Historic Advisory Committee Debates Cottages

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“We need an update on the potential relocation of historic cottages,” said Suzanne Katt, Chair of the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s Historic Advisory Committee (HAC) at its meeting in Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon, June 27. “This seems to change daily!”

“It seems to,” agreed Matt Noble, the Principal Planner for the Town! “According to the Lee County Parks & Recreation Department, the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve are out of the picture, so if we want to preserve the cottage from 3360 Estero Boulevard, it must be through the Estero Island Historical Society (EIHS). To proceed with that, we should probably update their property survey to see if they have enough existing land for the cottage, as that is the only way to put that issue to bed.”

The cottage formerly at 3360 Estero Boulevard is one of the most iconic on Fort Myers Beach, but its property is now the construction site for two new homes. Local real estate developer Joe Orlandini preserved the building that is the photograph on the EIHS literature by placing it on a flatbed truck and moving it to a safe, off-island location on Sunday night, June 18, with the plan to eventually relocate it to join the two existing EIHS cottages near the entrance of the Matanzas Pass Preserve.

Russ Carter, who is on the HAC as well as an EIHS Board member, found Noble’s update to be new information: “Lee County approached the Historical Society about taking possession of the cottage, but then dropped us like a rock! Now it sounds like they want us to proceed, so it goes back-and-forth. The EIHS Board will not meet again until September or October, but it is possible to have an ad-hoc session via telephone to determine if we can hire a surveyor to see if we have the land.” “If we ever plan to move any historic cottages to that property in the future, we will need that survey,” explained Noble, “so it will not be a wasted expense.”

This Is The Question, Isn’t It?

“It would be wonderful to have that survey,” said Katt, “because apparently Lee County thinks you have enough land, and your view is that you may not.” “This is the question, isn’t it?” asked Carter. “We have a sort-of nightmarish survey that does not quite show the correct property line. The assumption is the existing edge is the Beach Elementary School fence, but I think we own land inside that, giving us plenty of room for at least one cottage.”

“Before we make any further requests of Lee County,” Noble cautioned, “we must have the property survey crystal-clear! Lee County Parks & Recreation staff were very blunt with me that they are not in the business of saving cottages, but that they take their direction from the local entities.”

“What the County wants is a historic cottage that is all spit-and-polish, with minimal alterations, to give it their governmental stamp,” countered Carter. “To them, 3360 Estero Boulevard is a surgical mess! I’ve gone down this well with Lee County three times now, and it is a Catch-22: you cannot have the cottage unless you have a place, and you cannot have a place unless you prove it by a survey, so this should finally clear that up. This is what kept us from moving the cottage directly to the EIHS site, or it would be there today, waiting for a ribbon-cutting.”

Vice chair Dan Hendrickson asked if Mr. Orlandini would apply for a historical structure designation. Noble said that he thought he would, as that makes it easier to eventually relocate it to the EIHS. Carter added that the optimum goal is to save older cottages on-site, rather than replacing them with “a McMansion! Our Town is changing, with a lot more new people than those interested in preserving Fort Myers Beach; we lost a lot of old folks – now no one is left but us teenagers!”

Elephant in The Room

“It is time to address the elephant in the room,” stated Hendrickson. “Do we want to keep our small Town community? If we do, then we need to take actions to limit this kind of new development that goes on in this island. This is the reason we incorporated; to control this. There must be ways to reap these benefits; otherwise we lose what makes this place so rare! We shouldn’t be struggling in the weeds to save this cottage, but how to save this island! At a future meeting, we need to biopsy this process and put a plan together.” Katt agreed, and encouraged Hendrickson to broach this at the next meeting of the Local Planning Agency.

While relocating the cottage formerly at 3360 Estero Boulevard to the EIHS remains a possibility, a second potential historic cottage moving to that site is off the table. There was the thought over the past few months that the Hepburn (Kenan) Cottage would relocate from Boca Grande, to be a long-sought-after education center, but the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board voted to deny permission to move that cottage at its June 14 meeting. The Hepburn Cottage was the former vacation home of the late Hollywood movie icon, Katherine Hepburn.

“We are the ones, I believe, who screwed this up!” exclaimed Carter. “When we first heard of this, it seemed so spectacular that we threw confetti up in the air, but then someone in Boca Grande woke up, said ‘we did not know all these things about that cottage,’ called a Boca Grande Historical Preservation Board Meeting, and said ‘we will take the cottage, thank you very much,’ along with the up to $150,000 the owner will dedicate to move and renovate it. What we did was a hand of bridge not well played and that is what ultimately happened!”

The Historic Advisory Board will hold their next meeting Tuesday, August 29, in Town Hall at 2 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney