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Cape Council closes parks, Coral Oaks Golf Course

By Staff | Mar 24, 2020

Cape Coral parks and the city-owned golf course are now closed.

Cape Coral City Council on Monday voted unanimously to close all city parks and the Coral Oaks Golf Course effective immediately and until at least April 6.

This was the first Council meeting since March 2, with all members present either in person or via video from home. Mayor Joe Coviello was seated center in Council Chambers with Councilmember John Gunter to his far left, Councilmember Lois Welsh to his far right, with the remaining council members present off-site.

Many concerns were raised by council members on what the city is doing to combat the spread of COVID-19, and whether actions taken or proposed are enough.

That discussion prompted the immediate closure of all city parks and Coral Oaks Golf course. Council also discussed the closure of city boat ramps and the farmer’s market — two areas that will be a focus of the board’s next meeting set for April 6.

“We’re in a situation right now, where this is going to get worse before it gets better. And as a city, if we don’t take the necessary steps to close more stuff down, it’s only going to add to the spread of coronavirus,” Coviello said. “I think we need to take a hard look at all of (the city’s) facilities, and figure out — even if it’s just for two weeks — do we really need to have them all open?”

Many members of council said they would not bring their own child to a park right now amidst this pandemic, and if they wouldn’t why would they allow citizens of the city to?

Kerry Runyon, director of Parks and Recreation for the city, said all parks and rec programs have been suspended or temporarily cancelled.

The biggest challenge, Runyon said, is the fact that a majority of the parks are in open spaces, with no fencing. She said about 50 percent of the playgrounds in parks have fencing around them that they can lock, and that enough temporary fencing — which would be a lot — is not available. Runyon said many parks are simply surrounded by a neighborhood, open on all sides. Runyon said the parks department has been going around disinfecting playgrounds — about five per day.

Council said they would like to see parking lots to many parks shut down to help deter those who have to drive to them, as well as signs noting closure.

Coviello asked Cape Coral Police Department Deputy Chief Lisa Barnes how the police could help enforce park closures.

“We can have (officers) patrolling that area, where it could get tricky is, issuing trespass warnings and people telling us they’re not going to leave,” Barnes said.

City Attorney, Dolores Menendez, said she would work with CCPD on how they city can expand their policies for trespassing that are already in place to comply with round-the-clock closures.

* Council to ease signage codes for local establishments

City Council prompted Code Enforcement to take a relaxed stance on local restaurants and establishments that are advertising for take-out and delivery services.

The discussion was prompted by an email from Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral President/CEO Donna Germain requesting the easing of the code during this time.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden brought the resolution forward and said she will work with staff on further plans for signage code for the April 6 meeting.

“Temporarily, until April 6, businesses will be allowed two signs of their choice, either hanging banners or A-Frames,” Coviello said.

These banners and signs still will have to be within code when it comes to size. Permitting requirements and fees for signage will also be waived until April 6.

* Following the rules

Council inquired with CCPD on how the department is ensuring local restaurants are complying with the governor’s executive order that all establishments statewide are doing takeout or delivery only.

“My plan is to have two to four officers, depending on staffing, assigned to checking businesses,” Barnes said.

Barnes said those breaking the rules are reported to the Department of Professional Regulation and/or the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

“We’ve been in touch with them,” Barnes said. “We’ve created a system where we’re going to take reports, we’re going to document the violations, and we’re going to send the reports to them. (The agencies) are also going to be doing spot-checks around the county.”

Establishments in violation could face licensing issues, Barnes said.

* Giving the people a voice

City Council also brainstormed some ways the public can stay involved during a time when social gatherings are not being permitted by the state.

At the meeting Monday, two individuals showed up to deliver public comment in person, while Council also received emails and even a video presentation.

Gunter was adamant that public comment continues to be available to the public and accepted during meetings.

Many on the dais — whether that happened to be their living room or council chambers for the day — were in favor of the video format sent in and the reading of emails.

A potential “remote location” for those who may not have access to the technology required to give public comment will also be worked on by staff, with details given to the public on how they can contribute expected before their next meeting.

* In other business

– Council also will review a way to help local businesses that are closed at this time, not have to pay for trash pickup in the immediate future.

– It was reiterated by City Manager John Szerlag that calling a local State of Emergency would not benefit the city in response ability or financially at this time.

The next City Council meeting takes place April 6.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj