Town of Fort Myers Beach resident Chris Patton, with financial support from the Lani Kai Island Resort, (Robert Conidaris, owner of Lani Kai, told The News-Press last year he would help fund Patton's legal fees.) dropped their latest lawsuit to halt the proposed Margaritaville Resort late on Wednesday, August 5.
This came after Town Council’s Monday, August 3, meeting, where the elective body, supported by numerous island residents in “Public Comment,” resolved to take firm action against the controversial Fort Myers Beach hotel known for its extensive emergency response calls from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, culminating in a murder on its beachfront early on Wednesday, July 15, as well as its protracted lawsuits to stop the Margaritaville construction.
While not an agenda item, the Lani Kai was the meeting’s preeminent topic. Seventeen residents addressed Council during “Public Comment,” all in favor of the Town taking strict measures to regulate the Lani Kai, including the establishment of a Nuisance Abatement Board to curtail criminal and other unwanted activities.
Mari Torgerson, wife of Margaritaville Board Chairman Tom Torgerson, spoke first, saying that “the Second District Court of Appeals dismissed their appeal on July 8 and on July 9, they filed another lawsuit! Our taxpayers are concerned about the amount of money spent on these frivolous lawsuits, so we ask Council to finally end this fiasco once and for all, as these delays are simply a personal agenda. Margaritaville will be a tremendous asset, as the people of Fort Myers Beach deserve better.”
Marty Harrity, co-owner of several area restaurants including The Whale, directly across from the Lani Kai, added that “‘frivolous’ seems to be the word of the day! Margaritaville received 100% approval from three Town Councils, including this one. It will fix the decaying entrance to the island, except for these frivolous lawsuits. All one has to do is just look at the police reports for the last 18 months of what’s going on in Town. For the past 23 years, I owned and operated The Whale, and watched my sales deteriorate to the point that my partner and I are looking at other options for The Whale. I ask this Council to do whatever it takes to stop these lawsuits and to put a stop to the lawlessness at the Lani Kai!”
Dawn Thomas, who lives near the Lani Kai, said that “since January 2019, our neighbor has had 1,345 LCSO calls, ranging from battery, sexual assault, grand theft, indecent behavior, domestic violence, narcotics, wanted criminals, hit-&-run, stabbings, and now murder. It’s time to clean up this property and hold them responsible.”
Captain Andrew Prisco of the LCSO informed Council that the Sheriff’s Office will establish a Community Response Unit near the Lani Kai by mid-August, but not to confuse that for a LCSO Substation.
Mayor Ray Murphy acknowledged that the Patton has yet to serve him with the July 9 lawsuit. Town Attorney John Herin, Junior, stated that the lawyer can wait 120 days before serving the Mayor, as a delaying tactic. Council unanimously instructed Herin to accept the lawsuit on the Town’s behalf, to move forward the process as quickly as possible.
Council member Bill Veach doubts that a Nuisance Abatement Board will be effective against the Lani Kai, but may be beneficial in future situations, while admitting that the number of emergency calls to the Lani Kai is “quite stunning!” Council member Jim Atterholt noted that in addition to the LCSO Lani Kai calls, the FMB Fire Department made more stops there over the past four years than any other island address, agreeing that “the numbers are stunning! Fort Myers Beach taxpayers are in affect subsidizing their business model and this must stop now; enough is enough so let’s roll!” Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros would like Council to put together a strategy with the LCSO “to take stronger action in regard to that property.” Council member Dan Allers believed the Nuisance Abatement Board would be “a step in the right direction but will not solve all the issues. We must do everything in our power to end this sooner rather than later.” Murphy noted he met with the Lani Kai ownership “and I see a positive resolution coming down the road!
Let’s see how this thing develops over the next week or so.”
During Council’s Agenda items, they unanimously approved a “Solid Waste Interlocal Agreement” with Lee County; a “Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Agreement” for an Old San Carlos BoulevardTraffic Signal for $695,000; a Matanzas Pass Bridge FDOT Maintenance Agreement for $21,317; will not allocate $54,640 to fund half the pay for the Beach Elementary School Resource Officer; named Murphy as the 2020 “Florida League of Cities” Voting Delegate; and appointed Veach as the “Estero Bay Agency” Management Representative.