Homeowners Get a Big Build Back Break

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On Thursday the Fort Myers Beach Town Council directed staff to make changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan to allow residential homeowners, who own legal non-conforming lots, to build back the exact same living space square footage as they had before the storm.

The issue came before the council this week as they continue to deal with their post-disaster build back following Hurricane Ian. Hundreds of residential homes were destroyed or severely damaged on September 28, 2022 and the top priority of this council has been to get residents back in their homes as quickly as possible.

Many homes were built on Fort Myers Beach before incorporation in the mid-90’s that were lost in the storm. Because of when they were built, those homes were labeled legal non-conforming. That basically meant they were grandfathered in and did not have to conform to the new building rules the town put in place when it incorporated. Hurricane Ian changed all that.

When you apply the town’s current code rules to a now empty lot, that once had a legal non-conforming home on it, that property owner might not be able to build back what was there before the storm. Many of those homes that are now gone were vacation rentals.

The Town Council directed staff to draft changes to the Comprehensive Plan that would make the build back more clear. They will allow homeowners to build back what they had before as long as they have solid proof of what they had before. Everything that was previously usable space within the walls of the structure, ground floor and above, can now be usable space above base flood elevation. The property owner cannot increase the number of bedrooms or units. The number of bathrooms can be increased but cannot exceed the number of bedrooms.

The proposed changes must still go before the LPA and then onto the state for review. Mayor Dan Allers says property owners can start rebuilding now based on these changes. “We’re giving them what they had without giving away the farm.” He doesn’t believe there will be any issue getting the changes approved because the changes are actually giving property owners more options. The state mostly frowns on municipalities building roadblocks on property owners rights.

The town has been addressing the buildback in small pieces to this point, giving homeowners variances to build new homes on oddly shaped and non-conforming lots and creating new rules for cottage homes that were lost, for example. A joint meeting of the LPA and Town Council Tuesday regarding the future of the Comprehensive Plan is expected to set the stage for all future development on the island.

While getting residents back in their homes is the top priority for this Town Council, many island residents are also waiting to see how the LPA and Town Council handle and vote on commercial proposals made by developers such as Moss Marina, the owners of the Neptune, Myerside and London Bay. None of those big commercial projects have come before the LPA as of today.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I believe all rental property owners be required to have their personal phone numbers made public so irate neighbors can contact them directly and immediately over disrespectful renters. Put the problem in the lap of where it belongs.

    • As part of the Short Term Rental Registration, each owners information is public information and has been submitted to the Town. Anyone can make a formal complaint to the Town and the appropriate staff will first determine, in his or her opinion, if the “disrespectful” behavior is indeed a violation of local, state or Federal law, then the staff person will take appropriate action, including contacting law enforcement and the “owner”.

      As for “irate neighbors” contacting an “owner”, in my case, I knew all of my neighbors. I didn’t need to look for who my neighbors are, I knew them, even absentee owners. I think it’s a great idea to make an attempt to get to know your neighbors, talk with them in person if possible or by phone. You, or anyone, can easily find out who owns any property simply by searching county records. If you reach out after you’re “irate”, it’s long past the time you could have had a respectable relationship with your neighbor. I know if someone out of the blue contacts me, and is irate, takes the nasty approach and yells, swears or threatens me, well let’s just say this, you’re the one that may be needing the attorney or be paid a visit by law enforcement.

      Two suggestions, get to know your neighbors and let the Town staff do their job. If you have a complaint about your neighbors or neighbors tenants, you should have already had a relationship with your neighbor. If your neighbor is uncooperative, contact the Town. “Irate neighbors” can end up a defendant in a civil or criminal court if their not careful.

  2. This looks and sounds like it really needs more government oversight. Just doesn’t seem like enough, probably just needs a few dozen more regulations, and absolutely needs more enforcement by law enforcement agencies…

    Maybe FMB can be back together in a decade, or two… or three.

  3. To everyone that is saying you do not want vacation rentals on your street but would welcome annual rentals AND you actually are an owner that lives on FMB and not banging on your keyboard from another state or not an owner….. Let me refresh your memory about Dakota. There were 3 multi-family units . 2 were operated as weekly vacation rentals and 1 was annual rental units. The 2 vacation rental units were immaculate, well maintained and fit nicely into the area. The 1 that was annual was run down, uncared for and rented to seedy people that would blast their music, and smoke weed and get drunk and stumble around the area. It was a triplex but they rigged it so they had 4 units. They had tarps flapping, cats running around and were there for years. These people were more of a nuisance than any vacation renters. These annual renters made other owners fear walking their dogs because of these annual renters. If the vacation rental units were loud there is a rule in place that allows 3 strikes and you are out…the owner loses their license to rent that property. There is nothing in place for annual renters like the ones on Dakota. Neighbors were told if they don’t like it, call the sheriff but of course nothing would happen and the seedy people were allowed to roam the streets and terrorize the area. Now imagine you trying to sell your house and these “annual renters” are your neighbors. Also on Dakota were construction workers that were annual renters that would turn on their rap music full blast and lay in their cars and nap with the doors open. Then they would drive up and down the street blasting rap at 5am, 12 am, etc. They had zero respect for neighbors not to mention neighbors were always missing bikes, shoes, yard art,etc. Some how it walked away. Neighbors need to report loud vacation renters and our town needs to go after owners that allow loud renters. Fine them and then pull their license and I guarantee you, the loud renters in the vacation homes will stop. Be careful what you wish for.

    • I would agree on the homeowner incentive to maintain their property. Whether weekly or monthly, the nicer the residence the greater the opportunities. It’s a competitive market. There’s less incentive to invest in a property with a secure annual income stream. Less control over the tenants bad behavior. Particularly for out of state owners.

  4. I am also a resident, and I do NOT favor, nor appreciate weekly rentals. I have three within doors of my house, and, while some renters are respectful of nearby RESIDENTS, the majority (about 60%) are completely disrespectful, partying loudly, screaming around their pools, loud outdoor stereos, etc. If you want a concentration of weekly rentals, so be it (pending THOSE surrounding permanent residents’ opinions), but, residential areas should REMAIN RESIDENTIAL, which could include monthly rentals (especially multi-month renters). I am not willing to give up my property rights, my rights to a peaceful existence in my home, my expensive property taxes, expensive flood, and expensive wind insurance rates to support non residents making money off of “hoteling” their house to weekly renters.

    • Don’t you live in an island? People do vacation there just like every other island. You probably vacationed before buying. Move off the island if you don’t want vacationers. ITS AN ISLAND IN FLORIDA!!

  5. This is a great adjustment to the current build back policy. Currently you can’t claim the lower level parking area as square footage. Now that we can, it will allow people to rebuild a comfortably sized unit/units above. This change could favorably help some of our clients. Although i’d like to read the actual ordinance when it comes out to see how its worded, but a good step forward.

  6. Thats great news! Love the new town leadership. Another old ordinance that seems out of date is the vacation rental week vs month rentals. There are some homes being rented weekly and some can only rent by the month? Based on street? Are these even being enforced? The whole island should have the same ordinance. Just a thought.

    • As a real resident, I don’t want weekly rentals on my street. A weekly rental is a 7 day party next door. I live here, I don’t vacation here. Monthly renters will tend to be less disruptive, but agree that the “monthly” sometimes becomes a weekly rotation of a group that rents for the month.

      • We totally agree with you, FMB homeowner. Most weekly rentals are disrespectful of the full-time residents and the environment.

        • Hug a tree. Take in the fresh air. And realize you live on an island in Florida. People vacation here and will forever. Why did you move here. Same reason they vacation here.

          • Jason I had to reply to your post because there was no other way for me to post…….The people that are barking about noisy vacationers need to pick up the phone and call their neighbor and tell them their renters are noisy. If they don’t respond then call the Sheriff and file a complaint with the town. Why should the entire island have to lose the opportunity for rental income because some home owner is angry? I would be willing to bet the people complaining about renters are the same ones that were complaining about Margaritaville being built. They preferred the old dirty run down T shirt shops and 20 liquor stores at ever corner with homeless drunks lurking around. I guess that was their idea of “charming”. Tom Torgeson’s vision for Margaritaville is the facelift this island needed and is clearly a major upgrade. It’s not 1978 (when Lani Kai was built). Time has passed and now we had a horrible storm. So many have lost so much money and by demanding only monthly rentals, being selfish since these few owners are preventing others from making more money. The people that had demanded their street be monthly either have moved away, sold or passed away and now that decision is a burden the rest of us carry.

            I don’t like motorcycles revving their engines as they travel in groups through our residential area. I also don’t like gangs of testosterone deficient bicyclists in spandex pants blocking traffic because they like to enjoy riding through FMB. I also don’t like people that dive 15 mph under the speed limit and their little heads barely can see over the steering wheel. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what I like. I chose to buy a home here and I live on a vacation island. I knew I would have to deal with these things when I bought my home. Meanwhile we all have to deal with being told when we can rent our homes because a few people don’t like it.

            Dan Allers had said in a town meeting that the decisions made today are decisions that will be affecting owners for years to come. That statemet was so true. This short term rental policy is a perfect example of it.

      • Monthly rentals are less disruptive? LOL
        The month month annuals on our street will change your mind. The contact “high” alone minus the visits from LCSO will make you wish you had weekly vacationers.

    • I agree with you Marcia, all single family homes on the island should be subject to the same rental restrictions. Everyone should be able to rent their homes on a weekly basis. It makes no sense how they came up with the roads that are weekly vs. monthly and some streets even one side is weekly and the other side is monthly, such as Flamingo and Driftwood. Whoever made the decisions back in the early 2000s are likely no longer living on the island or no longer living.

      The exception should be the houses that are located in a HOA deed restricted neighborhood that would have their own rental restrictions in place. For the people complaining about vacationers, you chose to live on an island that is a tourist attraction island. If you want peace from weekly vacationers then you should have moved to Sanibel where they have all homes being a monthly restricted rentals.

      The FMB town has systems in place to handle complaints with short term renters, 3 complaints that aren’t dealt with they loose their rental license. I’m a full time resident homeowner on a monthly street but my back property joins a weekly street that has vacation rentals. My experience has been there being full time residents with vacationing guests that make more noise than the weekly vacationers on both sides of them make, it’s the visiting grandkids that make more noise with their yelling and splashing in the pool. The town doesn’t have a system in place to handle those types of complaints besides them saying to call the sheriffs office.

      People don’t realize it makes a difference in property values for weekly vs monthly homes. Weekly zoned homes sell quicker and for more money compared to monthly and it’s a substantial difference. The critics will wish their home was a weekly rental zoned home when they go to sell.

      Another note I will add is I dare the naysayers to compare homes that are weekly rentals compared to long term annuals pre- Ian. The weekly rentals were maintained and well kept compared to annual rentals because they had to keep vacationers from complaining and leaving bad reviews.

      The island should have the same weekly restrictions throughout. All of Estero blvd is weekly so why shouldn’t it be allowed on the other streets?

    • Sounds good in theory to some but to others it’s a financial death blow and a taking of rights. If an owner has a home, or now just a lot after loosing a home (such as me), in an already legal weekly rental zone, it shall remain as what it was prior, a weekly rental.

      • TJS seems to be the voice of reason amongst emotional irrational responses . We need to stay with the original plan , any deviations should be up for discussion and ultimately a Vote- – changing rental designation one day then change commercial or residential designation the next , then change ……..
        Stick with what’s worked over TIME.

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