Traffic Questions, No Opposition
When 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, that 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 approval, then two lawsuits that delayed construction for over a year.
When TPI-FMB made their presentation for the companion Beaches Gateway Village (BGV) development at San Carlos Boulevard and Pine Ridge Road before the Lee County Hearing Examiner on Wednesday morning, September 25, about 15 adjacent neighbors attended, only 3 spoke during Public Comment, and none – (while raising issues concerning possible traffic increases) – were against the project!
Lee County Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins stated, “We are here for a potential rezoning of the property from Commercial Planned Development to a straight Commercial District C-2.” 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.
Collins continued, “The applicant will make their presentation and case as to why their request is consistent with Lee County Land Development Regulations. Lee County Staff will then present their report, highlighting any points of disagreement with the applicant, and in this case, they recommend approval. Since this is a conventional planning zone, there is no ability to attach conditions to govern the site development. I will then open the floor to members of the public to express any support or opposition to the application. You may ask questions but we do not answer them at that point. We then go back to Staff and the applicant, and they may answer those questions if they wish, then they may or may not make a closing statement. I will forward my recommendation to the Lee County Board of Commissioners in a couple of weeks, and they make the final determination. You must fill out a form to speak with me today to address the Lee County Commissioners at that time, but know they limit you to just three minutes.”
San Carlos Partners II LLC
Attorney Russell Schroop of Henderson Franklin represented the applicant, explaining that for this project, their legal title is “San Carlos Partners II LLC.” He introduced Bill Morris and Tina Ekblad of Morris-DePew Associates who are the project planners, and TPI-FMB spokesperson John Gucciardo, though there turned out to be no need for Gucciardo to address the proceedings.
Schroop stated that the original application included a Special Exemption request for a commercial parking lot but Zoning Staff indicated this was not necessary so San Carlos Partners II withdrew it. Ekblad reminded the Hearing Examiner that a previous 2007 applicant received approval for a 7-story, 290-room hotel on the site, but construction never began and that permit expired years ago, before adding, “The Mixed Use Overlay in the Lee Plan provides flexibility in terms of design for open space and parking requirements. Since the location is within the Overlay, it permits the rezoning to the C2 District. BGV will proceed in two phases, with the first the hotel and accessory parking, and Phase 2 a multi-family building at a later date. In my opinion, the proposed development is consistent with Commercial District C-2’s existing standards, meets the code and any other applicable uses.”
Anthony Rodriguez, a Principal Planner for Lee County Community Development, provided the brief Staff Report, concluding, “Staff recommends the approval of the rezoning. The request complies with the Lee Plan to establish a Mixed Use Overlay and to promote compact and continuous development patterns compatible with the surrounding uses. With all that said, Staff recommends the rezoning approval.”
Bayside Estates Comments
The Hearing Examiner opened Public Comment, but as Collins called out names, the first seven chose to pass. Three representatives for the adjacent Bayside Estates 55 & Over Mobile Home Community did address the hearing.
“Bayside Estates are 585 single-family retirement community homes, with a nine-person Homeowner Association Board of Directors,” offered Bayside Estates Manager Jose Ruiz. “I am here to represent 1,000-plus residents, to convey to you several concerns, including traffic and safety on Pine Ridge Road that is highly congested during Season, with vehicles that can clog traffic all the way to Summerlin Road and cause very long waits to enter and exit Bayside, making our entrance unusable for long periods. One BGV entrance is directly across from ours at Stevens Boulevard, and that is right where traffic is the worst. As BGV will ultimately have 350 total vehicle parking spaces, that is a lot of additional traffic and safety concerns for Pine Ridge Road so our residents request BGV include more traffic enhancements, like a traffic signal, turn lanes and more sidewalks.”
Ruiz explained, “Enough drivers already cut through Bayside Estates to avoid the San Carlos Boulevard traffic light, but our residential streets are not meant to be a shortcut, as that causes additional traffic for us. There is also a threat to our safety and security, as we currently have a low crime rate because we all know our neighbors and have an active Crime Watch Program, but BGV will potentially bring more people off the beaten path to increase this usage. We are not necessarily opposed to BGV, as that property can be an asset to Lee County, but Lee County must ensure elements that will mitigate existing and future problems as these that we bring to your attention.”
Bayside Estate Homeowner Association Vice President Preston White added, “A very important issue to our residents is that you understand that this is still very early in the planning and development stage, so please take this opportunity, as the plan moves forward and you approve rezoning, to make certain Lee County will mitigate traffic at Pine Ridge Road and San Carlos Boulevard, not only for BGV but residents of Bayside Estates. Our community is not against this, but we ask for all the positive uses that can benefit us all.”
Traffic The Main Concern
Bill Morris stated that BGV understands that “traffic is the main concern and we appreciate that our neighbors are kind enough to share their concerns, but our 125-room project will be a 22% traffic decrease over the previously-approved 290-room hotel. As for as peak morning and evening times, we estimate just a 4% increase in the worst-case scenario, so very negligible. As for as the entrance issue, BGV eliminated the one directly opposite Stevens Boulevard. As anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows, however, traffic to the beach backs up and there is nothing this project can do to influence that one way or another.”
As neither Staff nor BGV had Closing Comments, Collins concluded by saying, “I want to thank everyone for coming today. I will make another site check of the area to place your concerns into proper context, then send my recommendation to the Lee County Commissioners.” The one-hour hearing adjourned at 10 a.m.
By Gary Mooney