Neighbors want Fort Myers Beach RV Resort expansion stopped, claim fire risk

Bill Smith
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

Residents living near the Fort Myers Beach RV Resort on San Carlos Boulevard have sued to overturn the Board of County Commissioners decision to allow spaces for 45 additional recreational vehicles at the park.

Opponents to the park expansion don’t like the commission’s decision to give the RV park owner an exception to a county rule that the expansion leave a 40-foot buffer between the RVs and adjacent property and instead allow RVs to be parked closer to neighboring homes. 

The spaces would be for “transient” use of the spaces by visitors, meaning the spaces would turn over among vacationers.

The Fort Myers Beach RV Resort is located about five miles from the town of Fort Myers Beach.

In the suit filed in Lee County Circuit Court this week, Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, who represents neighbors Scott and Catherine Campbell, said his clients  would be  “adversely affected because the applicant’s RV park will not comply with the minimum 40-foot perimeter buffer required for all RV Park expansions after 1985.”

The Campbells have complained that the narrower buffer could make responding to a fire difficult and cause other quality-of-life issues.

More: Neighbors object as RV park expansion gets approval

The suit was filed five days after commissioners voted to allow expansion of the park and to permit the owner to substitute fencing, trees and shrubbery for the 40-foot buffer zone, reducing the separation distance between RVs and homes behind the park.

New RV parking spots would be located on a now-vacant 5.72-acre parcel that would be acquired by the owners of the RV resort from its current owner, a trust established by a family in Ohio.

At last week’s hearing, attorney Neale Montgomery asked the commission to rely on a finding by Deputy Hearing Examiner Amanda Rivera that the owner’s planned buffer, while allowing spacing of about 20 feet, would work just as well as a buffer of 40 feet of vacant land.

“The HEX found that with conditions she imposed there is a greater separation with a buffer with the proposed zoning than there would be with current zoning (requiring the 40 foot buffer),” Montgomery said. “She saw it as a separation.”

In their suit to overturn commission approval, the Campbells have cited noise and a potential fire hazard if RVs are closer to their home than the 40 feet provided in the zoning code. They claim the neighborhood of single-family homes behind the park would be subject to “external impacts of incompatible, transient recreational vehicle parks.”

More: Red Coconut RV Park on Fort Myers Beach in uphill fight

During hearing examiner proceedings last summer, Catherine Campbell testified that she worries whether a setback of around 20 feet is enough protection in case of fire. 

Max Forgey, a certified planner hired by the Campbells, told Rivera at the same hearing that his clients “are concerned about fire safety, they are in particular concerned about the close packing of these RV units and what that means in case of fire — could you have a fire that jumps from one to another.”

Under cross-examination by Montgomery, Forgey agreed that the fire district fire marshal would have to review the final development order for the project to assure “public safety from a fire safety standpoint.”

The Campbells say the park should provide the required distance rather than the shorter separation recommended by Rivera

“They should have to comply with the new buffer of 40 feet along the north and the  east. the north and the east,” Catherine Campbell said.  “They could accommodate the 40 feet in there, there might be a few less RV spaces, you might have a different way of accessing it but you certainly could accommodate.”

The neighborhood currently includes businesses and industrial uses close to San Carlos Boulevard. The rear of the RV park is bordered by residential property, including single-family manufactured homes.

Nearly all of the area covered by the zoning change is vacant land although the parcel reaches to the commercial strip along San Carlos Boulevard through the site of a former ice cream stand.

In recommending approval of the RV expansion without a 40-foot buffer, Rivera said she believed that other restrictions on the use of the property “were sufficient to protect the neighbors.”

Brookes told The News-Press “there is nothing in the code to say they are entitled to the maximum amount of space” on which to park the RVs.

The county attorney’s office would not comment on pending litigation and will defend the commission’s decision in court. The county has 20 days to respond after it is formally served with the suit papers.

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