One of the premier attractions of the recent TPI Hospitality proposal for Downtown redevelopment is a Lazy River water feature, but if the assessment of a new community organization rings true, maybe they should update that to a volleyball court!
“Lee County and the Town of Fort Myers Beach are playing a volleyball game here,” said Beverly Milligan of the Estero Island Taxpayer Association (EITA) to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners at their January 24 meeting, concerning a public hearing for the proposed TPI hotel and resort complex. “All you and the Town are doing is batting this back & forth, and now we want to see leadership; we need to get you and Fort Myers Beach into a room to figure this out, as we cannot move forward as a community until we receive resolution. This is not the Town Council’s beach or the Commissioners’ beach but the citizen’s beach.”
Prior to Milligan’s statements, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais reminded County Commissioners that they received a letter from the Town requesting a clarification of its stance concerning the County-owned former Seafarer’s Mall property included in the TPI concept. “We advised this developer it would be in its best interest if it submitted a design involving only property they own,” Desjarlais said, referring to TPI Hospitality. “At this moment, we do not know what is most appropriate for the property, but currently it is an important staging area for the Estero Boulevard construction project and will need it to serve that purpose for a while, so we are not yet prepared to change that use. My recommendation is we maintain our existing position.”
He acknowledged the area is unsightly but disagrees with those who describe it as blighted. “It is a valuable property that in no way is the cause of blight, according to the State of Florida statute. It is presently unpleasant to look at but this is temporary. We cannot abandon it because it is incredibly important to the Estero Boulevard project.”
Commission Chair John Manning said: “I agree with the County Manager’s interpretation.” Commissioner and former Fort Myers Beach mayor Larry Kiker added that the letter indicated the Interim Town Manager supported this, “but I have not heard that from him or Council. This is contentious so we need to be very careful not to get out in front of the Town on this; it is their application and they must drive this process. One year ago, the TPI initial proposal was the main subject of the Town Council election, and they wanted their chance to weigh in on this. To us, this should be no different from any other application from any other town, and we do not want to set a precedent.”
This Thing Isn’t Cooked Yet
Desjarlais cautioned the Commissioners that “this thing isn’t cooked yet. The Florida Department of Transportation is examining traffic options for San Carlos and Estero Boulevards and the Matanzas Pass Bridge, and that could affect the Seafarer property – we just don’t know those answers.”
Commissioner Kiker concurred, saying that last Friday, January 20, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) received a report on the $1.8-million study and found it disappointing, especially concerning “San Carlos Island going into Fort Myers Beach, as well as traffic coming off the beach. We need to figure that out before we can make decisions on how to proceed. We made it crystal-clear from the first conversation over a year ago, that in terms of the public interest and public property, we are most interested in solving traffic and parking issues and ensuring pedestrian safety and that is mandatory in my book. In the MPO meeting, the Town was not happy with the results either, but the study is on-going so we owe it to ourselves to see how it turns out.”
Chairman Manning concluded that now is not the time to change the County position.
In her comments moments later, Milligan added, “the Estero Island Taxpayers Association has 7 overarching principles, with one being Downtown revitalization. Is this controversial? Yes, but it needs redevelopment and revitalization. We completely understand all the issues, but we need to battle to revitalize our Downtown, as doing nothing for us is not an option. We understand the infrastructure staging area, but do not get why the TPI proposal cannot get a public hearing, as Fort Myers Beach seems stuck and cannot even accept the application – the EITA will do anything we can to move the process along.”
The next EITA meeting is Monday, February 20, at the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club at 175 Sterling Avenue, FMB when it hosts Town Council candidates at 6:30 p.m.
The Lee County Board of Commissioners next regular board meeting is Tuesday, February 7 at 9:30am at Commission Chambers at 2120 Main Street, Fort Myers.