Estero Boulevard Segment 2 Gets the OK

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Red Coconut Area Right of Way Stands

The Lee Board of County Commissioners at their Tuesday, May 16, morning meeting approved unanimously the Segment 2 construction of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects, the largest capital improvement in Fort Myers Beach history. Chris-Tel Construction received the contract, just as with Segment 1, for $18,284,484.

Chris-Tel will issue subcontractor contracts in June, with work beginning that month, from the Red Coconut RV Park to Strandview Avenue, with an estimated 18-month completion in December 2018. This will feature Segment 3 Right of Way (ROW) work from Strandview to Dakota Avenues, with notice letters going to neighbors next week. This authorization includes Florida Power & Light removing old poles and installing new ones at the Red Coconut.

Red Coconut

The owners of the Red Coconut RV Park along Estero Boulevard, right at the beginning of Segment 2, have insisted that the right of way mapping done by Lee County for Estero Blvd is in error and takes too much of what they consider part of their gulf-front park. The back row of the gulf front section provides parking for larger motorhomes. They’ve said that the removal of several feet of that space would mean lost capacity to rent space for larger RV’s.

While road construction seemed to avoid the section of Estero in front of the Red Coconut, questions swirled about whether or not any special favors were granted to the well-connected owners, Fran and Tom Myers – Fran has served on the Lee County Tourist Development Council for over 30 years. County officials have explained that was simply not the case. The Town’s waterlines were placed using a tunneling technique that did not require tearing up the road. Another issue has been the change in ROW width from 50 to 65 feet right at the start of Segment 2 and at a curve in the road, making that a complicated section of road. Rather than work on that and possibly take it down to one lane during season, that section was left for later.

red coconut survey, fort myers beach, estero blvd construction
The ROW survey overlaying Red Coconut’s property. The red line marks the ROW line. Gulf View Shops are at top center; laundry building is at right.

The Myers’ challenged the ROW study and appealed to the county to look at other alternatives. The seven alternatives considered by the Lee Department of Transportation each had issues that had negative impacts on driver safety or caused problems further down the road and were rejected. On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners approved Segment 2 funding without any changes to the ROW in front of the Red Coconut.

Seafarer’s Storage

At almost the exact same time Lee Commissioners were authorizing Segment 2, the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council was discussing reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects at its Management & Planning Session in Town Hall, specifically the construction staging area at the former Seafarer’s Mall property at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. Rob Phelan, P.E., Senior Engineer and Project Manager for reFRESH Estero Boulevard for the Lee County Department of Transportation, represented the County.

“Council received a letter from Lee County District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker, discussing the continued use of that as a construction staging area for the immediate future,” said Mayor Dennis Boback. “We get more complaints about Seafarer’s Mall than anything else, so we want to discuss what will ultimately happen to that going forward.”

“Construction material storage is not a permitted use there,” pointed out Council member Joanne Shamp. “We want to be good partners with Lee County, as we appreciate their cooperative effort, but storage there has a significant impact on the look of our Town, as that is not the best use of that property. We have development coming to that area, and it will bring a totally different vision for our Downtown, so this is a large conversation.” Council member Anita Cereceda said Council would like to know what Lee County plans to do with that parcel for potential downtown redevelopment, then guessed that decision “is beyond your pay grade,” with Rob answering affirmatively.

Site For Sore Eyes

Rob said one suggestion is a local artist will create a mural on the construction fencing, perhaps of a seascape, so you not see the equipment. Cereceda does not favor this, saying “it will look great on Day 1, and horrible by Day 3, so just redo a nice new blue screen. If you do not store equipment there, then where? Is right-of-way storage a better option – personally I don’t think so. Forget an art screen; a weed whip there would do wonders,” drawing hearty laughter from the room! “Construction has only been there a year and a half; that area has been an eyesore for 10 to 12 years.”

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore asked how Lee County used Seafarer’s without a permit. Shamp said it is an unusual process but it simply was not done. Cereceda called it a case of everyone “caught between a rock and hard place.” Phelan does not think the contractor will use Seafarer’s for long in Section 2 because “they will want their equipment close, so at some point, Seafarer’s becomes less practical.” Gore said “Seafarer’s has been like that for 20 years, so why the big hoopla? Now that we have an interested developer, suddenly it’s ‘let’s hurry and get it done.’” The Mayor suggested landscaping behind a new green screen, to blend in, but Rob said, “I have a big concern about landscaping getting damaged; I look at this from the realistic expectation of a construction site.”

Program Developer Kara Stewart suggested granting Lee County a temporary construction permit for Seafarer’s. Cereceda felt a term through December 2018 appropriate, as that is the estimated timeframe. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt thought it should end in October 2018, “as a deadline helps push them out.” Cereceda said if there are problems, “we revoke the temporary permit,” with Mayor Boback saying, “I am good with that.”

Council member Bruce Butcher added, “Estero Boulevard has been bugging me for quite some time, and is one reason I ran for Council. I am glad we are having this meeting, because we need to be on top of this. We need to meet with Lee County every month, in conjunction with the Town, and to do our part. What is more important here on the beach than getting this done and understanding the big picture, rather than just reading a memo. We need to see a clear critical path, moving ahead with forward thinking for potential problem analysis, to not be blindsided.” Shamp would like that “with stormwater as well.”

Staff will return the temporary permit to Council at an upcoming meeting.

 

Gary Mooney