Naples votes to appeal judicial order striking down slow speed zones

Naples is refusing to give up its fight to keep slow speed zones on Naples Bay, but cracks were showing Wednesday in the city’s resistance.

The Naples City Council voted 4-3 Wednesday — with council members Doug Finlay, Gary Price and Teresa Heitmann dissenting — to appeal a judge’s order from June that found the city had no enforceable speed zone laws on the books.

County Judge Michael Provost sided with two charter boat captains who challenged tickets they received after purposely violating the speed zones in April.

Council members voted, without comment, after a 90-minute closed-door session to discuss strategy in the case with city attorneys Bob Pritt and Jim Fox.

“I don’t think we should have ever gotten involved in this in the beginning,” Finlay said later.

Before he was a council member, Finlay was among a group of boaters who successfully challenged a state permit to mark expanded slow speed zones the city approved in 2004. The 2004 law is key to the current controversy.

The 2004 law repealed an earlier speed zone law and then the 2004 zones never went into effect because of the successful permit challenge. The city argued that meant the earlier speed zone law had been revived, but Provost disagreed.

Heitmann said she did not think the revival theory would be upheld by the appeal court, a panel of three Circuit Court judges yet to be named. She called for a study during tourist season about whether safety issues on the bay justify slow speed zones.

The city has put reflective tape over the slow speed zone signs and is not enforcing those zones. Idle speed zones on the bay are unaffected by the ruling, and marine patrol officers say they still will ticket reckless boaters.

Councilman Gary Price said an appeal is “not a good use of our resources” based on his reading of Provost’s order: “I didn’t think that it was worth pursuing it.”

He said that doesn’t mean he thinks the city would lose or that he is dismissing safety concerns on the bay.

The appeal amounts to a tactical decision to stave off the city’s liability should other boaters come forward to challenge their slow speed-zone tickets, Councilman Sam Saad said.

“That’s pretty much the only reason to do it at this point,” he said.

Speed-zone opponents have spent weeks lobbying the City Council to forego an appeal, which opponents insist is a losing proposition against what they see as a solid ruling by Provost.

“They’re doing it for political cover,” charter boat captain Allen Walburn said after the vote Wednesday.

“They know they messed up.”

Four Corners makeover to begin in April

Council agreed to begin construction on the Four Corners crosswalk project in April.

Work can begin once permits are approved by the Florida Department of Transportation on the $200,000 capital improvement project to install a crosswalk from east to west across U.S. 41. The final cost won’t be known until bids for the project have gone out.

Construction was originally scheduled to take place this winter, but because of the high volume of traffic during season, council agreed to begin later with an estimated completion of May 2013.

Flower baskets to decorate Fifth Ave. S.

Hanging flower baskets will decorate a portion Fifth Avenue South for a few months this season on a trial basis.

The city manager will decide whether the baskets can stay after the trial period.

City Council approved the baskets, which will be paid for through sponsorships to the street’s business improvement district, after asking about safety for pedestrians and parked cars.

Dance studio approved

Council quickly approved a resolution for a dance studio to open in the Tamiami Center on U.S. 41 North.

Dance studios are not included as approved or conditional uses for the commercially zoned area, but they also are not banned.

Schools and cultural facilities are permitted, and similar uses or uses that are not more intense than approved uses are typically considered, according to the city’s planning department.

Decision on architect’s apartment delayed

A decision about whether to allow a downtown architect to build an apartment onto her existing studio was continued to council’s next meeting.

Andrea Clark Brown has proposed adding a 640-square-foot apartment to her studio on Eighth Street South. She asked for a continuance at the last council meeting, and members voted Wednesday to grant it. The proposal was shot down at a planning board meeting in April.

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