Town officials are leery about having an at-grade parking lot placed at the focal point of Estero Island -even if it is as a short-term solution to rid the eyesore at the foot of Matanzas Bridge.
The Seafarer site continues to be an ongoing discussion among Town and County officials. Public safety is a concern if pedestrians were to cross the street from the proposed parking lot to the beach at the busy "bottleneck" area of Estero Boulevard.
Since October 2010, when Council approved to send a letter to the Lee County Commission of its desire to acquire the formally known Seafarer site, Town officials have tried to gain more direct control over the strategically important property for major boulevard re-design and traffic mitigation reasons.
Some adjoining parcels to the Seafarer site have been marked off.
On Monday afternoon, Town Attorney Jim Humphrey reported to Council about the property's significance and a continued desire to acquire the property that the County purchased as a package deal with the foreclosed property across the street for a combined cost of roughly $5.6 million. The negotiated purchase price of the Seafarer site was $902,900. The Town has retained a transportation planner, something its attorney recommended.
"The implications and impacts to have on-ground parking at this time at the parcel at Seafarer's really needs to be addressed by your transportation planner," said Humphrey. "Principally, the bottom line is public safety. They would be able to surely identify, in my opinion, a public safety issue by putting a parking lot there.
"As your attorney, I ask you to favorably consider seeking acquisition of that property again. If you owned this property and looked at the adjoining parcels, that gives you and your transportation planner significant ability to really look at the long-term improvement and results from the improvements."
County officials are expected to seek Town permits for at-grade parking on the site any time now. Paperwork is being reviewed for a rezoning process to make the site legal for parking. The previous developers' agreement in that area ended May 6, and rights that were given under the 10-year-old sunset agreement expired.
As it currently stands, the County-owned property purchased with County Tourist Development Council funding can only be utilized as an ancillary use to Crescent Beach Family Park across the street, such as ground-level parking.
If the Town purchased the Seafarer's site, they could then negotiate with surrounding parcel owners, such as Huntingburg Partners LLC and Beach resident/business owner John Richard to hopefully solve traffic congestion by re-routing northbound Estero Boulevard traffic through or behind those properties.
Councilman Alan Mandel has been in contact with the parcel owners. They have indicated the parcels could be for sale, but multiple owners and estates are involved in the three parcels owned by Huntingburg Partners LLC. Appraisals on those parcels are being sought.
"If we owned it, we can probably work on a public/private partnership for something really useful in that area," he said.
The time is now, according to Humphrey.
"It should be considered when you look at the long-term possibilities with this property, together with the interest rates that are running now and the importance of those parcels to this Town," he said.
Acquiring the parcels may cost in the range of $6 to $6.5 million, according to Town Manager Terry Stewart.
"I just don't know where we are going to find the money," he cautioned. "I'm not speaking against or for anything here, I am just looking solely at the monetary implications of this."
Town officials are expected to bring the subject forward to a work session soon. Financial analysis to purchase such parcels could be a big part of the discussion.
"You're looking at the value of being an integral player in the design of that road for your 7,000-plus citizens and evacuation purposes," said Humphrey. "I guess I can candidly say that I don't see the County giving it the same importance -at least historically they have not given it the same importance- that this Town will give it."