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Beach economic development discussed

June 20, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Building and redevelopment efforts on Fort Myers Beach may get a little easier and less costly in the future.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council listened to a Town staff report on economic development activity on Estero Island before offering direction for simplifying permitting and zoning procedures and eliminating unnecessary and out-of-date parts of the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code at a workshop Monday morning.

Town Manager Terry Stewart called the Beach a "redevelopment community" due to the seven-mile stretch being built out, while Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel remarked on the increasing growth in development-related activity related to requests for various zoning and building permits and certificates of use. From October 2011 to June 7, 2012, his office has received 44 zoning-related applications (compared to 33 for same period last fiscal year) and 51 certificates of use issued or under review (compared to 33 for same period last fiscal year) and 1,145 building permits applied for (compared to 1,023 for same period last fiscal year).

"We have to be a little more creative at our approach at fostering that kind of redevelopment," said Fluegel. "What is significant are more complex permit disciplines. When property owners are willing to make a substantial investment in improving their properties, it tells us the environment is right, and they think there is return on that investment. That's a good sign."

"Our processes must be such that we accomplish what we need to accomplish at the minimal amount of cost to both prospective home owners and businesses and us," added Stewart.

At the present, Town staff is struggling with zoning cases due to the complex structure of the written language of the comprehensive plan, regarded as more of a general policy statement. Processes should be easier for anyone seeking a permit or zoning request.

"Those businesses can then come in and have a very clear understanding of what they are going to be faced with both from a technical perspective and a financial perspective, and that it is a reasonable cost. Staff can then reasonably invest its time," said Stewart. "Time is money."

Town Attorney Marilyn Miller agreed recommendations have been made to streamline some of the processes. Calls are filtering in to Town Hall about technicalities.

"Something can be relatively minor and, the way the code is currently written, you still have to go through all the public hearing processes," she said.

"We have to make some alterations to our comp plan and LDC that make rational sense and also enable us to have the future for the island that we all envisioned," said Stewart.

Expect a policy decision to be made at a future meeting to modify the Comp Plan on this matter. The current rendition and its permit and zoning processes are not to the liking of Council members.

"We need to get it down to the very basics," said Mayor Larry Kiker.

"It's cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming," said Councilwoman Jo List.

"Our comp plan is so out-of-date and not pertinent to now," said Vice Mayor Bob Raymond. "We have to make it simpler for people to understand, less hoops to jump through and at a better price."

Stewart stated his staff would take the given recommendations about areas in the Town documents where changes need to be made. The Town's comprehensive plan will be worked out on a long-term basis.

"Short term, we are going to put together some recommendations about changes in the LDC that will be reflective of the things we talked about today," he said.



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