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Elevated pools issue to drag on

January 8, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

My wife's and my decision to buy property on Fort Myers Beach 20 years ago was based on finding a house we could live in comfortably that we could afford, a harbor deep enough for our sailboat, and, although it wasn't verbalized at that time, a place that wasn't like Sanibel or Naples and wasn't likely to become Fort Lauderdale.

Intellectually, I have no doubt that sooner or later, this is going to happen. There are very few places left in the U.S. that have the climate, beaches, water and other pleasures we enjoy. And there is enough big money out there wanting such places that replacing all the beach cottages with mansions is inevitable. Emotionally (and selfishly), I only hope the change can be forestalled until well after it matters to me.

I am saddened that in the last year or so, several such palaces have appeared on the beach and the Back Bay. I'm disappointed and more than a little upset that the Town has allowed a developer to build two above-ground pools that in addition to being hideously ugly, will block the view, airflow and drainage from neighboring properties.

The developer, Joe Orlandini, who probably isn't an evil person (unless, of course, he is), has a billboard out on San Carlos Boulevard that says he is "re-defining Real Estate on Fort Myers Beach." No kidding! Somehow, he and his attorney convinced selected town staffers that the Land Development Code was "ambiguous" about whether a pool could be built higher than 42 inches above "grade" and closer to the seawall than 25 feet and therefore, he should be allowed to do so.

Defining Real Eestate on the beach isn't the job of an ambitious developer, it is the job of the Local Planning Agency and ultimately, the Council. It is also their job to keep it from being re-defined in a manner that no one on the beach wants.

It couldn't have been clearer at the packed-house council meeting Monday that the only people who think these above-ground pools are a good idea are Mr. Orlandini, his lawyer and the clients who bought the monstrosities. Whereas the town attorney and another outside counsel issued opinions that the code "might" be interpreted in favor of such construction, (something to do with whether or not they were "attached" to the main structure), some of the town's founding mothers and fathers who drafted the code, as well as two current members of the Local Planning Agency whose job it is to interpret it, quoted chapter and verse of the code that sounded perfectly clear to me and everybody else in the room.

The result has been charges of incompetence, betrayal and even unethical, possibly illegal conduct by a couple of town staffers and the whole town council, who have the final call in the issue.

Town Council has issued a "moratorium" on all pool permits which Orlandini's lawyer says is illegal and which has screwed some other local contractors and property owners from completing projects which are clearly in compliance with the code and shouldn't be held up.

I don't really believe that anyone acted with malicious intent, but I sure think a lot of people, both staff and elected, really screwed up big time. No one should be surprised when this one ends up in litigation.

This is a situation that the "Daily Show" would describe in a two-part word, the first part of which is "cluster."

n Some other random observations:

This whole mess brings to light a related issue. A lot of people are really PO'd about this, and rightfully so. There is an election coming up in a couple of months and three seats will be open on the Town Council. I urge everyone to vet the candidates very thoroughly and not elect anyone whose single agenda item is their anger over this one matter. We went through that experience not that many years ago. The "angry" council members accomplished their agenda (firing the town manager) at their first meeting and spent the rest of their terms doing some real damage to the town.

The town attorney continually referred to this meeting as a "quasi-judicial" procedure. What the hell does that mean? Quasi means "having a likeness to something" or "sort of." Either it was or it wasn't. Everyone who spoke was sworn in and what they said was referred to as "testimony." If it was judicial, Mr. Orlandini had the burden of proof to show that his appeal was valid. Not one word that his attorney spoke accomplished that.

God bless founding father and former mayor Dan Hughes. He was one of those who wrote the code years ago. His comment that since the outside attorney whose credentials were read (all from solid but not necessarily distinguished universities), he would cite his own (Yale and Northwestern). He's still sharp as a tack and cut through the BS beautifully.

Finally, the town needs to do something about the sound system in Town Hall. It stinks. People in the back of the back of the room couldn't hear half of what was being said. At the same time, council members, staff and all who speak should keep in mind that if the idea is to hold meetings before the public, what they say should be able to be heard by the public. Several officials continually speak "off-mike" and mumble inaudibly.

During my years of teaching aspiring musicians the importance of "presence and projection" in their performances, I used a quote from William Jennings Bryan, a lawyer and politician in the early 20th century who was considered one of the great orators of his day, which preceded amplified sound systems. He said, "I always speak to the farthest person in the last row. I figure if he can hear me, everyone else in between will, too." It's good advice for musicians and public officials.

Oh, by the way, the Council voted 3-2 to deny Orlandini's appeal. Stay tuned, this one isn't over by a long shot.

Jay Light

Fort Myers beach



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