Your Comp Plan Will Not Change

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This week, and for a third time, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council and the Local Planning Agency made it crystal clear there will not be any changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. It will remain the main working document for all future development on the island. So, what does that mean?

Essentially what that means is the rules that are on the books now in the town’s Comprehensive Plan are the rules developers and residents need to follow if they want to build or rebuild. What also remains in place is a process for homeowners to ask for variances, deviations and special exceptions, and developers to ask for more than what they are allowed to build by right by going through a Commercial Planned Development (CPD) process.

During the joint meeting, to send a clear message to the community, the Town Council actually took a vote and unanimously agreed to keep Floor Area Ratio and density at the current levels as written in the Comprehensive Plan. The possibility that the town might increase density has been a major concern for residents living on Fort Myers Beach. They worry about more traffic, more people, and the stress that might put on the infrastructure. Especially when they see proposals several commercial developers have floated to the community.

Developers can still ask for more density and F.A.R. through the CPD process. That’s what the LPA and Town Council are expecting to see from the owners of Moss Marina, the Neptune, London Bay and other commercial developers.

Years ago TPI Hospitality went through a very-lengthy CPD process. And the Town Council at the time extracted as much public benefit as humanly possible from TPI before finally approving the project. In exchange for increased density and going from a F.A.R. of 1.4 to 1.55 (calculated with parking included below BFE), TPI provided a laundry list of public benefits to the town, including: a pedestrian bridge over Estero Boulevard with public restrooms, 3 beach accesses replacing one previously, the removal of 7 ingress/egress along Estero, a donation of land at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge that allows for the interchange redevelopment, the Waistina Way parking lot and a 25% discount on beverage, food, retail and beach club passes in perpetuity to Fort Myers Beach residents.

TPI’s Tom Torgerson told Beach Talk Radio News that he’s happy there was no change to the Comprehensive Plan. “It was gratifying to see the Council and LPA united in helping maintain a big reason why we all choose to live here. That is to be different from most other coastlines of Florida by maintaining our existing lower densities and intensities for development.”

Adam Valente from the Continental Hospitality Group (The Neptune Resort) told Beach Talk Radio News that while they are still digesting the details of the joint meeting, it’s his understanding that none of the discussions or direction given to staff materially affects their project. “We believe that the Commercial Planned Development process allows us to request the proposed resort as we’ve showcased through our renderings.  We believe the Planned Development process is the best vehicle for us to present our resort, to present thoughtful design and benefits we provide and for the Town to evaluate our unique proposal.  We believe this process will demonstrate that we are compatible with surrounding uses and that our resort will be an asset to Fort Myers Beach.”

We also reached out to the owners of Moss Marina and London Bay, to get their thoughts on the decisions the Town Council and LPA made this week. They did not respond by press time.

Another item that came up for discussion was whether the town should fiddle with how they calculate the number of rooms hotels should be allowed to have (density). It would take a mathematician to understand how the town calculates density for hotels. Even the town staff admits it’s complicated and as clear as mud; 4 or 6 units per acre, add in a multiplier plus an equivalency factor. But, to this point, that arcane calculation has worked for the town, according to LPA and Town Council members.

The question on the table was whether the town should change how hotel units were calculated. Should the number of hotel units be allowed by using the Floor Area Ratio of the structure or should the town stay with they way it allows them now, by density.

After hearing that Margaritaville would have been allowed 625 rooms if calculated by using only the FAR, rather than the 254 rooms it has now, that possible change to the Comprehensive Plan was put to bed quickly.

Also discussed at the joint meeting was whether the ground level of new build should be counted in the Floor Area Ratio calculation. Because all new construction has to follow current codes which likely includes building higher with a first floor that could only be used for parking or storage, there had been discussion about not counting that first floor in the calculation. Currently the bottom floor is included in the Floor Area Ratio calculation.

LPA member Scott Safford was in favor of making a change and not including the first floor when calculating the F.A.R.. Safford is the co-owner of The Sea Gypsy, a small boutique resort on Estero that was wiped out by the Hurricane Ian. “By not allowing this you are cutting out the little guy. By not making the change you are only going to have empty lots or big projects on the island.”

Not everyone buys into Safford’s conclusion.

Mayor Dan Allers came out hard against making the change and counting the first floor in the F.A.R. calculation. “Doing this through the Comprehensive Plan, you are giving this to everyone by right. This will increase the size of the box by right. I do not support this. I understand it (the CPD process) is costly but I do not support this globally through the Comp Plan.

Allers believes the big money recently invested in the beach (Red Coconut and The Outrigger) would not have been spent if those developers did not think they could make their projects work with the Comprehensive Plan (or CPD process) on the books as is.

Town Attorney Becky Vose said, “I urge you not to put the details in the Comp Plan. The Comp Plan is for the overarching policy. The details go into the Land Development Code.”

The two groups decided to try to find other avenues to help the smaller businesses on the island, perhaps through tweaks in the Land Development Code or by having them go through the Commercial Planned Development (CPD) process.

The bottom line is the Comprehensive Plan will remain intact. There may be tweaks made to the Land Development Code in the future to help smaller businesses rebuild. And, there is always the CPD process that any developer can go through. The can always ask for more. Asking doesn’t mean getting, but the process is there to make the pitch.

16 COMMENTS

  1. To all the bay sayers. You had every ability to buy each and every bit of property. Sorry if you can’t afford it. Neither can I. But don’t fault those that can. Simply the big business will just go past the town and to the state. The will lobby them and build what they please. The beach will be a better place and life will move on. Without this the budget friendly townspeople who are on a fixed income will get buried in taxes. And you’ll still have to move off island. Wondering how many citizens donated tile or money to help anyone. Especially the ones that have such great opposition to any change. How did you help your community or anyone off island? Did you donate your time, food, clothing, money? Or do you just like to complain.

  2. Kudos to this Council and the LPA for holding their ground on this very important issue. While the backlash in the short-term will likely be severe and possibly hostile (at least verbally,) there is one very critical concept to keep in mind: the direction of this Town, our Town, is held in the hands of just three people. Whichever three of the five Council members vote in a particular way, so goes the future of the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

    Imagine the pressure of navigating such a course. The people who have served this Town before this Council worked incredibly hard to get to this point. To be free from the control of the County, to set its own direction, its own future, only to have that future imperiled by a catastrophic hurricane in Ian last year. And here we have five people on this Council dedicating immeasurable amounts of their time & energy to discern what is best, and more important, what is RIGHT for this Town. We owe these five people our gratitude for taking on this imposing and monumental task.

    Finally, and it’s been said here before, it may be time to consider a larger Town Council, perhaps increasing the number of Council members to seven (7.) A required majority of four will certainly provide for more deliberation and hopefully relieve some of the pressure from the existing five.

    Again, thank you to Dan, Jim, Bill, Karen, and John. May you always have the courage to do the right thing.

  3. Amazing that the opportunity to make FMB fabulous and modern, with amenities that tourists now expect, they have decided to not move into the future, but want to stay in the past!

    • FMB is fabulous, before and after Ian…period!
      As far as modern, pretty much everything will be brand spankin’ new. As for the architecturally being modern…many other coastal towns to go to get modern. Miami comes to mind. This is a coastal, laid back community that does not want/need “modern”. We like flip flops, tank tops and tshirts. If want Armani, pressed linen, and fancy jewelry…other places to go. Enjoy the vibe and be embrace uniqueness!😎

  4. I predict this outcome insurers that the projects fitting FMB will be approved, likely with adjustments, but approved. However, what this also means, is projects that just don’t fit FMB, will not be approved. Had the considerations for changing the Comp Plan been approved, it would have opened the door for pretty much anything a developer wanted, whether it fit FMB or not. I echo the praise for how well and thoughtful the Council, LPA and Community worked together in that meeting Tuesday!

  5. There is policy and then there are deviations, variances, special exceptions and CPD. That’s where the devil, and the politics, play.

  6. Excellent outcome! Question: Do developers pay a fee to ask for variances / exceptions through the Comprehensive Planned Development Process? They should be required to pay a hefty fee, given the cost to residents for permits (now required even for gravel!) and associated requirements such as architect drawings.

    • Yes, they pay a fee. 🤦‍♀️

      When Moss Marina filed its pre-app to amend its CPD, they paid $9,800.

      If construction were to begin, they’d also pay an impact fee (which happens on both commercial and residential new construction). Impact fees are significant. And then of course there are permit fees.

  7. Excellent summation of a very long meeting. Kudos to the LPA and TC….everyone worked very hard to come to the best conclusions.

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