Prior to the end of the term of the previous Town Council on April 6, and just before coronavirus concerns effectively shut down the Fort Myers Beach community in mid-March, the Council examined redevelopment plans for Bayside Park, which sits at the bay end of Old San Carlos Blvd. downtown, adjacent to the back bay. The outgoing Council approved a tentative plan and allocated funding for a 30% design, but further investigation of the mooring field upland services building concept that Council approved, revealed that it would sit above the main Lee County waterline to the island. This led to a significant redevelopment of the concept, which the Town’s Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC) recently viewed via a virtual Zoom meeting. As Town Council has yet to receive a formal presentation on this new concept, the public still has the opportunity to weigh in on the plan, though when Council will take it up is unknown. As of Wednesday afternoon, May 27, the agendas for Council’s regular meeting on June 1 and their Management & Planning meeting on June 4 have not been released. To help clarify this issue, the Island Sand Paper spoke with Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros, AAC Chair Katherine Light, and two Bayside Park business neighbors.
Plenty of Time for Input
-Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros
“I am the Town Council AAC Liaison so let me admit up-front that when we received the recent virtual meeting update, the new Bayside Park proposal came as a big shock, particularly the location of the new building!” declared Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros. “I commented that this is a big change from the original concept, and I initially viewed the new plan as a negative but now am leaning toward the positive. The building location in this plan actually opens up more of the Back Bay view and on the top floor, there is a platform perfect for selfies that I think will rapidly become one of the island’s ‘Must See’ places, almost as much as how everyone takes photos from the pier!
“While some of the building will only be accessible to the Mooring Field residents, like the laundry facilities, the restrooms will be open to everyone. Many islanders jokingly refer to me as “The Bathroom Council Member,” but the simple fact is our Town needs more public restrooms, especially downtown.
“My understanding is the redesign team needed to move the original building because it would be right above the Town’s huge Lee County waterline, and no one discovered that until the 30% design. It makes no sense to construct a building over that, should we ever need to do repair or replacement work. As for the building, it is very modern; while I would prefer a cottage-style, the marine industry today leans more toward that look.
“The Town is now receiving initial feedback from the neighborhood and, to be honest, some are not happy. This is an important piece of Town property; as a result Council only authorized enough funds for the 30% design, to bring that back before us for a review, and there will still be 60%, 90% and the final drawings, so there is a long way to go before we break ground. These will all be on future Town Council agendas, so there will be plenty of oppo
rtunities for the public to give us their comments and suggestions.”
Permanent Loss of View
“The current Bayside Park proposal has a Mooring Field building that would absolutely ruin the back bay view that the public enjoys for events like the Christmas Boat Parade and Roar Offshore powerboats,” said Len Lemmer, owner of adjacent restaurant Nervous Nellie’s. “Closing off such a beautiful public viewpoint does not make any sense to me, with too few people involved in this discussion so far over a parcel that so many enjoy. While I attempted to weigh in on this during a recent Town Council Zoom Meeting, there were technical issues, and no one from the Town reached out to me or to my knowledge any other neighbors as to our thoughts and concerns, so I wrote a recent “Letter to The Editor” to the Island Sand Paper expressing my dissatisfaction. People at the adjacent Harbour House are livid over what this building will do to their view.
“I know the Town wants to possibly bring additional Mooring Field services to the folks who utilize it, but one of the Harbour House developers (Doug Speirn-Smith) recently sent the Town a proposal to headquarter those necessities (in a ground floor space) there. If the Town can strike a deal with them, all the Mooring Field people need do to access those facilities is walk right across the street, so that seems like a perfect marriage. With that option, I honestly don’t know why the Town would want to construct this new building, as that seems fiscally irresponsible!
“As for Bayside Park redevelopment, my vision for that unique resource would be to keep one-third to one-half as greenspace, with benches and trees, where people can place lawn chairs and take advantage of that beautiful view. Any manmade enhancements should be modular, like a stage or stands you can put up for special events and remove after. There was initially talk about a splash pad and that would so fit our beach community right on the water, with a few large sunscreens for shade. Once you put a big building there, you lose forever any other options.”
Mooring Field Needs More Facilities
-AAC Chair Katherine Light
“The AAC originally met with the Bayside Park redesign team along with the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) on October 30 of last year,” said Katherine Light, AAC Chair. “The idea for a Mooring Field building there originally came up because that is the dinghy dock location, so access there made sense. We provided some input on what eventually became the original concept, should the Town ultimately decide to bring the Mooring Field management in-house. (It is currently contracted out to Matanzas Inn.)
“Before the previous Town Council left office in early April, they authorized funding for an initial 30% design that included a possible Mooring Field building and related amenities, and the AAC was to consider that at our March meeting, but the coronavirus struck then, causing the Town to suspend Advisory Committee meetings for the next two months, so we never weighed in on that first proposal. My understanding, however, is when the designers did their 30% plan, they discovered the Town’s main waterline runs under the Bay to the island right where they had the original structure, causing them to relocate it from the rear of the parcel to the southern side.
“Recently, the AAC reviewed the latest proposal for the first time in a Zoom forum. The AAC feels this offers several positive attractions to the Fort Myers Beach community at large, in addition to the Mooring Field. There will be public restrooms and the structure’s top floor has an expansive open area with an improved panoramic back bay and even Gulf view. It will be open air underneath, with park amenities, a small bandstand for concerts, and a Veterans’ tribute, so there is a lot to like!
“Regardless of the Town’s final decision, the Mooring Field needs expanded facilities. We have a 70-ball Mooring Field and just two showers. For a Mooring Field our size, that should at least be 4 to 6, with more restrooms, washers & dryers, and office space, so we may even grow one day.”
Town has Other Options
“I attended the AAC Zoom Meeting when they received the redesign for the first time so I am familiar with the current proposal and there are several issues,” said Doug Speirn-Smith, Harbour House Developer & co-owner of Matanzas Inn. “First, I just don’t like the idea of any building in that park, so this is nothing against the Mooring Field, but that is a valuable open space with a magnificent bay view. The new building concept will dominate that space to the detriment of the neighborhood, so wasting that precious resource is something the Town should not do.
“To rectify that, over the past few months, I informed the Town several times that we could provide Mooring Field services (in a ground floor area) at the Harbour House that is right across the street from Bayside Park, for restrooms, laundry, and an office on our ground floor level that would be far more economical than the proposed building. In February, I sent the Town a prospectus, so they have an option through us with plenty of space to meet their Mooring Field needs, but they have yet to reply.
“In addition to the loss of valuable bayside real estate, the issue that is really important to me is that Council has yet to receive a formal presentation on this concept, and that means the public has not had the opportunity to weigh in yet, especially Harbour House residents who are very unhappy. It seems highly unusual to me that a project is already in the architectural design stage without public input, especially from the neighbors. I am pretty disappointed that this process seems to have a life of its own, and I hope Council steps back and slows it down, to examine it with a critical eye. I sincerely think the AAC and Town are trying to improve the Mooring Field, and that is a good thing, but the Town has a viable affordable alternative to meet their needs while preserving Bayside Park. This can be a win-win, so I hope the Town is open to this, so we can get everything right!”