Vice-Mayor Dan Andre and Councilman Alan Mandel served at one final workshop on Monday afternoon as new council members Tracey Gore and Dennis Boback would not be officially sworn in until later that evening. Though Gore and Boback sat in the audience, as council-elect they were permitted to ask questions and engage themselves in the workshop.
During public comment, George Repetti of Island’s End condominium reported that ‘a contingent of the Town’ – including Public Works Director Scott Baker and Environmental and Stormwater Technician Rae Blake visited his buildings on March 11.
“Unfortunately, most of my claim is under that area that should not be included in the tax,” he said. “He (Baker) answered my questions leaving me with the impression that ‘common sense does not prevail’ in this town. There will be an engineer coming to visit too. I can’t understand why an appeal on this issue has to take so long, I don’t know why they came down and didn’t measure.”
Judy Haataja spoke next, saying she is opposed to any TDC funding going to repair/rip up the seawall at the end of her street – Bayland – and that she also opposes using Bayland as a ‘staging area’ for construction.
Parker Mudgett Smith
First on the agenda was an introduction of Parker Mudgett Smith, the architectural firm selected by Town staff to represent the Town’s interests should an application be submitted for the proposed Grand Resorts project.
Jeff Mudgett was accompanied by his father, Bill.
“We’re a 50-year-old architecture firm in Fort Myers, and the first place we lived was in a little cottage where the Lani Kai is now – back in 1968,” Jeff said. “We’re drawn to helping the island find its way forward with this project – the developer owns a lot of land and they’re going to do something. We want to make sure it’s what the town wants.”
Bill said there is an emotional connection, as well.
“We remember when there were dunes on the south end instead of condominiums – I actually tripped over the first seawall for Leonardo Arms which was the transformation of that end of the island,” Bill said. “If anything is done downtown, we want to make sure it’s done right, and we have the knowledge of planning processes to bring a professional objectivity.”
Cereceda said the elder Mudgett spent 26 years on Lee County’s planning board, 16 of them with original town planner Bill Spikowski.
“I am actually trying to retire – which gives me the opportunity to do things I want to do rather than what I have to do,” Mudgett said
The mayor asked them if they’d familiarized themselves with all the information related to Grand Resorts.
“The density of information that will actually be submitted with the application will be ten times what we’ve seen,” Jeff said. “Every code has some gray area that can be mined by either side. We see our role as 100% objective – as I think that is the main thing you’d be hiring us for.”
Tracey Gore asked how many projects the firm has done on FMB using the Town’s codes.
“We’ve worked on the Library, improvements to Bay Oaks and the pool – but we haven’t had to use the code for those,” Jeff replied.
“I don’t see our codes as gray, I see them as strong,” Gore said, and Jeff said that – in his experience – 95% of the codes are strong but there are always 5% that developers exploit.
“The process involves people getting paid an awful lot of money to look at that 5% in regards to their client,” said Bill. “Our job is to be objective and provide the town with the best information we can.”
Boback commented that he’d like to ‘put the whole thing on hold’.
Cereceda said that the firm’s place would be to make sure nothing happens outside of the public eye and that no work would be done by them until Torgerson makes an application.
Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli then introduced Luz Bossanyi, Claudia Lozano and Adele Balmer from FEMA’s Bureau of Mitigation.
“Most of those programs are run through the state, and I’m going to cover the programs available,” Claudia began. “For all programs, the applicant must have a FEMA-approved local mitigation plan.”
Lozano explained that the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program cycle for 2016 just opened with $90 million available.
“In this program, which is designed to reduce damages from disasters, applicants from all over the country compete for funding,” she said. “Once an applicant is awarded funding, FEMA pays for 75%, the applicant pays 25%, with the highest amount given set at $4,000,000. The deadline for this is May 3rd.”
Town Manager Don Stilwell asked how many applicants compete for that $90 million, and Lozano replied that none have been received yet from the state of Florida though applications are submitted nationwide.
“One of the requirements is that the projects must at least be under preliminary design,” she said.
A similar program for flood mitigation, $199 million is currently available with the same deadline and design requirements.
Cereceda asked if Bossanyi if her agency has staff that can aid the Town with making those applications and she answered yes.
“If your project is ready, and your application has been submitted and reviewed, you might not get funding in this cycle but you may be eligible in the next cycle,” she said. “Projects must have a budget, milestone schedule, maps identifying the area and design. Once funded, projects must be completed within 3 years. In addition, all projects must wait until an environmental review is completed before beginning.”
Public Works Director Scott Baker explained that FEMA looks at how much stormwater you’re pulling off the road and how much damage they think you’re preventing in order to create a damage-cost benefit ratio.
“Out of the last project (stormwater improvements on streets on the Basin Based Neighborhood) which cost $4 million – we got $450,000, so it’s not a blank check,” Baker said, and Bossanyi replied that at that time the cap for projects was much lower than it is for 2016.
Cereceda explained that the Town is looking to offset the cost of the new stormwater utility by applying for grants.
“Once you reach out to the state, you’ve got three people who will work on your project, if you send us the information tonight, by tomorrow you’ll have three people calling you to work on it,” said Lozano.
Finally, Baker explained that the Town has filed an application for funding from the Tourist Development Council (TDC) based on Council’s recommendations that no money for beach or bay access improvements be included – amounts requested are for maintenance only – and that the request includes improvements to Time Square. Staff also plans on attending a TDC meeting on April 14th to ask why a request to replace the dock at Hercules was denied. For a full report on TDC funding, see the article in this week’s Sand Paper.
Keri Hendry Weeg