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Short Term Rental discussion needed

March 27, 2013
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

In a recent guest commentary concerning the "Return of Short Term Rental Discussions" that will be discussed at a Town Council work session on April 1, Mr. Babcock mentioned that neighbors must once again fight to preserve our neighborhoods. Owners must also once again fight to not only protect our property rights, but get them back.

In March of 2003, the then-sitting Town Council saw fit to enact Ordinance 03-03 modifying Chapter 34, of the Fort Myers Beach Land Development Code. This ordinance severely limited the ability of homeowners on Fort Myers Beach to rent their homes weekly. In an unprecedented action, the Town Council, reacting to a few residents who were disturbed, presumably by some spring breakers, enacted a sweeping prohibition on weekly rentals and designated a "quiet zone" encompassing the majority of the residential area of the island, but exempting Estero Boulevard condos, multi-family homes and interestingly, some other select areas.

Over the years that the STR ordinance has been in place, it has not helped or solved the original rental issues that residents of the island had. Laws are already currently in place to patrol STRs and oversee occupancy and quiet times to allow renters and residences to live harmoniously here on the island. This ordinance did nothing towards changing the real problems, only limited, and took away, property rights of owners.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Babcock states that, "In some clearly defined single-family residential districts, a house can be rented only once in a calendar month." Anyone who has looked at the "clearly defined map" will wonder how the north side of Flamingo Street can be classed as monthly rentals only, but the south side of that same street is considered a weekly rental area. Or perhaps how Palmetto Street is weekly rentals, mixed amongst an entire subdivision of monthly only streets. There are many cases of biased monthly versus weekly rental zones on this map that make no sense; other than the obvious, that the "clearly defined map" was made with certain individuals in mind who wanted to maintain their property weekly and had influence on the Council back in 2003. If it had to do with the zoning of certain properties, perhaps the zoning needs to be considered and changed, rather than taking away an individual's right due to arbitrary zoning.

Fort Myers Beach is a resort island with a healthy mix of residential and commercial activity. The Lee County Sheriff's Department is empowered to deal with any unruly behavior that may occur at any property and Code Enforcement is empowered to cite a property owner if he or she fails to meet code. We pay taxes to cover these services.

Mr. Babcock also mentioned that, "The success of the ordinance can be measured by the fact that there has been no legal challenge." While he is correct that no legal challenge has been formally placed as of yet, a deadline has been given to the current Town Council, by an island resident, to move on this subject or legal action will follow. We have been actively working with the past Council and current Council members to get this matter resolved without the Town incurring legal fees to fight this. Mr. Babcock is actually very aware of this as I personally met with him approximately four years ago when he was on Council to discuss this with him. He even stated at that time that he thought it was a good time to review it, as it had been five years since passing. It should be noted that Mr. Babcock was influential in the original ordinance passing and was on one of the advisory boards for the LPA.

Currently the City of Venice Florida has over $700,000 in legal fees in trying to defend themselves in a lawsuit that has been brought against them by property owners for the same reasons. Does the Town of Fort Myers Beach wish to incur this type of expense to defend themselves? Our own Town attorney stated at a Town meeting not too long ago, that some of the wording in the current ordinance is "unconstitutional."

Let it also be known that our own Governor Scott, in July, 2011, signed a bill forbidding any local government to prohibit the use of a residence in this way. The very rule that Mr. Babcock is endorsing, the "taking" of property rights by our local government without reimbursement, is now forbidden in our State. There's a reason for that. It's unconstitutional. Period. There are three or four areas in the State of Florida where this rental rule is allowed. They are state sensitive areas. We are not one of those areas.

Not so long ago, certain townspeople backed new "rules" to the ordinance. One of those rules was, "All rental properties must have tight fitting garbage can lids." Not to mention that it would be nice that all properties had tight fitting garbage can lids, the fact of the matter is that Governor Scott's bill stated that if you even changed the ordinance, which was grand-fathered in, the ordinance itself would be abolished. No changes. No new ordinances. And that's why the issue of tight fitting garbage can lids just went away.

This ordinance has harmed people. It has harmed those who have lost the "investment" value of a home. It has harmed those who paid more for a home because it was a better "investment" value. It has harmed those who lost their homes because they couldn't use the one "tool" that might have helped them save their home, which is the rental income that could have been produced.

Bottom line is the people who purchased here before the Short Term Rental Rule debacle came in to existence, knew they were buying in a resort area. If they wanted to be in a protected homeowners association, they should have bought in that type of community. Once here, they tried, and succeeded, in taking away property rights.

April 1 is a big day in the history of Fort Myers Beach. Those in favor of rescinding this ordinance need to make their voices heard. If you are unable to attend the workshop, please email our Town Council and Manager at the following emails to let them know how you feel. Remember every voice does count make yours be heard loud and clear!

The Town of Fort Myers Beach needs to stop the bleeding. We need to do some major damage control and hope and pray we don't become involved in a lawsuit that could bankrupt the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

There are a large number of us that feel Ordinance 03-03 Division 32-A, Sections 34-2391 to 34-2394 is illegal, unfair and arbitrary of taking our property rights. We asking that the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach rescind Division 32-A Sections 34-2391 to 34-2394 of the Fort Myers Beach Land Development Code immediately, giving all property owners the ability to use their property for residential rental purposes as they see fit. Please reach out to our current Council members at the above emails or attend the workshop on April 1 at the Town Hall. We need everyone's help to get our property rights back!

Amy Loughrey

Fort Myers Beach



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