State of Business on FMB

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Notes from the Publisher

“It’s Always Something” — Roseann Rosannadanna

The local business community has been under fire of late. While our community may have looked crowded and prosperous the last few months with our wonderful seasonal crowds, locals and visitors alike probably don’t realize the uphill battle facing every business owner when they turn the key in the door every morning in our barrier island paradise.

The unrelenting general business whammy that island businesses have faced the last few years covers a broad range.

 

Clean Water

 We are not describing fresh water or the water going in and out of the Anheuser Busch Brewery in Jacksonville. We are talking about the Gulf, Estero Bay and the Caloosahatchee River. The periods when our water color migrates from turquoise/ light green to root beer brown has been duly noted. Our leaders in Washington and Tallahassee don’t seem to have the Internet figured out yet. Visitors shopping for vacation destinations can see all the chatter, blogs and posts on social media and every day media about the subject – and are going elsewhere. This year – 2017 – most will admit that our water has been the best in a long time. Little winter rainfall and lowered releases from Lake O have allowed Estero Bay and waters along the shoreline to drift toward the emerald green shade we all love. But people made their travel decisions and deposits a long time ago based on last year’s info. Travelers often have no idea how nice it is right now, because all they remember is the not so nice. We need to be consistent in this area, and not at the mercy of Mother Nature and the safety needs around Lake O with a deteriorating Hoover dike. There are ample solutions – leaders need to pick a couple and get this problem fixed. They all will help, just get moving, before this part of the General Business Whammy makes all others irrelevant.

 

Estero Blvd Redevelopment

 Part 2 of the Whammy really bugs me, but for reasons probably a little different than yours. I am so tired of people calling this a Road Project. It’s so much more than that. A road project would be easy peasey. This is the most complicated utility upgrade project every done by a series of very smart and experienced engineers and contractors.    Count ’em: FPL utility poles moved back to edge of right of way,  (Phone and cable must move their lines to the new poles too.) County storm water and sanitary sewer along Estero Blvd (It’s their road you know), fresh water line replacement along Estero and all side streets. (That one is the job of the Town of FMB), curbs and sidewalks and last but not least, resurfacing the road.

What bugs me is that so few appreciate all the moving parts, simplified above, but most of all, the engineers and contractors are not getting credit for the progress they are making.

The first mile from Crescent Street to Lover’s Lane most agreed would be the worst. And it has been. It is the narrowest section of right-of-way, has the most density of businesses and residential, plus lots of mystery pipes, cables and lines buried during the decades of hodge-podge development and poor building codes, starting over 70 years ago.

Has anybody noticed traffic is moving better in 2nd mile? Methods have improved and the wider right-of-way allows 2 lanes of traffic. And here is the kicker: Has anyone noticed that traffic has been horrible here in season for say, the last 30 years? Has this year been any worse than the average seasonal traffic? I’d say 2017 was just average in traffic tie-ups, but it does look different with all the construction stuff. And I do appreciate the business whammy your business faces if it is behind any stretch of the road with the no-left-turn concrete dividers or while there’s a big hole in front of your door.

Business people, do you need some inspiration? Go visit the North End of the Island, and see how nice the finished product will be. Another positive effect – due to our nice new sidewalks, foot traffic is making it farther south than we’ve seen before. For years, foot traffic has been sparse south of the Lani Kai. Now there’s pedestrian traffic using those nice new sidewalks to get around and they’re discovering that there are indeed restaurants, bars and businesses on the south end of downtown. Pedestrian traffic – who knew?

 

Traffic & Parking

Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker said it best recently when he said, “We have 25,000 cars daily on a road built for 14,000.” He was referring to the DOT traffic data showing 25,000 cars average per day on San Carlos Blvd. Interesting to note in the next traffic count point south (think Surf Club/Mermaid area) indicates the average number of cars is under 10,000 per day. This means all these cars come off the bridge, turn right and head up towards Pink Shell, go down Old San Carlos or park before getting to the Surf Club/Mermaid tracking point.

A parking snafu has reared its ugly head more than normal this season. We are talking about business property owners selling parking spots to daily visitors. That has been going on for decades and is a key part of parking for visitors as our public parking is pathetically inadequate. But recently as Town Council has tried to clean up its parking regulations, converting seasonal lots to permanent lots and requiring all to meet the same standards, they’ve finally turned their attention to the sale of “surplus” parking by businesses. Last week council deferred the “surplus” parking issue for additional discussion. This can cannot be kicked down the road much longer and we hope they clarify it soon.

Businesses and properties are permitted for business use based on a Lee County Business License that requires a FMB Fire District inspection of property and premise. A site plan for many businesses is included in the application process that provides the required number of parking spaces based on multiple criteria in the Land Development Code. Any casual observer of Town Council or the Local Planning Agency knows that any new business is grilled on exactly how many parking spaces they will provide and where. More than a few business plans have bit the dust over lack of code-required parking at the business location.

Parking spaces for employees and the public are a requirement for doing business pure and simple. The practice is spreading of business and property owners double dipping. Property owners can now collect rent from their business tenants and also sell the very same parking spaces the Town requires those business tenants to provide for their business. And it’s not just landlords taking advantage of the island’s chaotic parking situation.

Some property owners who also own and run an on-site business are selling the parking spaces they are required to have for their business according to code, for daily parking. So, why does town code require parking spaces for businesses, if they can all be sold for daily parking?

The issue of “surplus’ parking must be revisited. How many spaces are required according to code? How many excess spaces are there above and beyond what code requires for the business? Should the town require those excess spaces to be marked in some way, i.e. with green line paint? Should those parking lots meet the same criteria as other parking lots – providing trash cans, landscaping, etc?

Lack of available parking strangles businesses, especially tenants who have no say in whether a landlord sells the spaces the town requires them to have to operate. I am calling this Business Whammy Part 3.

As Roseann Rosannadanna used to say on Saturday Night Live,  “It’s always something.”

 

Robert S. Layfield, Publisher
Publisher@fortmyersbeach.news