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Town settles 'elevated pool' dispute

June 20, 2014
By Chuck Ballaro ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda considered it a lesson learned on how the dynamics of their young town has changed, and how its rules and regulations are going to have to be addressed.

At a special meeting on Friday, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted 4-1 to approve a settlement agreement in a dispute with developer Joe Orlandini over his bid to build an elevated pool at 301 Palermo Circle which neighbors said restricted views of the water.

It's a costly one for the town, as it will now pay the plaintiffs $250,000 and remove the "stop work" order in effect to allow the completion of the home under construction, including all variations.

"It's a growing pain, and this was a very painful one. I take away from this a tremendous lesson about what I believe our community wants and what we need to make sure is protected in the future," Cereceda said. "This is not an anti-redevelopment state, we want to maintain the character of our community and what's most essential, and that's a view to that water."

Orlandini will remove the deck and rebuild a balcony that will allow neighbors a view of the water, using pilings instead of the wall on the canal.

All parties will pay their own legal costs and court fees, and neither side acknowledges fault.

Also, properties at 221, 263, 455 and 551 Palermo are entitled to the construction of a single-family home and accessory structures, but they must be constructed with at least a 25-foot setback and to a height less than 42 inches.

"I hope we're able to ease the anxiety that comes with the resolution of this issue," Cereceda said.

Councilmember Summer Stockton, who cast the lone dissenting vote, expressed her displeasure at the meeting being called just 24 hours ahead of Friday's session.

"The final plans came (Thursday) and it was the only opportunity to review it with all five of us," Cereceda responded. "Otherwise it would sit until September."

While Stockton was not all together opposed to the agreement, she said the $250,000 was a high price to pay for a resident whom she thought broke the rules.

"If we spend that kind of money, they should come to compliance. I have zero tolerance for those who dare breech our codes. Otherwise it's a waste," Stockton said.

Resident Tracy Gore was the lone resident to speak, expressing her displease at what she maintains is the allowance of a non-conforming structure that was caused by staff error.

"I think the town staff made a big mistake and we're paying for it. I don't like the settlement, but it's over and I think did the best it could do with the problems the staff created for them," Gore said afterward.

Councilmember Rexann Hosafros said the agreement was the best resolution the town could come up with.

"The money represents future attorney fees that pile up over time and this will prevent it," Hosafros said. "If both sides are unhappy, then it's probably a good deal. Let's get this behind us."

The main issue was whether elevated pools should conform with the standard setback of 25 feet from a canal, or if a five-foot setback allowed for certain types of structures applied.

At the time of permit, town staff determined that, as long as pool and deck are not attached to principal structure, an elevated pool should be allowed a five-foot setback from a canal.

Cereceda said that with all the money coming into Fort Myers Beach, developers are "pushing the envelope" to see what they can get away with.

"There is a desire to comprehensively review our codes in context to where we are 20 years after incorporation. It's natural process, it's a healthy process and helpful to council, and to those who want to develop here," Cereceda said.

"We are a 'teenage' town. We have codes that were created recently and when you create something new, you change things as you go along," Hosafros said. "Teenagers tend to get in trouble and you have to set different rules for them."



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