5 Things To Know from the Cape Coral City Council Meeting (Mar. 6)

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Cape Coral's City Council held its first regular meeting of March at City Hall Monday evening.

The meeting included discussions on a request from a local U-Haul business to override P&Z's denial of their expansion plans, the charter school system's request to lease over 600 Google Chromebooks, the creation of council town hall meetings in council chambers, and more.

Below are five takeaways from last night’s meeting.

 

Local U-Haul business gets extension to work out expansion

The ongoing saga between local business DeBono's Stop & Go and the city will continue for at least another two months.

Coming to the city council on Monday, Charles DeBono, owner of the business, implored the city council to reverse a decision made by the Planning & Zoning Commission in June of last year that denied DeBono's request to allow for the expansion of his U-Haul business at the location.

DeBono requested that an amendment be made to the special exception the business was granted in 2000. The change would allow for DeBono to increase his U-Haul fleet from four trucks and five trailers to ten trucks, ten trailers, two vans, and two pick-up trucks.

The city, citing multiple code compliance issues, and the location not being able to sufficiently house the increased inventory recommended the request be denied. The Planning & Zoning Commission agreed with city staff and unanimously denied the request.

Cape Coral Department of Community Development Director Vince Cautero reiterated the city's stance at Monday's meeting compared the request to increase the rental vehicle inventory to "trying to put ten pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag."

Cautero called DeBono's predicament a case of a business outgrowing its location and adding that over doubling the number of rental vehicles at the Santa Barbara Blvd. location would create a litany of issues.

Opposing the city's stance, over half a dozen residents took to the podium during the meeting boasting of DeBono and his family's positive impact on the community and imploring the city council to help a longtime local small business,  If the city can't allow DeBonos to stay, it has serious problems," resident Derek Frazier told the city council.

For his part, DeBono said without the approval to expand not only would he have to more than likely shutter the U-Haul business but, the convenience store and gas station would be in jeopardy, as well, "If we have to go with four trucks and five trailers we will close this."

Despite the emotional pleas, council member Richard Leon said he was opposed to the plan as it was presented to the city, "What is presented is not going to work."

As the city council seemed to be leaning toward denying DeBono's request to reverse P&Z's decision, City Manager John Szerlag proposed delaying the decision for 60 days to give DeBono and city staff time to go back to the drawing board and possibly work out terms that would allow for some type of expansion.

Agreeing with Szerlag, the city council voted unanimously to delay a final decision until May 15, allowing DeBono and the city to continue its discussions.

 

Council Members to begin holding town hall meetings in council chambers

Beginning this year, the city council transitioned to a lighter "regular meeting" schedule by going to two regular meetings per month rather than the weekly scheduled previously held. The city council also holds a monthly Committee of the Whole meeting on the last Monday of each month.

When the new schedule was initially discussed late last year, some criticized it as reducing the amount of time the public had to interact with its elected officials.

Responding to that criticism, the city council bantered around a few ideas to increase public interaction. One of those ideas was the possibility of holding a more informal public input meeting on the Monday the city council did not hold a meeting each month.

Council Member Rana Erbrick was tasked to look at different options the city council might explore to add more opportunities for the public to voice their concerns and ask their questions.

During last night's meeting, Erbrick recommended that to fill that gap, city council members could hold individual town hall meetings in council chambers on a monthly basis.

Erbrick said due to staffing, televising, and other issues, the individual town hall meetings would be a more effective and efficient option than holding full council style meetings that are traditionally held.

Saying she already holds regular town hall meetings, Mayor Marni Sawicki expressed her opposition to the idea of using the council chambers for town hall meetings saying she could see the meetings being used as a political tool for those seeking reelection.

The Mayor also expressed concern with using city staff for such meetings.

Agreeing with Sawicki, council member John Carioscia warned that such a format could be a slippery slope, "If someone is up for reelection and uses the chamber to disseminate info, I would be opposed."

Council Member Richard Leon said he was surprised by the negative reaction to the idea saying everyone was looking for ideas to increase public interaction initially and saw the proposed town hall meetings as accomplishing that goal, not campaigning for office, as was being suggested by some on the dais, "Some people don’t understand the difference between a town hall and campaign function," Leon told his fellow council members. "If you can't clarify, please. You should. It is two different things."

Defending her recommendation, Erbrick said that though she has announced her intention to run for mayor in the upcoming election, the idea behind the format was allowing the public an opportunity for input, "This was meant to be a bridge to the community. An opportunity for all of us to have a chance to sit in a central location. No cameras or microphones. It wasn’t meant to be a campaign event. When the time comes, I will hold those separate from this because I know the difference." 

However, Sawicki wasn’t convinced and shot back at Erbrick, again, questioning her motives behind the idea, "It is amazing to me that you decide to do it this time of the year. To pick it up. You have been on council for six years. Really? OK, so you just now come up with it? No."

Council Member Jessica Cosden defended Erbrick's decision and said the motive behind the new meetings was not at all political in nature, "Honestly, this came up because we cut our meetings. That is why it is going to be on Monday. That is why I am supporting it. I am not running for anything."

After the discussion, the town hall meetings will move forward with Erbrick, Leon, and Cosden announcing they would hold their individual meetings in the upcoming months, with Leon scheduled for April 10, Erbrick in May, and Cosden in June.

 

Charter schools request for Chromebook lease stirs debate

By 2019, Florida law is requiring that all schools in the state provide its students one-to-one devices.

In preparation of that law being implemented, Cape Coral's Municipal Charter School System officials requested the city approval to enter into a lease to provide over 600 Google Chromebooks to its third through eighth-grade students.

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