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Town Council kills San Carlos Island parking negotiations

August 15, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Negotiations between Fort Myers Beach town staff and the Florida Department of Transportation to lease parking under the Matanzas Pass Bridge are dead.

"Dead, with a capital 'D'," Council Member Joanne Shamp said.

Over the past several weeks San Carlos Island residents learned that town staff had been in communication with FDOT for a year and a half about the potential of leasing the parking spaces under the bridge from FDOT to the Town for paid parking. Several members of the San Carlos Island community attended Monday's council meeting to protest the potential deal.

Article Photos

Beach Area Civic Association president Charlie Whitehead addresses the Fort Myers Beach Town Council about his concerns on San Carlos Island parking negotiations.

"They've been talking for a year and a half and very few people knew about it," said Beach Area Civic Association president Charlie Whitehead.

The parking is currently free and open to the public. It's frequented by restaurant patrons and pier fishers. Since it is within the footprint of the bridge, it's owned by FDOT and not by Lee County. Had the town and FDOT moved forward, paid parking would have been implemented and the town would have received 70 percent of the revenue, with FDOT receiving 30 percent.

San Carlos Island resident and Redevelopment District member Joanne Semmer completed a public records request and received more than 800 pages of documentation on the negotiations - she presented a stack of them to the council at the Monday meeting.

But she found that such a negotiation would have been in direct conflict with the Lee Plan and San Carlos Island's community plan within the county's land development code.

"Someone needs to do their homework. San Carlos Island is not a parking lot for Fort Myers Beach," she said. "My biggest concern, of course we don't want the paid parking, but San Carlos Island is the major stakeholder, and Lee County also, and they weren't involved in this conversation."

According to a memo from Public Works Director Scott Baker, discussion of leasing this area outside of Town jurisdiction began in early 2016. Former Town Manager Don Stilwell directed staff to look into excess town properties, other properties the town maintains and other sources of revenue, the memo states. Town consultant Jeff Mass was told to connect with FDOT.

Then, when interim town manager Jim Steele assumed his role last summer, he instructed staff to halt negotiations until a permanent new manager was hired.

When new town manager Roger Hernstadt was hired, he directed staff to include this negotiation in the June Public Works report and then present the proposal to council in August to see if there was interest in pursuing.

Residents on San Carlos Island emailed council members about this memo, opposing the loss of free parking to what some resident consider a heavily-congested area during season.

"Fisherman's Wharf serves as a gathering spot for residents of San Carlos Island. This parking lot is outside of the Town of Fort Myers Beach," BACA member Nicholas White said in an email to council and other members. "If this lease is approved, residents of our island will be forced to pay the Town of Fort Myers Beach to share a $1.50 cup of coffee and a 70 minute conversation with friends and neighbors."

When questioned by the council, Baker said he was just following orders of tasks directed to him of the previous administrations, and the intent was always to bring the proposal forward to council for approval after what the memo deemed "fact finding and gathering information" about the potential parking agreement.

"These are not Scott Baker's ideas, these are things I was tasked to do," Baker said.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore told Hernstadt the council needed to know what staff was working on in the future so staff time was not wasted on a project the council did not support. Hernstadt has been implementing departmental reports given to the council each month.

Shamp said she was concerned about how much work was spent on the project before it came to council for direction. The memo from Baker stated $285 was spent "externally" on Mass and $50 "internally," but Shamp said she didn't think that number was an accurate amount.

"I understand how other communities would see it as a grab, and the whole notion of it doesn't sit well with me," Council Member Anita Cereceda said.

San Carlos Island residents' fears were put to bed at the Monday meeting, however. The negotiations were put to an abrupt end by a 5-0 vote by council, stating the town would not seek parking outside of its boundaries.

"It is most sincerely dead, San Carlos Island," Gore said.



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