5 Things To Know from the Cape Coral City Council Meeting (May 15)

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

The nearly five hour meeting included discussions on the city's proposed vacation rentals ordinance, resolving the Bunch property eminent domain issue, the hiring of a Construction Manager for the SE 47th Terrace Streetscape Improvement Project, and more. 

Below are five takeaways from last night’s meeting.


City, public debate proposed vacation rental ordinance

Owners of vacation rental properties in Cape Coral could be in for some significant changes in the near future.

During Monday night's meeting, the city council held the first of two public hearings on a proposed ordinance that if approved, would redefine vacation rental properties in Cape Coral and establish regulations, fees, and procedures for those properties.

According to Assistant City Manager Mike Ilczyszyn, the new Short Term Rental Policy would embrace the burgeoning short term rental market, and, at the same time focus on public safety strategy goal.

The policy would define vacation rentals as any residential property that is rented more than three times per calendar year of periods less than thirty days or is advertised as a property that is rented for less than thirty days.

The new policy would allow owners to rent out their property for less than one week, which is currently prohibited in Cape Coral. The policy would also add vacation rentals to all residential zoning districts.

With the new policy, the city would require those owners to register their short term rental properties and pay $300 which would cover registration, annual inspections, and city Business Tax Receipt.

Ilczyszyn explained that the new rules would allow the city to regulate the industry better to lessen the negative impact short term rental properties have on neighborhood character, "This policy should protect homeowners of surrounding properties."

Ilczyszyn added that while short-term rental properties are currently required to register with the state and city, it is rarely being done in Cape Coral stating that of the over 3,000 short term rental properties located in Cape Coral, only 143 are registered with the state, while only 31 have a Cape Coral business license, "What you see is a compliance problem."

To ensure more properties were in compliance, the policy would set a step violation enforcement process that would include daily violations, possible license revocation, a hearing process, and appeals process.

While city staff said creating the policy was essential to the overall Cape Coral real estate market and the public safety and quality of life of residents, members of the local real estate market packed Monday night's meeting in staunch opposition to the new ordinance. Realtor Suzanne Sherer, who spoke representing the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association said that such items in the ordinance including broad and redundant elements that would overburden Realtors, the fee structure, and the lack of inclusion of those in the real estate market as reasons the association could not support the ordinance in its current form.

Sherer went on to say that members of the association would be willing to work with the city to create an ordinance that would benefit all.

Rental property owner and part-time resident Dan Peterson said if the city passed the ordinance it could create legal havoc for short term rental property owners, "Anybody who has a lawyer, never would they ever rent their property under the ordinance there is. You would be crazy. The risk you would take, the personal liability you would take are extremely forbidden. The risk would be way too high."

Peterson, admitted that he did not adhere to the current seven day minimum rental rule, concluded his statement to the city council saying that if the new ordinance were to pass as written he would immediately cut his losses and leave Cape Coral behind, "If this ordinance goes through as is, I will sell both my properties and never come back to Cape Coral."

While the majority of those who spoke warned the city council of passing such an ordinance as written, not all who spoke were against the idea based on the impact it would have on short term rentals. Resident Frank Perry, who says he had firsthand experience of living next door to a short-term residential property, took it a step further saying the city should not allow a mix of short term rentals and single family residences in the same area, "You are either a single family neighborhood or a business. You cannot have both."

Perry also warned the city council of the negative impacts short-term rental properties such as AirBnBs have in single family residential areas, "You have no control over it. It is Attila of the Hun at the gates. They are going to bring people into this city that you have no control over."

Council Member John Carioscia said he supported the ordinance the way it was written and agreed that it was time the city did something more to regulate the short-term rental industry locally, "Let's face it, we have a commercial venue in a residential area, that’s what we have. They are there to make a profit," explained Carioscia. "We need something over the heads of the bad property managers and bad landlords."

However, not all on the dais agreed with Carioscia's stance, "A lot more work needs to be done and a lot more communication between the city and the realtor industry before we move forward," said council member Jim Burch.

Council Member Rana Erbrick, who owns rental properties shared Burch's concerns, "What we are asking goes outside of what I have experienced," explained Erbrick. "Some of this I found a little onerous and meant to be intimidating, and it should not be that way."

Erbrick concluded, saying the city should take a couple of months to look at the plan and speak with those in the rental industry to make changes to create a more accommodating policy for all involved.

Seeing the majority of the city council felt the ordinance was not ready to move forward, City Manager John Szerlag said he would delay the second and final hearing on the policy that was scheduled for June 5 to July 24 when the city council returns from its summer break, allowing more time for city staff to work in some of the recommendations heard at Monday's meeting.


Bunch property eminent domain stand-off resolved

A long-standing dispute between the city and a Cape Coral family came to an end Monday night.

The city council voted to move on from trying to acquire a five-acre parcel of land off Pine Island Road owned by Jeff and Ginny Bunch through eminent domain.

Instead, the city will go through the eminent domain process in an attempt to acquire nearly five acres of land next to the Bunch property owned by Florida Properties III, LLC.

The city initially tried to acquire the five-acre parcel owned by the Bunches saying it was necessary for the construction of two irrigation storage tanks tied to the city's upcoming North Two and Southwest Six and Seven phases of the Utilities Expansion Project.

Shortly after being informed by the city that they were seeking to acquire the property through eminent domain, the family began speaking at city council meetings expressing what they felt were underhanded dealings from city employees during the process. Vowing to fight for their property, the couple along with Ginny's sister Wendy Blake became a fixture at the meetings over the past year demanding updates on where the city stood in attempting to acquire their property. For their part, the city remained relatively quiet saying they could not divulge any information due to the high probability the issue was headed to court.

However, during last night's meeting, the city broke their silence explaining their side of the dispute and ending their explanation saying it was in the city's best interest in moving forward with attempting to acquire the next door five acres rather than the Bunch property.

The Bunches met the decision with tempered reaction, "I'm glad I am getting my property back but, not at the expense of my neighbor," Jeff told the city council.

City Manager John Szerlag explained that the city was forced to move forward with the eminent domain process on the property after negotiations to purchase five acres of the 125-acre parcel from the bank fell through.

Council Member Jim Burch, who has been vocal about the city settling the issue with the Bunches, also expressed concern on the city's attempt to use eminent domain to purchase part of the bank property, "Right now we are doing exactly what we have done in the past. It will turn out the same way."

Burch went on to say that the city needed to look at how it handles the eminent domain process and correct what he felt was inadequacies in the process that didn’t take the human element of the issue into enough account.

Council Member Rick Williams also expressed some concerns but, said removing the Bunches from the shadow of losing their property was an immediate issue that needed to be resolved, "I am supporting it primarily to get the monkey off the Bunches back."

In the end, the majority of the city council agreed and voted 6-2 (council member Richard Leon and Burch voted against approval) to move forward with acquiring the bank property by eminent domain feeling confident a deal could be worked out between the city and property owners to avoid having to resolve the issue in court.


U-Haul business PDP change modified, approved

In another resolution to a long-standing dispute, the city council voted unanimously to approve special exceptions that will allow the owners of DeBono's Stop & Go to expand their inventory of U-Haul equipment at their Santa Barbara Boulevard location.