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Council debates limits to hedges

February 6, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Proposals from town staff which would limit fences to four feet in height and hedges and shrubs to six feet created a debate that nearly saw the passage of a new ordinance but is currently on hold while council members discuss it with town staff.

A hearing on the Ordinance 19-16 in front of the Fort Myers Beach Council Feb. 3 led to disapproval among some board members and ultimately the public hearing was continued to Feb. 18.

Town planning consultant Sarah Propst made a presentation outlining the proposed changes, which drew out Councilmember Bruce Butcher.

"Are we talking about going down to Estero Boulevard with a chainsaw and cutting down these things to four feet?"

Butcher said he has plantings on his property that are well above the six feet limit proposed for side yards and were erected as a privacy barrier between himself and his neighbor.

"I don't want to chop it down to six feet," he said.

"Mr. Butcher, tear down that wall," Vice Mayor Ray Murphy chimed in with a Ronald Reagan reference.

Saunders said if the ordinance was passed there would be violations issued.

Councilmember Joanne Shamp stated that she thought it was important to encourage natural landscapes, shade and plantings as well as privacy protections. "I'm concerned about anything that cuts into people's landscapes," Shamp said.

However, Shamp and Councilmember Rexann Hosafros said they believe some shrubs and hedges are causing too much of a safety problem out in front of their properties for bicyclists and wants regulations to push them back from sidewalks and provide visibility to driveways.

"This is a public safety issue," Shamp said.

Mayor Anita Cereceda shared the concerns of Shamp regarding the largest hedges out in front of properties and tried to find a common ground with Butcher by discussing whether the hedge-trimming rule wouldn't be targeted for areas on properties separating neighbors but only on the front of a property.

Cereceda saw trouble in the ordinance as it related to fences after the community development director Jason Green said non-conforming fences would have to be brought back into compliance after the ordinance went into effect.

"That's a major thing because my fence is my pool gate," Cereceda said. "If I lower my fence, then I have to cage my pool."

Shamp said the fence would comply though Cereceda might have to set some potted plants there for some privacy on the deck.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said he understood the concerns by Butcher that he and other property owners may not want to giving regular cuts to their hedges and shrubs.

"I think a lot of people are going to be upset" about the proposed regulations, Butcher said.

After nearly passing the measure, the council withdrew its support after not being able to agree on compromise language. Hosafros said there were too many issues that needed to be settled and preferred that they are done between council members and staff and not worked out during the council meeting.

The council voted 4-1 to continue the hearing until its Feb. 18 meeting with Shamp opposed.

Lucky Day for Beach Baptist Church

The Beach Baptist Church, which had a lien against its property from the town and was facing $90,000 in fines over a spat with the town's code enforcement team going back several years, was given relief by the council.

At a lengthy hearing in which Pastor Shawn Critser explained the origins of the dispute with the town that involve a fence erected in 2008 and which may have not been part of an original violation which was being cited by Community Services Administrator Daphnie Saunders to be a continual issue, the council sided with Critser.

Critser claimed that there were some misunderstandings as town code enforcement staff experienced turnovers and delays. The council voted to give the church a major discount on the fines.

After discussions about the history of a caretaker's cottage and fire sprinklers, Hernstadt was asked by the council as to how much of a discount he felt should be given to the church. He responded that he thought $10,000 was a good figure.

"I'm thinking more like $900 and time served," Butcher said. "I feel his pain."

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy agreed. "Enough pain inflicted," he said.

"It's your lucky day," Cereceda told Critser.

"We'll write the check quickly," Critser said.

"We're looking at a new slate," Hernstadt said.

In other business, the town council named Renee Heil and Jennifer Rusk to two vacant seats on the Marine Resources Task Force.



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