Losing Touch

95

Our elected officials have lost touch with what our community wants and needs. Why is that?

This week we learned that both our District Three County Commissioner Larry Kiker and our Town Council representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization Tracey Gore, both agreed to halt progress on a FDOT traffic study. More than agreed, urged.

This FDOT study, yes, another one, is required by the state before they even consider doing anything with San Carlos Blvd or the Matanzas Pass Bridge to improve traffic flow. We all know that unless a way is found to limit the number of cars over the bridge, we will continue to have traffic congestion. The goal now is to improve traffic flow where possible.

In November, the Florida Department of Transportation presented a preliminary report on that study to Town Council. Council members asked some questions and voiced some skepticism on some of the options presented. No vote was taken. So, we were surprised to hear both our county and town rep derail a study a year in the making. Other council members may have been surprised also.

One of their points was that the proposed options are not ready for public comment so the planned February public workshop should be scrapped until they have their say. Or more of their say, since this FDOT study and traffic options have already been presented to council once.

By derailing the study and the public workshop they have taken the public they are elected to serve out of the equation. Normally at this point there would be a public workshop to gather community input. But now, because a couple of our elected officials have presumed to know what we all think, none of us will get the chance to comment on those options for who knows how long. Government studies move at a snail’s pace to begin with, even those fast-tracked like this one supposedly is. To derail it is to essentially kill it.

Anytime you do anything to interfere with the public’s ability to hear information and comment on it, you do the public a disservice. In this case it looks like yet another power play that involves the town and county.

 

Downtown

Speaking of town & county power plays, how about our downtown?

Did you read the letter in this issue from the family that will be vacationing elsewhere due to our downtown blight? It’s not the first one we’ve received.

It might not be blighted by the Lee County manager’s definition, as he declared in a County Commission meeting this week, but it sure is by most people’s.

Multiple empty buildings, weeds and trash in empty lots, a big fenced lot full of construction debris and equipment, a public park that many are afraid to use due to vagrancy, calls for increased police attention to the area and an aging Times Square.

That, Mr. County Manager, is blight.

The businesses that remain are doing their best to keep downtown alive, but they need help. All those of us who care about the economic health of our community need help.

What we’re getting is more classic town vs. county BS.

TPI has an application ready for a downtown project that will utilize most of the blighted areas. They deserve a public hearing on their application.

The town turned away their application as incomplete. The council later urged the county to weigh in on the plan, since the county owns a piece of land included in the plan.

For years, the citizens of Fort Myers Beach have heard that the county bought the Seafarer’s property in order to get the beachfront land and it was first to be a parking lot, then was a placeholder for later development. That land on both sides of Estero was filled with businesses, hotels, restaurants and shops before Hurricane Charley.

Then it was to improve traffic flow, parking and pedestrian safety. But wait, they didn’t really want that because they wouldn’t even look at TPI’s first plan that addressed traffic flow, parking and pedestrian safety. And then that plan went away.

Now there’s a new one that includes the Seafarer’s property. Neither the town nor the county will move on the application and are busy pointing fingers at each other. And the downtown continues to decay. We think any plan that addresses our downtown blight deserves at minimum, a fair hearing.

Surprise! The county has a new reason. Now they say they need that lot to stage equipment for Estero construction. Don’t look now, but there are several lots along Estero where equipment is staged plus a huge area on Lover’s Key. Before too long, it will be obvious that hauling equipment to and from Seafarer’s when the construction zone is south of Publix, is a waste of time. After that, they don’t know what they want to do with it. We’ll hear more about traffic, parking and safety, but that’s hard to take seriously when they’ve pulled the plug on this traffic study.

Sadly, the ones who control what happens to our downtown are more interested in power plays, finger pointing and reinforcing their own importance than doing what’s right for our town.

This is why elections are so important.

 

Missy Layfield