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Fort Myers Beach Council approves exceptions to lodging ban

April 3, 2020
Nathan Mayberg , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Fort Myers Beach Council approved 13 exceptions to its 90-day ban on public commercial lodging at its last special meeting under the previous council on Friday.

The purpose of the meeting was to amend the emergency declaration approved four days earlier which banned all new reservations at public and commercial lodging establishments including hotels, motels, condominiums, timeshares, vacation rentals, recreational vehicle parks or any homes engaged in rentals or transient occupancy of less than 30 days. That order also barred existing reservations and the extension of any stay except for those who checked in before March 31.

Under the amendment, healthcare professionals, first responders, National Guard members, government employees and law enforcement officers providing services to the town and its visitors related to COVID-19 are exempt from the lodging prohibitions. All others responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to assist the town, its residents and visitors, as well as journalists reporting on COVID-19 related issues in the town are exempt from the initial order. Town visitors unable to return to their home due to COVID-19 impacts on travel would also be able to continue their stay at a local lodging establishment.

Further exceptions pertain to displaced town employees or residents, town residents utilizing hotels as transitional living arrangements, town residents sheltering in hotels due to domestic violence, public lodging employees, service providers and contractors. Town residents who must vacate their homes due to exigent circumstances, such as fire or flood, will also be granted an exception from the rule.

Violators could face fines of up to $5,000.

The updated rules followed an order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week which named hotels as among the dozens of essential services protected from movement restrictions.

Mayor Anita Cereceda said the order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week allows town councils and local governments to issue stricter measures.

Town attorney John Herin Jr. noted that DeSantis has said as much in his public statements since the order. Those statements had given mixed signals to the public since they call on all seniors to stay home but also ask all Floridians to limit movements to essential services and activities, with a large list of exceptions.

The governor's office clarified the order Friday, stating that seniors are able to leave their homes for essential services and activities, including recreational activities that comply with social-distancing guidelines. DeSantis also said that local governments can issue more restrictions on businesses and people if they choose to.

"What we're trying to do is tailor the order to Fort Myers Beach," Herin said.

"We are in unchartered territory."

Hosafros said that she received an email from somebody concerned the 90-day ban will affect business on July 4 since it runs through the end of June. She floated a proposal to scale back the ban to 88 days but that didn't get any support.

The initial proposal would have also granted an exception for families of those being hospitalized for COVID-19. Hosafros led the removal of that clause, which Councilmember Bruce Butcher voiced support for.

Hosafros also fought for keeping in the clause that allows guests to stay here if they can not return home. Hosafros said there was a "myriad of possibilities" where people may not be able to return home depending on future travel restrictions in the state or country, or any other COVID-19 related measures taken. Councilmember Joanne Shamp had initially opposed that exception.

The council also acted to put a hold on any fines that have accrued against property owners or contractors for code violations where an order has been issued dating back to March 13 as the state of emergency continues.

"It's a complicated time. I would give them a break," Butcher said.

The special meeting was the fourth held by the town council since it declared a state of emergency March 13.



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