Bob Dylan wrote: “The times, they are a changing.’” We’ve been seeing this over the past few years as properties across the island have changed hands, Florida cottages have been torn down and larger, much more expensive homes have been built. The reality is that Fort Myers Beach is one of the few remaining gulf land masses that still have an affordable land cost and that means that outside money is coming to buy it up.
We see that the annual rentals are being converted to seasonal and that the overall face of the island is changing – and all within our existing Land Development Code, which means that there is little we can do about it. Personally, before moving here full time, my family had been vacationing here since I was 8 –I’ve been coming to or living on Fort Myers Beach for the last 50 years. We were one of the first to stay in the Island Towers while it was still in construction and there wasn’t much south of it. Needless to say, we have seen a lot of changes over the years.
We all know the problems that we have in our piece of paradise, and what we have accepted as the norm. We also know that there isn’t anywhere else that we would rather live. When people ask me what I like best about the beach, my answer is, “September.” It is relatively quiet, almost no traffic, great weather and just pure paradise. But this is just the lull before the storm. Aside from the part-time residents that start to return in October, and the tourists that start when the weather up north starts to change, we are also the beaches of Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Lehigh and all of that day traffic flows over our bridge. Herein lies the problem.
We have been talking about a way to solve the parking problem for years. The answer is a parking deck, and where to put it, along with how to blend it into the surrounding area. No one wants a big bold building standing out against the gulf horizon. We have a pedestrian problem, with people crossing Estero anywhere and everywhere causing accidents and aggravation. The new federal flood regulations have raised all of our flood insurance premiums through the roof, and prior attempts to develop the bend of Estero have fallen through, leaving the entrance to our island a blight.
We have an opportunity. An experienced developer has come to town and after putting their money where their mouth is, by actually purchasing property, is saying: we live here, we recognize our problems, let’s solve them together. It is astonishing how unusual this is. This isn’t a large conglomerate coming in and saying: “Here is what we are going to do, and your code allows us to.” This is a group saying: “We have some ideas on how we can solve some problems, let’s work this through together.”
Where did their ideas for solutions come from? From our own studies and committees, written by local residents and businesses. This means that we have a well-funded group willing to implement ideas that the town doesn’t have the money for. It means that taxes don’t have to be raised, or fees added. At a time when we were talking about having to close or cut back Bay Oaks, maybe some kind of revenue sharing program with the parking deck could be arranged to benefit our Rec Center. After all, Lee County pulls $1.6 million in parking from Lynn Hall Park each year – none of which comes to the town. Maybe we could also get Council to ask Mr. Torgerson to give islanders priority in the hiring to fill the 500 jobs they anticipate the project will bring.
At their presentation Monday, they showed some slides of their concepts, but made it crystal clear that they wanted to take public input and work with the town on a final design. I believe that it was a good starting point that addressed and provided a potential solution to all of that area’s problems. It is a final solution? No, and they made it clear that they didn’t expect it to be.
We are a “funky, little drinking island, with a shrimping problem” — to quote signs around the island. We like this. That’s why we live here, but we can’t have our heads in the sand regarding the changes that are coming, whether we like them or not – and I’m not referring to this project. Here we have the opportunity to work with a responsible developer to manage this change, and establish the basis for future changes that come – so that we keep our funky little island. Mr. Torgerson and his company has an excellent reputation in the communities where he has developed and I, for one, trust Mayor Cereceda and, in her absence, Vice Mayor Andre to lead Council as the Stewards of our island to protect our funky patch of sand and prepare for the coming growth and changes in our community.
Let’s give them a chance.
Fort Myers Beach