Council Hosts Reception & Tour
Raymond Sandelli became the new Lee County District 3 Commissioner, the jurisdiction that includes the Town of Fort Myers Beach, on Tuesday, August 6. Sandelli is fulfilling the final 15 months of the unexpired term of the late Lee County Commissioner and former FMB Mayor Larry Kiker. The Town hosted a Meet the Commissioner reception for Sandelli on Friday morning, September 13, before roughly a dozen island leaders at 9 a.m. Sandelli made opening remarks; Town Council members shared their views and primary requests; then Town personnel provided an island tour until approximately 11:30 a.m.
“Thank you for inviting me to learn about your community,” began Sandelli, “as we are all linked together!” He explained he is originally from New Jersey, is of Italian heritage, “and both my father and grandfather were bricklayers. For me, however, all I ever wanted to do was fly airplanes. Two weeks after graduating high school, I joined the Air Force and had the honor to wear the uniform of my country for nine years. I left the military, married, started a family and we now have three adult children. I assumed my career would be in flying, but I ran into a person in commercial real estate and that began a 40-year career.”
Real estate first took him to Seattle, then Tampa. “At age 65, I retired to New Jersey and stayed that way for 6 weeks! I then came down here to become a Managing Partner for CRE Consultants, advising clients on healthcare, office, retail, industrial, and property management. I was on vacation in New Jersey in early August, when I received word from Governor Ron DeSantis about the Commissioner position. I always had aspirations for politics, but we were raising kids. After six weeks in office, I am pretty happy so far, as I believe the best of both worlds comes from private and public partnerships. The nicest part is meeting the people of our community!”
“We are very happy to have you here,” said Mayor Anita Cereceda. “Getting to know your background is a good place to start. Now we will go from Council person to person, to tell you what the Town is working on.”
Council member Joanne Shamp said that “in terms of economic income, the Town is the #1 contributor to putting ‘Heads-in-Beds,’ as we are the biggest tourism hosts to Lee County and its Tourism Development Council (TDC) income, so we want to work cooperatively with Lee County. We appreciate Lee County redoing Estero Boulevard and you will see that on your tour. We offer the most fantastic view in all Lee County, from the top of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, but that view is not so gorgeous when you get to the bottom of it, and that is the entryway to our Town, so can we work together to do something about that? Commissioner Kiker ,before he became ill, and our Town Manager worked on a plan for that entryway, for traffic flow and bicycle and pedestrian safety, so we would like to move forward with this.”
Shamp explained as well the Town’s ongoing discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce air traffic that flies low directly over Fort Myers Beach, especially at night, and felt his vast flying and Air Force experience may be a great deal of help in those meetings.
Reason I’m Here
Council member Bruce Butcher told Sandelli, “The reason I am sitting here is because of Estero Boulevard. When we moved here and I drove up the island for the first time in season, it took over two hours, and that is outrageous and I never saw anything like it. I lived in Los Angeles and my work took me to some of the biggest cities on the planet and it never took so long to go so short a distance. It is especially dangerous at night, as you cannot see people, with tourists crossing the Boulevard wherever they like. Prior to council, I was on the Public Safety Committee, and was thrilled when Lee County decided to improve the road, but I asked a simple question – what are you going to do about improving the traffic flow – and when they said, ‘Nothing,’ I was dumbfounded!”
Butcher said he understands that “we are constrained by real estate, with the right-of-way right on top of the road, and Lee County already greatly improved the situation with sidewalks on both sides of the street, but what is missing is landscaping and the beautification of Estero Boulevard, and we still lack a lighting plan, especially for crosswalks, so we need your support. Another thing is improved trolley stops, with protection from the sun and pouring rains, as due to traffic, you can stand there a long time waiting for a trolley. Until you can operate trolleys on schedule, traffic will discourage people from using them, but more trolley use will improve traffic flow.”
One final concern for Butcher was the width of the Fort Myers Beach Pier. “It is just 8 feet wide; that is narrower than our new sidewalks! Our Pier is the #1 Visited Place in Lee County, yet a family with a baby buggy cannot walk it side-by-side but must go single-file.” Sandelli sympathized, recollecting many fine New Jersey piers.
Garlic & Gaelic
“We have a great deal in common,” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy told the Commissioner! “We are both named after Saint Raymond and both grew up in the Garden State of New Jersey. Your family is Italian and mine Irish, but that is close enough – we called that ‘Garlic & Gaelic!’ My grandfather was a bricklayer, and we are both in real estate.”
Murphy reminded Sandelli, “The Town incorporated over a real estate issue, and I was honored to be elected at that time and was happy to contribute then and serve two terms with my good friend, Anita Cereceda. When I retired from politics, I was happy to be done, but last summer we got hit with water issues and that is now my passion, as I have fished these waters almost since I could walk, but the Town cannot achieve this on our own. We pressed the issue and were happy Governor DeSantis replaced the South Florida Water Management District Board with new leadership, and are working to strengthen our Fertilizer Ordinance and exploring a Glyphosate ban, and hope these move up-&-down the Southwest Florida coast.”
Sandelli replied, “The state made a huge commitment to water; now we need the Federal Government to bridge the gap. People now understand that nothing affects us all personally, professionally and economically more than water.”
Murphy had one final issue: “At our island’s south end, Lee County will soon replace the Big Carlos Bridge with a high-fixed span, but our previous Council took a unanimous vote against this design and the residents there are against it as well, so I hope you take a look at that.”
Council member Rexann Hosafros reflected, “I would like to work with you over the future of a facility Lee County gifted to us when we incorporated – the Bay Oaks Recreational Center. It was not in very good shape when we got it and it needs a lot of help, with the Town recently committing to vastly improve it. The City of Estero incorporated in 2014 and it has a 55-acre recreational facility entirely supported by Lee County. I am not saying Lee County should take back Bay Oaks but we believe Lee County should assist us with this big a project and would like to discuss your help.”
Anything You Need
Mayor Cereceda added one final item: “Times Square and the FMB Pier are the #1 beach access in Lee County, yet when we approach the TDC to rehabilitate it, they have a legal opinion that it is not a beach access – well, if that is not a beach access, I don’t know what is!”
“You have given me a lot of statistics,” chuckled Sandelli! “You still have space in your brain,” smiled Cereceda in response! She continued, “I am partial, but the people of Fort Myers Beach will have your back and you can take that to the bank. We are full of extraordinary people, many of whom are affluent retired CEOs, but when they walk through the door, they might look a bit like they are homeless! Once Margaritaville comes online and Estero Boulevard is complete, you will witness a dynamic change on Fort Myers Beach, so thank you for being here and listening to us today. We are happy to help you with anything you need.” With that, Sandelli began his Fort Myers Beach tour.
By Gary Mooney