Fort Myers Beach to reopen Tuesday to residents only

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Credit: WINK News

Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted Monday to reopen the beach to residents only – but there will be a number of restrictions.

The beach will reopen at 7 a.m. Tuesday, but beachgoers must have proof they are a Fort Myers Beach resident, and may only exercise, bike, run and walk on the public portion of the beach at or below the mean high tide – between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Social distancing rules will be in effect, with groups of no more than 10 allowed and everyone must maintain 6-feet of space.

Restrictions also include:

  • Anyone at the beach must wear a face mask.
  • No sitting on the beach; beach accessories such as towels, chairs and coolers are not permitted.
  • Dog walking will be allowed. Dogs must be on a 6-foot leash.
  • Parking lots will remain closed.
  • Beach access will be at town-owned access points.

The motion to reopen passed by a vote of 3-2, with Mayor Ray Murphy and Councilmember Bill Veach opposing.

The council also voted to allow lodging establishments to begin taking reservations starting May 15, but reservations will have to be 100 percent refundable and without fees for changes.

This will only apply if Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t extend the state order banning vacation rentals through April 30.

Yucatán manager Leah Lynch said it has been quite a change.

“It definitely dropped off right away. We saw significant change from the first week of March to the second week and then we close down shortly afterwards,” she said.

But soon, she expects more traffic as the town council voted to open up the beach for a few hours during the day.

Resident Elaine Earle is looking forward to getting back on the sand.

“I’m going to set my alarm clock and make sure we are up at 7 o’clock and walk the beach,” Earle said.

Lynch said the opening is a small change, but one that will hopefully benefit businesses.

“I’m hoping to bring people out of their houses and put their toes in the sand and come by for a bite to eat afterwards,” she said.

“I think it’ll give them some hope that there is a future, it’s going to work out,” Earle said.

The shutdown has hit the town hard since tourism is the biggest industry on the island. Bars, restaurants, shops and hotels have collectively lost millions of dollars due to the ordered closures.

Local restaurants have mixed feelings on what reopening would mean for business, and also for the safety of everyone on the island.

Chairs have been collecting dust in restaurants throughout Florida. It’s been about a month since restaurants were limited to takeout and delivery services.

Despite it all, the general manager of The Sand Bar & Grille on Fort Myers Beach said the restaurant has seen more orders than expected.

“We have been here for 16 years now, and we feel that we are a trademark on an island,” said Ben Lewis, the Sandbar’s general manager. “And people recognize that, and people have been more than willing to help support us in every way possible.”

Lewis thinks that opening even with restrictions would still be huge for business – even though they’d still only be able to offer takeout and delivery services.

“With the beaches opening, we feel as though it would be a domino effect,” Lewis said. “Inevitably, having to open restaurants and hotels and every other small business. They just go hand in hand.”

Silvia Steiger, who owns Sky’s restaurant, agrees, but she is still hesitant.

“As a business owner, of course, it would help our business,” Steiger said. “As a resident of Fort Myers Beach who has lived here for more than 20 years, I’m not so sure if it’s smart.”

Steiger said she’d rather be safe than sorry.

She worries that people might not follow the rules even if the beach opens with restrictions.

“Do people really follow those restrictions?” Steiger said. “How disciplined are we all if we don’t have to?”

Sanibel beaches may not stay empty for long either, but the island’s taking a different approach.

They never closed beaches, but only allowed residents with permits to use parking lots.

Sanibel leaders held a meeting Monday afternoon and decided to make a decision on reopening their beaches Wednesday. They first want to hear from Lee County and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lee County has planned a special emergency meeting for Tuesday and will discuss county beaches and other areas to reopen.

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