Tom Torgerson and his team from Grand Resorts, LLC – the group with the proposed redevelopment plan for downtown – met with a warmer reception Thursday night at Bay Oaks when he revealed new renderings representing the changes that had been made to the scope of the project. The team, which included Ron Flick from the Compass Group and marine engineers Dick Tomasello and Hans Wilson, also explained in technical detail how the proposed Coastal Protection System (CPS) would work and why they expected FEMA to rezone the land behind it from a V, or Velocity, Zone to AE.
As he explained to us last week, Torgerson opened the meeting by announcing plans to hold similar meetings each month on two specific topics concerning the project.
“Once again, I’d like to remind everyone that no formal process for this has begun,” he said. “We have spent the 30 days since the last public meeting on December 14th meeting with small groups of residents to explain the adjustments we’ve made, and I think the fear people felt initially is slowly receding.”
Flick then explained that the CPS was designed after the team looked for a way to protect the current at-grade businesses in the island’s downtown zone, something called for by the Comprehensive Plan.
“Why do we need to propose such a system?” he said, before handing the mic to ‘FEMA Czar’ Tomasello.
“FEMA redesigned the flood zone, or FIRM maps, in 2008 after all the hurricanes in 2004/2005,” he said. “These maps are based on a 100-year event and the difference between being in a V-Zone and an AE-Zone is determined by wave action – those properties that would see waves higher than three feet are in the V-Zone.”
Tomasello showed a map of the downtown area of Fort Myers Beach, with the V-Zone colored in yellow. Roughly, it ran from the beach to approximately parallel to the back of the Beached Whale.
“Constructing the CPS would put this yellow area into an AE Zone, which not only would help with insurance, it would also allow construction to be more consistent with other businesses located there,” he said. “If this area were to remain in the V-Zone, we would have to build to the current Base Flood Elevation – which is as high as 20 feet depending how close to the water the property is – and requires any at-grade construction to have breakaway walls, be unfinished and without electricity. Eventually, all of Time Square would have to go up.”
Tomasello explained that the CPS consists primarily of four components: an expanded dune system of 20 feet or more; a rigid armoring wall, 90% of which would not be visible; a boardwalk and a continuous beach re-nourishment program.
“This is all conditional on the level of map revision FEMA would be willing to go to, but we’re pretty confident they will permit this and allow us to build at-grade, so long as we dry-proof to a certain level. Also, FEMA would not permit this to be built unless it also protected the buildings that are already there,” he said. “This armoring wall would go deep into the ground and be cantilevered – no tie-backs – so it won’t topple. We looked at achieving the same effect using just a dune, but the dune would have to be so large it’s not practical.”
During public comment, the biggest concerns were over who would pay for the continuing renourishment of the beach in front of the CPS in the long term and what would happen to the beachfront properties located at either end of it. When one resident asked what would happen to the project should FEMA deny the permit for the CPS, Torgerson replied that the proposed hotels would likely not get built.
Torgerson then outlined changes made to the architecture of the now three resorts – the tallest of these being the Hilton, now down to 6 stories instead of 7 – and the 100’ wide plaza that has been added to the plans. He received his first enthusiastic round of applause when renderings of the new Key West style architecture appeared on the big screens.
To see all of the new renderings and plans, visit www.grandresortsfmb.com. Another public meeting is being planned for February, with the topics likely to be zoning and traffic. Stay tuned to the Sand Paper for details.
Keri Hendry Weeg