Lee County Commissioners put to rest some persistent rumors on our island last month when they made the decision to proceed with Segment 2 of the Estero Boulevard road project as planned. Segment 2 begins at Lovers Lane, just south of Sea Grape Plaza and ends near Publix. That takes it right in front of the Red Coconut RV Park.
Construction scheduling had made it appear as if that segment of the road had been “skipped.” With the park owners talking about legal action and claiming that they had the historical right to land the county claimed as right-of-way and with one of them sitting on the Lee County Tourist Development Council for over 30 years, well, it fed suspicions that the county would roll over and give away part of the right of way (ROW) to the Red Coconut owners.
Lee County deserves credit for handling this one right. Even after more than 10 meetings with the county, Red Coconut owners Fran and Tom Myers still challenged the ROW study and asked the county to look at other alternatives. The county could have just said no, but they didn’t. They asked the county Department of Transportation to take a look at alternatives. The DOT looked at seven options and ruled them out one by one concluding that each one had a “negative impact on driver safety or caused problems further down the road.”
That DOT study found that the Red Coconut has been encroaching on the public ROW on both sides of Estero, but the largest area was on the Gulf side of Estero in an area approximately 15 feet wide and 430 feet long. That stretch of land impacts up to 13 RV spaces. The park has approximately 251 total spaces according to the study. Those Gulf spaces are surely more valuable than spaces tucked back on the other side of the road, but we have faith that the Red Coconut will find a way to adapt on both sides of the road and continue to prosper. Their decision not to litigate this dispute saves both parties’ time and money and allows our road project to continue. And that serves us all well.
This is not the only ROW encroachment the county has to deal with. There were a total of 147 encroachments in Segment 1 and 2. Those encroachments range from landscaping in the ROW to structures that sit in the ROW. Moving out of the downtown area, most of the encroachments in Segment 2 are residential. We hope that property owners further along Estero learn something from this. Every inch of the county-owned Estero Blvd ROW is needed to provide all of us with long-awaited road improvements. If you have landscaping or anything else in the ROW, move it now. Let’s move this road along.
Meanwhile we remain hopeful that the county gets over its recent attachment to the former Seafarer’s property in downtown Fort Myers Beach. They are using it to store equipment and construction materials for the road project. While that made sense when the project was in the downtown area, it doesn’t now that it’s moving further down island. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to take heavy equipment back and forth over the newly paved Segment 1 to get to Segment 2 construction areas. How much damage will be done and need to be repaired? Not to mention the traffic issues. Segment 2 construction will stretch into next season. Does it make sense to have construction vehicles dealing with downtown traffic issues when construction is no longer in the downtown area?
Now the property sits surrounded on three sides by a proposed development that would clean up a good portion of our blighted downtown area. The county and town spent months locked in a game of ‘who’s going to blink first and weigh in on that development?’ until the developer dropped a plan that utilized the Seafarer’s site. A plan, without the county plot, now sits with the town. But the county-owned chunk of land is just sitting there, looking like a dumpsite.
And let’s not forget that the storage site sits at the northern gateway to the island. Our town deserves a better-looking gateway and the county can help. But will it?
We hope that the county and the town find a way to discuss the best use of that property to benefit the taxpayers of both the town and county – the people they were elected to represent. We’re pretty sure that the answer is not a long-term construction storage site.