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Parking source of consternation for board

January 8, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council knows it has a parking problem. It also knows it has a traffic problem.

Forget trying to find a parking spot in the days leading up to and the weekend of New Year's Day. That was out of the question. Just trying to drive anywhere from San Carlos Boulevard starting at Summerlin Boulevard to Matanzas Pass Bridge and down Estero Boulevard all the way to Santini Plaza during certain periods of the day during those times could be an hour to two-hour journey.

So what to do? The town commissioned a parking study with Tampa-based Walker Consultants more than a year ago for $16,500 which has so far been short on immediate solutions.

"We have seven pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag already," Councilmember Joanne Shamp said Monday regarding the town's density, during the board's meeting. That bag is set to get a lot heavier with the impending TPI-Margaritaville project and short of a new parking garage which is not currently on the horizon, the board does not have many great options for dealing with its parking and traffic problem.

On the one hand, some board members do not want to encourage traffic to a town already busting out of the seams during the winter. Shamp suggested raising the town's public parking rates in season and dropping them during the offseason. Councilmember Rexann Hosafros backed that idea. Councilmember Bruce Butcher said he supports keeping the current rate during the winter but dropping it in the off-season. Mayor Anita Cereceda opposed it, saying "people feel gouged" already by businesses raising their rates during the winter season.

"We're in the business of service, not making money," she said.

The council did appear united on one question, namely that it does not approve of car parking stackers outside in most places. The board did leave some room for the stackers, which are typically found in big cities stacking cars high up in the air, but only inside. Stackers are one of the ways in which the TPI Margaritaville project intends to fulfill its parking obligations.

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy left the door open by saying he thinks the stackers are not suitable for most places but could be allowable outside in another part of town in the future. Cereceda replied "where could you even imagine where a parking stacker could be used?"

Shamp expressed deep concern that the stackers could be used by developers to gain more density on their projects. Commercial projects require certain amounts of parking based on the size of the project.

Ultimately, the board will make stackers a special use exception to its code which means it won't necessarily be prohibited but developers will need to apply for it and require the board to sign off on it. Shamp also described the stackers as "aesthetically terrible." The discussion regarding the stackers coincided with a re-development project in which stackers are being proposed.

"We don't have the road capacity to create more density," Shamp said.

"I think it's pretty clear that nobody wants to see these stackers," Cereceda said.

The parking question brought to the forefront a dilemma for a town board torn between whether to make parking easier or harder when it doesn't want to embolden a traffic problem which can run two to five miles depending on the direction and time of day.

"We have a capacity problem," Shamp said. "We have a parking problem for three and a half months."

She expressed concerns whether the town should be trying to create more parking at all considering the traffic issues.

"I could not get out from my home. I couldn't go south and I couldn't go north," she said.

"To increase the number of parking spots that we have just encourages more cars," Shamp said.

"Getting people off the street is also a benefit," Hosafros said. "There are people driving down Estero Boulevard finding a place to park."

Hosafros also supports incentives to commercial developers to create more parking spaces. The board should be open to a parking garage in the right location, like those in Naples, Hosafros offered.

"Until someone really steps forward and finds a way to make it financially feasible to build those structures (parking garages), then we are what we are," Murphy said.

He said a parking garage belongs off the island. While they have been proposed in the past, they have failed to come to fruition, he said.

Shamp expressed support for more trolley services and also floated the idea of water taxis. Shamp would like the county-run trolley to be free again. Cereceda said she would be meeting with County Commissioner Ray Sandelli soon and will be discussing the trolleys.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said he has been in contact with the town's parking consultant which has provided questions to the board regarding what the council wants. He will be relaying the board's thoughts to its parking consultant.



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