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Council drops Seafarers purchase interest for now

June 6, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The "strategically important" property at the foot of Fort Myers Beach is not going anywhere or will not be developed anytime soon.

With that thought in mind, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council will sit tight on its purchasing interest related to the property formerly known as Seafarers Mall. That position reached consensus at a Council workshop Monday afternoon.

Instead, Council directed Town staff and its attorneys to look into a 60-day timeline involving the combined strategic efforts from their already-hired transportation planner along with a proposed traffic consultant/engineer, Community Redevelopment Agency input as well as other visionary input from past development/planning visioning workshops, County input and a Right-For-Qualifications process.

"Perhaps, instead of taking control of the property, we need to take control of the situation," said Mayor Larry Kiker. "We need to put together a group of folks that will develop a strategy for this property. It needs to be with the County and those property owners (within the Seafarers 'circle')."

Town Manager Terry Stewart approved the idea of bringing in outside sources such as a consultant or engineer to help with the planning of such an endeavor.

"They operate in an objective manner to involve everyone and bring forth their best recommendations back to you," he said. "It gives them a little bit of separation."

Vice Mayor Bob Raymond agreed with the approach and added more to the start process. Both he and Councilman Aland Mandel have been involved with redevelopment work in their prior communities.

"If we have a direction and vision on this, and they know before they even start, they can plan their development to match that," Raymond said. "We need to get a consensus vision as to what we want to happen down there. We control taxing and permitting authority."

Another Council member, Joe Kosinski, is an engineer by trade. He is receptive about the site being used as an employee parking area in the interim.

"I don't see what's to be gained by buying that property. First of all, the foundations and grease traps are still in there," he said. "If it was employee parking that the businesses could lease temporarily, that's needed in that area."

Town officials reemphasized that the main reason there is ownership interest of the property from their end is to fix the traffic problem that exists on Estero Boulevard.

County officials have plans to use the Seafarer site for surface parking as a temporary use, yet permit requests have not been brought forth as of Monday. An approval for such a usage could involve a sunset agreement in a particular scenario, so that a proposed parking lot would not become a permanent usage.

"You can do a commercial plan development with a development agreement, and you can contemplate phasing in that this approval is only good for Phase 1, which is a 5- or 10-year lifespan," said Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel. "At the end of that sunset, they'll have to come in with full development."

Past visioning workshops have created development ideas such as high-end mixed-use commercial public/private venture. Commercial appraisals are on the street.

"This is all about control," said Kiker. "We have waited 30 years to fix this traffic problem. We can't afford to let this one go."



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