A Tale of Two Hotels
TPI Hospitality of Minnesota is attempting to construct two new hotels and resorts just a little over two miles away from one another, but the approval process for each is light years apart!
TPI Hospitality under the moniker TPI-FMB over four years ago first proposed what is now the Margaritaville FMB Resort at the Estero Island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. Its original design led to community opposition, multiple public meetings attended by hundreds of residents, a substantial plan revision, more public meetings attended by hundreds more, two Town Council sessions that eventually led to unanimous approvals, then two lawsuits – one dropped; the other still under appeal – that continue to delay construction.
When TPI Hospitality made their presentations for the off-island companion Beaches Gateway Village (BGV) development at San Carlos Boulevard and Pine Ridge Road, however, first before the Lee County Hearing Examiner on Wednesday, September 25, then to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) Comp Plan Amendment & Zoning Hearing on Wednesday morning, December 18, essentially everyone favored it!
Comp Plan & Zoning Hearing
At the Comp Plan Amendment & Zoning Hearing, Mikki Rozdolski, Manager of Community Development Operations for Lee County Planning & Community Development, stated, “Beaches Gateway Village is before you this morning to rezone 14.97 acres at 17365 San Carlos Boulevard from Commercial Planned Development to Commercial C-2 Zoning. The Hearing Examiner recommended her approval, as does Lee County Staff.”
Russell Schropp of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes, & Holt PA, representing TPI Hospitality under its legal name of San Carlos Apartments II LLC for the BGV project, stated, “We obviously agree with the Hearing Examiner’s recommendation for approval. We stand ready to answer any questions and ask for rebuttal time should that be necessary,” with BGV personnel making no further presentation or comment.
BoCC Chair Brian Hamman called the roll of the “Participants of Record” to address BGV. The only people who can legally speak to the BoCC at a Comprehensive Plan Amendment & Zoning Hearing are those who previously testified before the Hearing Examiner, and three did but none attended this meeting. “Hearing no one,” Hamman continued, “I ask for comments from Lee County Commissioners.” None of the five members spoke, then they unanimously passed the Rezoning request.
Following the short five-minute procedure, John Gucciardo, spokesperson for TPI Hospitality, briefly stated, “Obviously we are happy with this outcome, as we received great support from the Lee County Planning Staff, and are grateful the entire Beaches Gateway Village process was mainly uneventful. We expect to proceed with BGV as best we can, in a timely manner, though we do not have an official construction start date at this time.”
At the September 25 Lee County Hearing Examiner session, roughly 15 neighbors from the adjacent Bayside Estates 55 Plus Mobile Home Community attended, with three speaking during Public Comment. None were against BGV but they did express possible traffic increase concerns. Roughly a month later, Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins issued her approval to shift the property zoning. Hearing Examiners are employees of Federal, State or Local administrative agencies who act as judges to resolve conflicts within jurisdictions of that particular agency; in this case, Lee County.
Beaches Gateway Village
TPI Hospitality’s proposed BGV plan is to move forward in two phases: First to build the hotel and accessory parking; then a potential affordable housing complex for service employees at a later time. “The BGV hotel brand will be Homewood Suites,” Gucciardo previously announced last June, “and the initial construction will include a 75-space parking lot for any Margaritaville overflow, as we promised the Town. Homewood Suites will be six stories with 133 suites.”
Gucciardo said TPI Hospitality is still working through details for the affordable service employee housing. “This will not just be for our own people, but other employers as well. We do admit, though, that the employee housing component is proving to be more difficult than we originally thought it might be.”
TPI Hospitality earlier stated on two separate occasions that it hoped to build the off-island Homewood Suites in conjunction with Margaritaville. “We plan to construct Margaritaville and Homewood Suites at the same time,” said Gucciardo previously, “as that just makes sense, to assemble all the necessary crews and equipment.”
Wasted Away in Margaritaville
Following the two Town Council unanimous votes to authorize Margaritaville FMB, Town resident Christine Patton with support from Robert Conidaris, owner of the Lani Kai Island Resort, filed two lawsuits to halt construction. On June 30 of this year, Patton voluntarily dropped her Civil Action against the Town, then on September 11, Judge Alane C. Laboda denied her Writ of Certiorari. Patton, however, on Thursday, October 10, filed a last-minute appeal to that denial, further clouding the start of Margaritaville FMB construction, with Gucciardo stating at that time, “TPI Hospitality is proceeding on all fronts toward a start of construction on the Margaritaville FMB Resort.” A Writ of Certiorari is a court process that seeks a judicial review of a decision from a lower court or administrative agency; in this case, Patton claimed that the Town did not have the right to approve Margaritaville FMB.
One possible clue to the start of construction for Margaritaville FMB and the Homewood Suites are two recent Town Council actions and an associated recommendation. At Council’s November 18, 2019 meeting, the panel unanimously verified a “Resolution to Approve with Conditions Vacating Town Right-of-Way and Plats for Margaritaville.” The four properties included the heavily-used Canal Street Beach Access. The only two people who spoke against the vacations were Patton and her attorney, Ralf Brookes, with Council unanimously approving the four actions.
At Council’s December 9 meeting, however, the five members instructed Town Attorney John Herin, Jr, to update and simplify the Town’s “Vacation of Plats & Right-of-Way” Code and encouraged Margaritaville FMB to appear before Council again to receive an additional approval under the new regulations, to avoid future ambiguity or issues. Gucciardo indicated that Margaritaville FMB will, and hinted that no demolition or construction will begin until after that and possibly the Writ appeal conclusion.
15 Years & Counting
Hurricane Charley devastated the downtown Fort Myers Beach area on August 13, 2004, leaving behind an area in ruins that almost unbelievably remains without redevelopment more than 15 years later. TPI-FMB proposed its initial resort concept over four years ago, but island residents disliked it as too big. TPI Hospitality and its former principal owner, FMB resident Tom Torgerson, went back to the drawing board, hosting numerous public meetings and focus groups, to formulate a scaled-back version the community found more appealing.
TPI-FMB received its first official public hearing on that concept when the Town’s Local Planning Agency on February 13, 2018, approved it by a 5 – 2 vote, moving it forward to Town Council for the final determination. That Council hosted two public meetings and unanimously approved it with two separate votes, the first on April 10, then again six weeks later. Shortly thereafter, TPI-FMB announced its branding and marketing partnership with The Margaritaville Resorts.