Two businesses on Fort Myers Beach have received a 30-day extension to review requests for variances for their property signs.
Dolphin Inn Resort at 6555 Estero Blvd. and Neptune Inn at 2310 Estero Blvd. have been granted extended hearings by the Fort Myers Beach Town Council regarding regulations pertaining to sign height and setbacks from the boulevard right-of-way. The hearings will continue during Council's meeting on Nov. 5.
Both businesses are requesting to erect new monument signs that are higher than the overall sign height of 6 foot, six inches as stated in the Town sign ordinance and cite blockage from parked cars as a main problem as well as restriction on sign location on properties.
"I don't really want to vote for or against this right now. I want to see a demonstration of what I'd be voting for," said Councilwoman Jo List.
"We need to set precedence," added Vice Mayor Bob Raymond. "I think we'd be opening up a can of worms."
The Town sign ordinance grants "exceptional or extraordinary conditions," but neither case appeared to possess such a required hard case situation. Property representatives were asked to come up with a better game plan.
Dolphin Inn's existing sign measures roughly 20 feet tall and is more than 32 square feet in sign area. The requested height in the variance is 11 feet. Owner Travis Owen is also requesting a zero-foot setback ( a three-foot setback is required). Town staff recommends approval to the latter clause. The inn has 19 parking spaces and 22 rooms.
"We feel like we have the right for our sign to be seen over the cars," said Owen. "No matter where you put the sign, cars are going to be blocking it."
Mayor Larry Kiker recommended subcompact car parking for the affected spot on the south end of the lot. He does not want to see changes to the sign law on one of the first variances.
"There is a sign ordinance put in place that we need to regulate unless there is a hardship," he said. "We have to look at all the possibilities."
Neptune Inn's variance request was similar. The existing sign measures 23 feet in height from the top of the triton to the parking lot grade and 45 square feet in sign face area. The request is for an overall height of eight feet, 10 inches. There are 75 parking spaces in the lot and 71 rooms at the inn.
Besides fear of not being able to see the property sign from the roadway due to larger car height, the existing height of the hedgerow on the property also is a factor.
"The hedge buffer is not code required," said Town Planner Leslee Chapman.
Representative Casey Williams said other property locations were looked into but utilities on the north end of property and the proximity of the business on the south side of property limited sign relocation.
During the hearing, a recommendation was made for the applicant to apply for a zero-foot setback to push the new sign closer to the road and away from parked car blockage. The setback was estimated to be roughly five feet back.
"I believe there is some footage that (the sign) can be moved forward," said Williams.
Town officials believe variances should be approved only for rare circumstances.
"You allow for variances because there is an understanding that there are certain existing conditions on sites that would not allow the regulations we have established to fit every set of circumstances," said Stewart. "That is why we have this variance process."
"I think variances are a beautiful mechanism when there is unmovable things or something inherent to the property that is absolutely unchangeable," said List. "I think both these cases have not been given enough understanding of why."
Both inns were developed under the Lee County zoning ordinance more than 40 years ago. Regulation for new signs under the Town sign ordinance began in January 2012.
Before Council members allowed a grace period in April 2008, affected sign-holders on Estero Island had more than eight years to meet the required, regulatory measures in the Town Land Development Code. Council members then unanimously approved sign ordinance amendments back in April 2011.
"Go towards more caution to (sign variances)," Kiker warned his fellow council members. "If you say 'yes' to this, we are going to have more variances than we have signs on this Beach."