Guest Commentary: Setting the Record Straight

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The coconut telegraph is fast at work these days, reporting on the recent petition the Lani Kai has initiated in opposition of TPI’s Margaritaville. Here are some concerns I’m hearing from residents:

  1. “Margaritaville doesn’t have enough parking and it will cause even more problems for those of us who work in, or want to visit, the area.”

FALSE. This project was approved with more parking onsite than our land development code requires and was further conditioned to require some 75 spaces off island as overflow parking — as part of its approval. The project also creates an additional beach access with 68 parking spaces that do not exist now and would be metered by the town. An actual INCREASE in parking in the downtown area is the result.

  1. “(TPI’s) Tom Torgerson violated the Comprehensive Plan, therefore getting more density than he should have.”

FALSE. Torgerson and his group legally, properly and professionally put forth a plan in which there were enough benefits to the town to balance the increase in the number of rooms. He did not break any laws or do anything unethical. Nor did the Town Council.

  1. “The new hotel will increase traffic on the island.”

Actually, there was testimony given and plans shown that enhanced traffic flow through the entrance of the island, eliminating approximately seven entrances onto the boulevard. This is always one of the top complaints when any development proposal comes to the town. The same thing was said about McDonald’s, CVS, the movie theater and, of course, Publix. Truth is, I’m not sure this is quantifiable.

  1. “This will change the island forever.”

This one is actually TRUE. But eliminating the arches and the old swing bridge changed us forever as well, and yet we now have the Sky Bridge and a view we all cherish. So did eliminating the ability to drive through Times Square, and as a result we created a beautiful downtown pedestrian plaza singular to Southwest Florida. Meanwhile, the movie theater was going to ruin the neighborhood and yet that is exactly where neighbors sought refuge during the last hurricane. And Publix was so contentious that our vice mayor at the time resigned, yet it proved to improve the level of service to all of our residents for basic essentials.

You may or may not like the idea of Margaritaville, but none of the complaints I’ve heard are unique to this project. Every time something new comes to town, fear reigns supreme. People decide they know better than everyone else.

Each of those projects I mentioned were approved by five people that this community elected, whether it be on the level of county or town, and Margaritaville was no exception.

None of the people behind these projects did anything wrong. They did not lie, cheat or steal to get their approvals. They, like Margaritaville, put forth a proposal that the town decided would be good for the future of its community. They didn’t violate the Comprehensive Plan or benefit from any backroom deals — they simply followed a process set out to request what they wanted, to relinquish what they could, and to build something that fit the character of Fort Myers Beach.

It’s sad to read posts on social media where people are insulting Bob Conidaris, the owner of the Lani Kai, and Torgerson.

Conidaris is someone that has contributed to this community for the past 42 years. He’s seen his fair share of shifts on this island and, when he built his hotel, the town changed then as well.

That said, Conidaris is in the wrong regarding his petition efforts. He is trying to substitute his judgment for that of the overall community, and that’s just not how the system is supposed to work.

During the past three years I have gotten to know all of the people involved in the Margaritaville project. I would stand up for any one of them and what’s happening to them is unfair and spiteful. They don’t deserve it, as no plan has ever been more scrutinized.

There were community outreach groups, planners, lawyers and public forums. Torgerson did his best to do it right.

After three years of give and take the Town Council approved the project unanimously. UNANIMOUSLY.

TPI is going to build its hotel. Yes, it will change the downtown, but it is not a threat. What threatens us more than any building ever could is the hostility, the lies, and the vicious rhetoric that is tossed around without any concern for the lives it impacts. We are better than this.

I read an article in National Geographic once that was titled “The beaches are moving.” It talked about beach nourishment, but one line that has always stayed with me read: “The nature of any island community is change. With every wave that comes ashore, every storm we brave, our island changes.”

You’d think we’d be used to that by now.

 

By Anita Cereceda

Anita Cereceda is the Mayor of the Town of Fort Myers Beach.