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Town looks for stronger code enforcement

April 5, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

When it comes to code enforcement, Fort Myers Beach is looking to put some bite where its bark is.

On Monday, the Town Council gave permission to program coordinator Kara Stewart to hire a second employee in the area in order to increase its desire for greater compliance. The position is in the budget.

"So far, we've been more reactive than proactive," said Stewart, who said the town's staff is now better organized and equipped to pursue violators.

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The Sunoco station is one of many local businesses that combine store-customer
parking with paid beach parking.

Council member Rexann Hosafros said she felt a second enforcement officer would allow for more street presence, serving as a deterrent.

Council member Tracey Gore said the move will send an even stronger message.

"It's time to let people know they have to respect Fort Myers Beach," she said. "For some reason, people here try and get away with everything."

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Beach-chair vendors need to be reined in, as do businesses that are converting customer parking spots into paid seasonal beach-parking, the council said.

Armed with a beach-furniture ordinance that required compliance by March 1, Stewart said she has thus far given notice to one vendor who is operating without a permit and she said the vendor plans to appeal a grandfather clause in the ordinance.

Stewart said the town is now using the magistrate system more for rulings on violators.

Gore asked why the town simply can't shut down a vendor that is not in compliance, much like a stop-work order, but Hosafros said a process must be followed.

"The town is not judge and jury," she said.

Vice-mayor Summer Stockton noted that other vendors are in violation of using tractors during the daytime, moving chairs about or going back and forth from multiple locations. They are supposed to be limited for use for setup and breakdown only, she said.

"A kid is going to get hit," she said.

Stewart said most beach-related issues are being governed by the town's Beach and Street Enforcement (BASE) team. Issues with structures are being mostly enforcement by the permitting department, she said.

Town Manager Don Stilwell encouraged residents to call Town Hall whenever they see what they believe is a violation. He said call-ins can be anonymous, but emails are considered public record.

Hosafros noted that anonymous tips may hinder proof of a case, if a witness is needed.

Meanwhile, the town wants to crack down on the proliferation of extra beach-parking spots in the lots of businesses that are not permitted as a public parking lot. During season, such spots are bringing in as much as $15.

"I've pulled all the permits, and most of them don't have it," Gore said of the businesses.

Seasonal lots are allowed through July, when they must be permitted as a full-time lot, Stewart noted. Further, town code does allow for businesses to designate extra spots for paid parking as long as they have enough spots reserved for customers of the business, which vary based upon the business's size.

"It's an accepted practice," she said.

Another consideration is the need for parking on a parking-starved island.

"We do have to be sensitive of the parking situation," she said.

With the tourism season winding down, Stewart said the town can begin the detailed process of designating how many spots each business is entitled to set aside as a paid parking spot.

Stewart said some businesses are also extending paid parking beyond the paved areas, using their entire lot, which may be a violation.



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