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Fort Myers Beach Council opens town’s beach accesses

By Staff | May 1, 2020

Beaches on Fort Myers Beach will return to near-normal public access beginning Saturday at dawn.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council voted Friday to completely open up its beaches beginning Saturday.

The move will replace actions taken by the Council on Monday to restrict beach access to town residents wearing masks only, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. each day.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners, meanwhile, voted Tuesday to open up all of its beach parks including those in Fort Myers Beach, while questioning the constitutionality of the town’s restrictions. The opening up of the county beaches, combined with an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week to loosen restrictions on restaurants, helped push the town towards opening up its beach access.

Social distancing rules remain in effect.

Following Friday’s meeting, Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said part of the reason the town opened up its beaches was to “tamper down confusion” regarding which part of the town beaches were open.

“At this point, all of our surrounding communities have pretty much opened up,” Murphy said.

In announcing his decision to support the reopening of the beaches on Friday, Murphy said “We should help our businesses to reopen.”

In an action taken later in the morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that all state parks would be opened Monday, though it was not immediately clear if that will yet extend to the beaches, including Lovers Key State Park, on Fort Myers Beach.

In the public comment that was sent to the town clerk via email, there was an overwhelming amount of support for re-opening town beach accesses. One of the commenters referred to the restrictions on the beach access as “draconian” and “unconstitutional.”

While the board easily and quickly agreed to opening its beaches, it struggled with the question of whether timeshares should be opened. The town council included timeshares with hotels and vacation rentals in a 90-day ban issued in March.

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros pushed for allowing those who own timeshares to have access to their units, and ultimately the beach as well. Hosafros saw the timeshares as different from vacation rentals and hotels.

“We are pulling back on where we have infringed on individual rights,” Hosafros said in explaining her stance.

Murphy said that timeshares, which are purchased ahead of time for specific dates, “will be 100% occupied” if the council approved allowing them.

Hosafros said timeshares are different than short-term vacation rentals and hotel reservations because “these folks are out of their money” whereas those who book vacation rentals and hotels can get their money back. Pink Shell has timeshares.

“These are difficult times,” Murphy said.

Councilmember Billy Veach said people who own vacation rentals can’t get vacation rental income so they are losing money in that way. He said the town council was put into a “situation of picking winners and losers.”

Veach said he worried that timeshares would bring in people from all over the country and noted that timeshares have multiple owners.

“We are really exposing a lot of risk to our residents” and other people who may be using timeshares, Veach said.

Councilmember Dan Allers said the council should keep the ban on timeshares the way it is. If the governor changed things, then the council should act. Allers asked for a definition on timeshares.

Hosafros pointed out that the governor’s order did not address timeshares and that it was the town council which has targeted timeshares.

“We did this,” Hosafros.

Allers said “it’s difficult for me to tell an owner they can’t use their space” but also said “I could see it both ways.”

Allers ended up voting against lifting the ban on timeshares.

Councilmember Jim Atterholt said he supported allowing timeshares as he noted the council had allowed property owners to once again access the beach in their backyards. He also noted that the governor has allowed hotels to be open as well. The town has set a date of May 15 for allowing hotels to take reservations.