, affected sign-holders on Estero Island had more than eight years to meet the required, regulatory measures in the Town Land Development Code. Council members then unanimously approved sign ordinance amendments back in April 2011 and compliance was asked of the Beach businesses.

Heavenly Biscuit receives rezoning approval

The property located at 110 Mango St. that is currently occupied by Heavenly Biscuit has been unanimously approved to be rezoned from Residential Multifamily to Commercial Boulevard.

The Council action corrected an error made during adoption of the Official Zoning Map back in 2004. The property, purchased in 1988 as a beauty parlor business, was originally zoned Commercial (C-1) under Lee County zoning regulations, but was erroneously rezone to Residential Multifamily 16 years later. Council members denied a previously Town-initiated rezoning to correct the error in 2006, and that led to a lawsuit and settlement.

Heavenly Biscuit is a breakfast and lunch eatery that is leased out by the property owner. The re-rezoning legitimizes its existence and use on the property, which was originally developed in the 1920s as a residential cottage. Since it currently is a legal non-conforming use, no permitting will be needed, and Council agreed to waive fees.

On Sept. 11, the LPA unanimously approved the action to send it to Council. Town staff also approved the rezoning.

"I can't see how we can arbitrarily take away the right that someone has and just change it," said Raymond.

Town Manager Terry Stewart stated the rezoning does not allow the business owner to erect a produce food stand. During the recent past, one was on site in front of the business' porch.

"This rezoning will still not allow a fruit stand or produce stand to be operated on the property," he said.



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