Residents of Palermo Circle and members of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council reacted emotionally after information was brought forth regarding recently issued building permits to single-family homes that are currently tied up in litigation on the north island side street.
One Palermo Street resident called Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda over the weekend and told her one of the Town's code enforcement officers stated a settlement had been reached in the legal case titled Orlandini versus the Town of Fort Myers Beach, and that was the reason the permits were issued.
At the Council meeting Monday morning, Cereceda said she was "livid" after hearing the information and called the permits inappropriate. Town records show a building permit at 221 Palermo Circle was issued last Wednesday after one at 551 Palermo Circle was issued April 17.
The Beach mayor stated "nothing has been settled" in regards to the stated litigation and offered her "sincere apologies for what has transpired" in regards to the issued permits. Litigation involves the process of change in zoning and an appeal on the Council decision to place a construction hold on pools and accessory structures. Back in February, permits were denied based on land development codes for 455, 551, 221, 263 and 301 Palermo Circle.
"I was so angry this weekend that I couldn't speak," said Cereceda. "This isn't about zoning or permitting or legalities of a structure. This is about the future of my town. And, because of that, it stirs such intense emotion. It needs to be abundantly clear to anyone who steps through that door at Town Hall what the intent is of this Council. We are the decision makers."
In a past meeting, Council requested that building permits come through the policy makers before issuance. Unfortunately, there appears to be a "gray area" involving interpretation from Town staff members.
"If it's black and white, it doesn't have to come to us," said Cereceda in explanation. "The problem is I do not believe we are on the same page yet. We will either all get on the same page, or we'll have a whole new book."
The issued permits were called a "mistake" by Town Manager Don Stilwell, who stated it would never happen again.
"It shouldn't have happened," he said. "I apologize."
Town attorney Derek Rooney said he will check to see if the permits are "tied to litigation or not" and expects to provide an answer to the public when it is available. There were calls for rescinding such permits during public comment. He stated no elevated pools are involved in the two properties.
Cereceda stared towards members of Town staff during some of her comments.
"We are the ones that decide the future of Fort Myers Beach, not you," she said. "This is our home town, and I suspect if someone was doing this in your backyard, you would feel as equally as passionate.
She then looked towards the attending neighborhood residents, told them to "hang tight" until the issue is resolved.
"There are going to be more meetings to follow. I plan to meet with all of you. I will tell you exactly what has happened as soon as I am clear about it," she said.
The Beach mayor appeared uncomfortable with the direction that the "new council" may be going due to this incident.
"People who voted in this election put their faith in us to steer us onto a new course," she said. "To date, I do not believe we are on the same page. I am angry, I am hurt and I am deeply concerned that everybody needs to GET IT."
Vice Mayor Dan Andre made a strong statement as well.
"I wouldn't allow a permit for a door knob if it had Palermo on it," he said.
Prior to Council comments, Beach resident Tracey Gore, who has been known as the residents' spokesperson involving issues in that neighborhood, brought up the topic during public comment and broke down in tears. Emotion has clearly taken over for those in that area of the island. The elevated pools and accessory structure issue has brought about much stress for everyone involved.
"My neighbors mean so much to me, but I can't keep up with this. I am really getting overwhelmed," she said. "All this stuff is happening with Town staff. It's supposed to be transparent, but it's not. It's not OK."
"It's almost impossible for one developer to get three permits that aren't supposed to be issued," added Palermo Circle resident Gayle Manor during public comment. "To think that the staff can screw it up once again and still have jobs is almost unbelievable."
Councilwoman Rexanne Hosafros agreed the permits were done inappropriately, since they were not brought to Council's attention. She threw caution to emotional reaction during council member items at the afternoon workshop.
"I want everybody to take a step back and be careful of what you say," she said. "I have heard second-hand allegations that someone is on the take. I don't believe there is a plot. I believe mistakes have and continue to be made."
Councilwoman Summer Stockton, who lives on Palermo Circle, broke down during Gore's comments in the morning. She saved her comments for the afternoon workshop.
"The point is the end result is still the same. There is no secret that our Town does not seem to be functioning at the best of its ability," she said. "I think one thing that Council can do is be clear that we will never consider anything without being given complete and accurate information in a timely fashion, unless it is in an emergency situation."
Stockton believes the Town building department should at least be temporarily contracted out to either County or private provider.
"I feel it is the best interest of the Town," she said.
Cereceda stated she echoes Stockton's frustrations and calls the Town "seriously off-track." In the morning, she vowed that the issue will be resolved once more information is sought. At 4 p.m. Monday, she said she is looking for resolution to the matter before day's end Tuesday.
"I hope that within 24 hours this situation will be resolved," she said.