On Monday morning, we sat down with Grand Resorts developer Tom Torgerson and he gave us a bit of a preview of what people can expect to see at next week’s public meeting at Bay Oaks (February 22nd, 5:30-7:30pm). He also explained the Coastal Protection System (CPS) in greater detail and told us that he and his team plan to begin the formal application process for pieces of the project shortly after next week’s meeting.
“One of the biggest issues I’ve been facing with the public is that of misperception – some people think it’s going to be as tall as Diamond Head Resort (14 floors) and it’s not, and some think the CPS is the same as a seawall, which it’s not,” Torgerson began. “I’m finding that when we meeting with smaller groups of people and really explain it all to them, they come away with a positive outlook.”
Torgerson began with the CPS, which he said is nothing like a seawall.
“Seawalls are designed to keep water out, like a fishbowl,” he said. “The CPS doesn’t do that – there will still be as much flooding as before. What it does is break the velocity of the wave action so the water doesn’t do as much damage.”
Torgerson explained that excess water will go through the 11 beach access points, where waves will come through, break against a barrier and flood the area as normal but without the scouring and damage caused by wave power.
“This will allow us to build at grade along the coast so long as the building is dry-proofed to a certain height,” Torgerson said. “This is currently allowed outside the V-Zone – the new Fish House is dry-proofed, as is Town Hall. People need to realize that Hurricane Charley was not a 100-year storm event. No one on the island really has any idea what would happen in a 100-year storm event, but the CPS will help protect all the properties landward of it. We checked the Pierview Hotel property, and the insurance there will go down 80% if this is built.”
Torgerson said that systems like the proposed CPS are becoming popular with other coastal communities – such as Clearwater Beach – because of the protections they offer.
The Clearwater Beach project is actually called an ‘Urban Wave Attenuation Wall’ which was built after a coastal engineering study revealed that it would significantly lower insurance premiums and allow the area behind it to change from a high risk flood zone to a low risk one.
“Coastal structures are often both esthetically and physically intrusive as they are designed to perform under extreme conditions,” the report reads. “To meet both the functional and esthetical requirements…the (Clearwater) wall was seamlessly incorporated into the hardscaping of the existing beachwalk. From the outside, the wall appears to be a normal feature of the beachwalk, however – below the surface – the wave attenuation segment consists of a robust foundation designed to withstand large waves and potential erosion during extreme storm events.”
The Clearwater Beach project was not built with any dunes or vegetation, something Torgerson says he added to the proposed project for our beach because of environmental concerns.
“Also, the duning and vegetation are designed to stay in place and not need to be renourished unless there is a 100-year storm event,” he said. “As far as the properties located on either end of the CPS, this will help protect them too as sand will naturally accrue there.”
We had some questions about that renourishment. According to what Torgerson told us shortly before the last public meeting in January, the beach in front of the CPS would need to be regularly renourished. At that meeting, he and his team seemed unclear as to who would pay for this and how often it would need to happen.
“We would like to get a contractual agreement with the county and the town that would last into perpetuity,” Tom said. “This agreement would outline what triggers the need for renourishment and dedicates a fund to be held in escrow so when that trigger is pulled by Mother Nature, renourishment is funded and permitted so it can begin immediately.”
Tom said that while he has no idea how often that renourishment would need to occur, it would not be funded by island residents.
“The resort guests will pay for it as part of the tourist (bed) tax – that’s one piece of it,” he said. “Also a new incremental tax that Grand Resorts will have to pay. This all has to be negotiated but the community will not be paying for this.”
Next, we had questions regarding how the project fits into the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code (LDC).
“There is a lot of flexibility in both the Comp Plan and the LDC that allows for this project, and the intensity of what we’re proposing is actually significantly lower – 30% lower – than the building rights afforded to us by both of those documents,” Torgerson said. “And the type of use is a ‘destination resort’, meaning everything our guests will need is only footsteps away – no one will need to drive anywhere. Our rooms are actually smaller than most resort rooms and we will have them facing both the Gulf and the street, which allows us to have more rooms than resorts who offer suites facing the Gulf only.”
As far as the height of the buildings (6 floors), Torgerson handed us a draft of the map of what he is proposing for the 10.4 acres development.
“We will be asking for a height deviation of +9.5 feet for both the Hilton and the Marriott, + 3.5 feet for the Holiday Inn and the multi-use parking garage is actually 9 feet lower than what is allowed,” he said. “This is because early on our planners realized how important it is to residents to maintain view corridors. We can make our buildings lower, but they would need be wider to maintain the same intensity and that view would be gone.”
Tom told us that next Monday’s meeting – scheduled for 6:30pm at Bay Oaks – will be the third and final outreach meeting as he and his team plan to move forward with applications to the county, town and federal agencies shortly thereafter. Keep in mind this does not mean Monday will be the last time residents can comment on the project – anything going before the town and the county requires multiple public hearings.
“At Monday’s meeting, we will be discussing traffic, parking, zoning and we will revisit the architecture,” he said. “This time we’re going to have 5 separate 3D models. People will be able to ‘travel around’ the project at the street, pedestrian, beach and up-high levels. Since we are now 95% complete with our project concept, I anticipate that will be the last meeting before we move forward with applications.”
To date, Torgerson has submitted no applications nor has any Town or County land been purchased or traded– including Crescent Beach Park. He told us that all of that would need to be negotiated.
“Before we can send our applications for the CPS to FEMA and the DEP, we need to get approval from Lee County, so we will be sending documents to them for review, and we will pass copies on to the Town so everyone can see them,” he explained. “We expect this to happen a couple of weeks after Monday’s meeting.”
Should the project be approved, Torgerson says it will likely take about 5 years to complete as it will be constructed piece by piece rather than all it once. But, he added, even if the current project is not approved, something will end up being built on the site – if not by his team than by another developer.
“This project will preserve Time Square as it is for future generations,” he said. “Without it, eventually the Square will come down due to either Mother Nature, fire, flooding or something. People here want to preserve the island’s character. Well, so do we.”
Keri Hendry Weeg
Put in highlighted box at the end of story:
Grand Resorts FMB Meeting
Topics: Traffic, Parking, Zoning and Architecture
Monday, February 22, 2016
Bay Oaks Recreation Center
For more information, visit grandresortsfmb.com