With the dawning of a New Year, it’s time to once again pull out my Crystal Ball & Tea Leaves and make my annual predictions for the next 12 months! Before you read further, keep in mind that the longer I do this, the worse I get, as my success rate fell over that time from 65% to 55% to 45% from 2019. Undaunted, I press onward, confident in that my 20/20 prognostication vision will reap dividends in 2020!
10: You’re The TOPPS!
Council chambers packed with angry people. An initial vision gone awry. Neighbors opposed to the concept, who want a better plan, like what was there in the first place, or even nothing in favor of a rundown dilapidated site. A developer who goes back to the drawing board to try to appease everybody, and on and on, as a high profile island parcel sits vacant for another year as a community eyesore!
Margaritaville? Not this time! The land that formerly housed the beloved TOPPS Grocery Store becomes the center of the island’s next controversial redevelopment project. While the Crystal Ball remains foggy over what that property ultimately becomes, it has at least another year to clear, as the site remains vacant and without an approved concept until at least 2021.
9: No Fire Sale:
While the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department is almost desperate to replace outdated Station #31 near Donora Boulevard, even taking the drastic step this past year of raising the Fire Department millage to within a whisker of the legal limit to secure more purchase power dollars, continued increasing Fort Myers Beach property values and a lack of a suitable location in the immediate area make any type of 2020 purchase, even with the assistance of a bank loan, financially impossible at this time.
If only there were an abandoned former grocery store site nearby, where we could locate the new station, remove the blight, and kill two birds with one stone! Could this be a possible early 2021 prediction? Tune in next year and find out!
The Town’s branding process, that the current Council hopes to approve before leaving office, is not complete until after the new panel comes on-board after the March 17, 2020 election. With key proponents Bruce Butcher and Anita Cereceda no longer on Council, the branding goal of what make Fort Myers Beach unique from the other one trillion Florida beach communities falls on the new Council with a thud, and what eventually comes forward is plain vanilla, to avoid a result similar to the horrific mistake recently made by the Fort Myers baseball club in abandoning their Miracle. What comes forward is a Mighty Yawn rather than a Mighty Mussel, but at least the Town’s new logo won’t carry an X-rating!
7: Light The Night:
Another issue the current Council hoped to shed light on, but that their limited time left in office ends up shining on their successors, is what to do about new street lights for Estero Boulevard, including safety enhancements at crosswalks. A full scale battle erupts between those who favor the cheapest and easiest solution of installing bright low-cost lights that provide the most immediate protection for people while greatly imperiling our endangered nesting sea turtles, meets the environmental constituency who favor amber LED turtle-friendly lights, no matter the high cost! Caught in the middle is the Town that levies hefty fines on businesses and homeowners who do not make their property lights turtle-friendly, while considering installing non-turtle-friendly lights on the island’s biggest illumination source – Estero Boulevard!
6: Voter Split Decision:
Town residents decide two referendums in addition to the three Town Council open seats in the March 17 election: Shifting the current March election date to November to match up with the State and Federal cycles to lower election costs; and extending Council terms from 3 to 4 years so that the Town does not have to pick up the election costs in years that do not correspond with State and Federal elections.
Island voters render a split decision, shifting election dates from March to November, but rejecting term extensions from three to four years. Had the three current members who are not running for reelection chosen or been able to do so, this would win, but with three unknowns about to fill those seats, voters feel uneasy about granting the majority of an unsettled Council over 4-1/2 years of power. This means that the three winners will have terms of 3 years, 8 months; with 8 additional months tacked on to the current terms of Vice Mayor Ray Murphy and Council Member Rexann Hosafros.
5: Council Packing Plan Plummets!
It is no secret that there is a prominent island resort owner who HATES the proposed Margaritaville FMB Resort with a burning passion! After failing to halt its approval by a prior Town Council, then finding a local to act as his shill to file two lawsuits to halt its construction, he continues not to bow to the inevitable by placing his own slate of candidates for Town Council election, in the misguided hope that he can take the reins of power in Town Hall and vote Margaritaville down once and for all. Fort Myers Beach voters, however, recognize this ploy and send his candidates down to a crushing defeat, dooming the resort owner and his ever-dwindling number of pundits and puppets to being “Wasted Away Again By Margaritaville!”
4: Who’s On 3rd?
Term limits prevent Mayor Anita Cereceda from seeking re-election and Council members Bruce Butcher and Joanne Shamp decided not to seek 2nd terms, leaving three open seats for the March 17 election. The “A Team” of Allers & Atterholt – Dan and Jim respectively – win two seats, but the Tea Leaves say the third one goes to someone who is not yet one of the six declared candidates. The Crystal remains cloudy, but it appears to be a woman, and through the haze I seem to see the initials, “MH!”
3: Council Civility Continues:
With Town voters for the second cycle in a row wisely electing three new low-key members, Council civility continues for the next 2 years and 8 months, under the guidance of new Mayor Ray Murphy. While the lack of fireworks makes for boring headlines, a wise newspaper writer once said: “A Crazy Town Council is Great for Me but Bad For Fort Myers Beach Citizens; A Calm Town Council is Bad for Me, but Great For The Citizens!” The Citizens Win!
2: Hurray For Parrotheads!
Fort Myers Beach finally exorcises “The Curse of Hurricane Charley!” Almost 16 years after Charley devastated much of the valuable property at the island base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, followed by at least seven potential redevelopment concepts, multitudes of public meetings, court cases, appeals, heated discussions, tape-recorded conversations, several Town Council elections, and enough hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth to keep an army of manicurists and dentists on-call for well over a decade, we break ground on the Margaritaville FMB Resort!
- Water Water Everywhere – Once More With Feeling!
When I first began doing these predictions in 2017, water quality was #3 on my initial list. In 2018, it jumped to #2 and I prognosticated that not only would it rise to #1 in 2019 but it may well retain the top spot for several more years – and here it is again!
Water was horrific in 2018, but pretty good in 2019, meaning that 2020 falls somewhere in the middle. The US Army Corps of Engineers returns to their short-sighted practice of retaining more water in Lake Okeechobee until the summer rainy season, allowing Blue-Green Algae blooms to flourish, then flow down the Caloosahatchee estuary, compounded by a heavier than normal rainy season, but the lack of a major hurricane mitigates the damage, with Red Tide remaining seasonal but not significant.
In addition to the ongoing plethora of water quality conferences, programs, speakers, and seminars, Florida voters, while grateful that Governor Ron DeSantis and the State Legislature continue to allocate in excess of a quarter-billion of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars annually to clean up water, tire of literally throwing good money after bad, and begin to demand that their elected officials enact prudent and eventually cheaper measures to halt the water quality degradation in the first place, like prohibiting fertilizers, eliminating septic tanks, building more and improved water treatment plants, and mandating agricultural Best Management Practice regulations in addition to continuing on-going construction components like the Everglades Agricultural Area and C-43 Reservoirs.
While the Clean Water Movement has come a long way in the past two years, it still has a long way to go, but more and more Florida citizens realize and accept the fact that clean water means better business and a stronger economy, increased property values, more jobs, enhanced health and a better Quality of Life for us all.