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Fort Myers Beach Council agrees: stick to the code

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

A new ordinance on short term rental is out and an accord on council is in. During the Nov. 9 planning meeting, the five agreed they wanted to enforce the current rules on short term rentals.

But not all five could agree if the town's code had the ability to enforce that code.

"I agree if we can enforce what we have, it's a great first step, maybe a last step," Council Member Bruce Butcher said. "What we have in my opinion is not clear."

The current ordinance spells out the rules for pre-existing weekly rentals in monthly zones, which were grandfathered in 2003, and also some rules for short term rentals in general. But Butcher's concern was for the penalization of violating the ordinance, and he wasn't sure the code had sufficient penalties on the books.

Section 34-2394 of the LDC outlines the enforcement and penalties of the short term rental ordinance; however, the language used suggests the penalties are reserved for only those pre-existing weekly rentals. The code at 2394 (c) defines the additional penalties levied on the pre-existing rentals but does not specify the punishment for regular short term rentals.

"I do not want to touch 2391, 2392, 2393 or 2394," said Council Member Joanne Shamp. "Working off the part c, I'd like to create 2395, Registry."

The ordinance set the parameters for the town to establish a registry of island-wide short term rentals - in addition to the registry of the grandfathered weeklies - however that program was never set up. The council asked staff to review the short term ordinance in April to see what could be done to better enforce the code of conduct with unruly vacationers. Then in August, the council received a draft revised ordinance for short term rentals that Vice Mayor Tracey Gore has said "not what we asked for."

The draft ordinance caused a stir in the town, as some feared changes to the ordinance would negatively affect current grandfathered properties as well as place a burden on those who manage a short term rental themselves, rather than through a management company.

"Hysteria ensued from the draft ordinance that was a curveball," Council Member Anita Cereceda said. "That ordinance is not in place and not going to be reviewed."

While many were opposed to the changes, several emails and public comments to council supported forming a registry program since it's already a part of the code. Shamp suggested a new section in the ordinance, not a new ordinance, that would lay out the rules for that registry, such as fees, registration numbers to be used in advertisement, and outlines for violations. It would include necessary information, like a 24-hour number to reach the property manager in case of an issue and specifications for punitive measures for repeat violations.

"Nothing here is a change, just putting on paper how we're going to do it," she said

But Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said it was important to be clear that amending the ordinance is still a change. Alterations to short term rental ordinances have been a touchy legal subject for other Florida communities, as state law protects short term rentals from municipality restrictions. Town Attorney Jack Peterson said the proposed amendments neither limited the duration or frequency of short term rentals, so the town should be safe from legal attacks.

Butcher also fought to change the definition of family, as currently in the code a short term rental can't be rented to five or more unrelated people at a time.

"That's ridiculous, it shouldn't be in there. We need to change the single family definition," he said. "If we're saying enforce what's on the books, well, that's on the books. We can't enforce that."

Cereceda suggested instead of an ordinance amendment, an administrative code could accomplish the same goal of further clarification.

The council members agreed the registration fee to register a short term rental could help pay for a dedicated staff member to manage the registry; that the annual renewal could be reduced if renewed on time or increase for repeat violations on a property and to leave the current definition of family alone for now. Hernstadt will take these points back to staff to work up into a code or ordinance amendments for the town to vote on during a regular council meeting.

"This is going to be a full-time job for someone on staff," Cereceda said.



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