SCI, Arches, TPI-FMB Discussed
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) hosted its first meeting in over eight months before roughly 15 members on Tuesday evening, February 26, at Bonita Bill’s Community Room. BACA originally formed in December 2015, over concerns about the proposed Bay Harbour development at Oak and Main Streets, the site of the former Compass Rose Marina, as well as to discuss issues that may impact the San Carlos Island (SCI) neighborhood and its quality of life.
BACA President Charlie Whitehead asked TPI-FMB spokesperson John Gucciardo to provide a Margaritaville Resort project update. “Margaritaville is mostly on the sidelines right now,” reported John, “while we wait for the legal challenges to resolve, and that might still take 2 to 6 months to get those behind us. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to ready the site, once we receive approval, so we just tore down our second building, may remove a third one in the near future, and are doing asbestos studies on others for when we can take those down.”
Gucciardo explained that a Fort Myers Beach resident filed two lawsuits to halt Margaritaville, “though these are against the Town of Fort Myers Beach and not us. The first basically argues the Town did not have the right to approve the resort; the second said even if the Town had the right, they made the wrong decision based on the evidence. The first is on the judge’s desk and he is to decide that within 60 days, but he can expand that timetable; the second lawsuit may take a little bit longer, as that one will require experts and depositions to move forward.”
Gucciardo then shifted gears to the Beaches Gateway Village Project on the mainland, on Pine Ridge Road near San Carlos Boulevard. “We hope to submit our plan to Lee County to go through the development process soon, probably in April or May. We anticipate asking for minimal items and variances. Beaches Gateway Village will include a hotel, offsite parking for Margaritaville, and residence units geared toward the service industry. It will probably take the balance of this year to receive Lee County approval, so we would like to break ground around this time next year.”
He explained that the employee housing component “started out very ambitiously, as more of a dormitory style like you might see at Florida Gulf Coast University, where you have a shared kitchen and living space with connecting bedrooms and bathrooms, but that did not receive a positive reception from the beach business community, who were unhappy with that, and that was different from our expectations, so we backed off on that to somewhere around 150 units with a more normal hotel layout, so we may request bonus density if this is the case. We are now not only working with local bars and restaurants, but employers like the Lee County School District and Lee Health, who have similar problems finding staff who can afford housing. Margaritaville may keep a few rooms for ourselves and have other employers commit to some as well.”
Nick Ruhland asked if TPI-FMB would make rooms available to seasonal employees, “as finding those people are the hardest thing.” Gucciardo responded, “We are exploring alternatives to yearly leases, as one of the things that drove this idea in the first place was our conversations with younger beach employees who do not want to drive three hours from Lehigh Acres to work down here, but the cool reception from beach businesses leads us to open this up to places like the School District and Lee Health, to rent to young teachers and nurses.”
Bay Harbour & SCI Update
Whitehead stated that there is no update on the Bay Harbour development. “The case is still with the Lee County Hearing Examiner, who heard it back in August of last year. My understanding is she does not work under any legal time frame, as scuttlebutt says we were leapfrogged by the high-profile Southeast Lee County mining issues, and there is nothing we can do to make the Hearing Examiner release her recommendation any quicker. I hear as well that department is down one Hearing Examiner.”
Whitehead informed BACA members that “Lee County Community Development will host a March 20 Workshop at the Moose Lodge at 19090 San Carlos Boulevard to release the drafted amendments to the San Carlos Island Community Plan, so I encourage everyone to study the plan in advance, then attend this Workshop. Remember that these will be the Lee County amendments to the San Carlos Island Community Plan and not San Carlos Island amendments to the San Carlos Island Community Plan, so this is a Lee County-driven process to fit their framework!”
The Florida Department of Transportation is recommending improvements to San Carlos Boulevard and Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach “Beach Alternative #1 and Island Alternative #2, Whitehead said. These call for a Main Street signal, changing the alternating light at Buttonwood Drive to more of a standard light except in season, and other enhancements, so go on-line and see these for yourselves before the March 20 Workshop, as I do not anticipate any hearings for this to tell the powers that be what we feel they need to do, as it will come right through the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization.” For the SCI Proposed Community Plan, see tinyurl.com/SCI2019plan
for the Roadway Alternatives, see tinyurl.com/SCIroad
Arches & FMB PAC
Larry Crips reported that the “Restore The Arches” volunteer group is working to produce 3-D photographs of the remaining pieces of the stone archway that previously served as the entryway to Fort Myers Beach before the construction of the Matanzas Pass Bridge in the 1970s, and that they are planning their 2019 “Rock The Arches” Fundraising Music Festival at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café.
Whitehead stated that he was disappointed that the Estero Island Taxpayers Association formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) called “The Friends of Fort Myers Beach,” saying “those of you who know me will not be shocked to learn that I despise PACs, as that kind of money perverts our electoral system, and I hate seeing this happen in our own backyard, so that makes me sick!” Gucciardo responded that it is his understanding that the PAC is no more. “It received such a backlash from their negative Town Council advertisements that they got the message and ceased any other work.”
Whitehead reported that he will be a guest on “Beach Radio” on Saturday morning, March 2, to discuss the Town Council election on March 5, but will not make any endorsements. He reminded everyone as well that March 2 is the start of the Fort Myers Beach Little League Season, “so get out there and cheer the kids on, as it is worth doing!” Finally, he said that BACA will have its 2019 Officer elections at its March 19 meeting, “so jump out of the trees and get involved!” The next BACA meeting is Tuesday, March 19, in the Bonita Bill’s Community Room at 6:30 p.m.
By Gary Mooney