On Monday, February 22, Tom Torgerson and his team from Grand Resorts held their last informal public meeting at Bay Oaks, after which they said that planned to formally begin the application process. This week we met with Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker and Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer – the person the Board of Lee County Commissioners (BoCC) have identified as the ‘projects coordinator’ for Fort Myers Beach on behalf of the county – to ask what the County’s stance is on some of the proposals presented by Torgerson. Both emphatically stated that no applications or documents have been filed yet by Torgerson and explained that any approvals would require a lengthy process involving the town, county and state.
Our first question concerned the proposed Coastal Protection System, formerly known as the seawall, that Torgerson has said he plans to apply to FEMA and to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for permission to build, saying it would change the area directly behind it from a velocity flood zone (V-zone) to a flood zone (A –zone).
We asked Kiker and Meurer: In regards to the CPS, what is the county’s status on the application to FEMA and the DEP and does the county have any information on whether or not the CPS will work and subsequently support FEMA map changes and flood insurance reduction?
Meurer replied that Lee County staff “has received no formal documents providing the technical details of the sea wall.”
“So it is impossible for our staff of professionals to provide any opinion on this,” he said. “We have asked the developer to provide us the application with supporting documents that they propose to submit to the state as well as architectural renderings of the actual seawall height which allows us to determining if any line of sight issues exist.”
Kiker said that the estimate to receive an approval is a minimum of 120 days. He pointed out how long it has taken him to get an approval from the West Coast Inland Navigational District (WCIND) for a much-needed dredging project in Big Carlos Pass.
“I have been working on getting a permit approved through WCIND for over 3 years,” he said. “Include the estimates for FEMA flood map changes and the possibility of a Town zoning change – with 3 public hearings – and the time required varies even more, depending on whether they happen sequentially or simultaneously.”
Next, we wanted to know the County’s position on the proposed rerouting of Estero Boulevard, and whether or not they thought it would improve traffic flow.
Again, Meurer reiterated that staff has received nothing from Torgerson in regards to this.
“We’ve seen no specifics regarding actual proposed alignment of the roadway or the supporting traffic study to indicate any improvements,” he said. “At this point it is speculative as to whether improvements will be made. The proposal also includes the concept of a roundabout coming off the bridge – which will need to be proposed by the state Department of Transportation (FDOT) and we have heard nothing about where they are at on this. There is no firm date as to when they will roll out options.”
Meurer said the county has been working with FDOT and the Town of Fort Myers Beach for several years on a study – which would include traffic on San Carlos Blvd.
“That (roundabout) may have an cumulative effect on traffic considering the possibilities of new developments before the bridge,” he said.
In regards to the Crescent Beach Park and whether or not the county has ever been involved with an exchange or sale of county property to a developer, Kiker said
“Staff has indicated that an exchange took place when the Hyatt Coconut was built in 2001,” he said. “The proposed site for the hotel interfered with the existing Coconut Rd. at that time. An agreement was made to facilitate a land swap that allowed for a realigned road and construction of the hotel.”
As far as what role the county would play in the approval of the development, both Meurer and Kiker said that it is up to the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach.
“The county would only have involvement – at the direction of the BoCC – in several areas,” Meurer said. “One, the BoCC would need to authorize formally that the developer could include county property in the sea wall application as an affected party. The developer would then act as agent on the application. However, until a formal application is received and reviewed, it is impossible to know if the BoCC would even entertain discussing this as an agenda item and then again for approval.”
Doug told us that the commissioners would then need to agree that the developer (Torgerson) could include county land in their applications for any comprehensive plan amendments or zoning changes.
“This step could only be considered once the application for the changes was received and reviewed by staff – with recommendations – and then the Board would need to decide if they wanted to bring it to a meeting as an agenda item. This step would also not take place until there was a decision regarding the sea wall (CPS).”
Regarding the realignment of Estero Boulevard and/or the parking garage, Kiker and Meurer said that a traffic study, as well as a detailed design of the garage, would first be needed to determine whether or not there would be any benefit to the county.
“However, again there are no details yet available on either issue,” Kiker said. He also said there are no plans for the county to transfer or sell any land they own to Torgerson.
“For us to even consider that, the Board would need to decide if there is any interest in a county land transfer at which time it could be considered in a meeting and we would then look for direction from the Town for that consideration,” he said. “When I was mayor of the Town of Fort Myers Beach, we (Council at that time) were able to convince the County to purchase Crescent Beach Park and fund the $50 million Estero Blvd project. We continue to watch over that investment.”
Meurer concluded by saying that “none of these steps are scheduled and there is no commitment to the developer that any of this will be considered without substantial additional detailed information”.
“The burden is on the developer to assemble all the information necessary for sufficient review to even allow staff to brief the BoCC members and determine whether to create the necessary agenda items,” he said, and Kiker added that “no staff member or board member has been involved in any discussion other than the same ones the public has seen”.
“We are still waiting for the completed, formal applications as the starting point of a discussion with staff,” Kiker said. “This invokes the normal processes that we experience on any proposed development. These processes will include public debate and input sponsored by the Town, County and State.”
Keri Hendry Weeg