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Council/BOCC exchange ideas on Beach issues

February 27, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Two different government bodies discussed four different agenda issues regarding Estero Island at Town Hall recently.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council hosted the Lee County Board of County Commissioners and other County officials last Wednesday during a joint workshop that dealt with Estero Boulevard and traffic on it, Seafarer's property and the general area around it, animal control and a proposed interlocal agreement with County-owned parks on the island.

Here is a capsule look at each agenda item and what transpired during the talks:

Article Photos

Lee DOT Director David Loveland explains to Town and County officials the dilemma of not having the full funds to reconstruct Estero Boulevard.

n Estero Boulevard Councilman Joe Kosinski, an engineer by trade, was the point man for this discussion. He asked questions about scope of the project.

Plans are in place to begin improvements on the Beach's main road in 2014. The six-mile work will involve mile increments and roughly $40 to complete it. The first mile of work has been budgeted with the location to be determined after study efforts.

"Preliminary design study efforts are well under way. We have money budgeted already to move into the design segment for the first mile," said County Department of Transportation's David Loveland.

The next segment of work has not been budgeted thus far, and that stresses confusion over what will happen after the first mile of construction is completed. Commissioner Larry Kiker brought up that point.

"At this point, we don't have any funding for any additional segments in the five-year window of the CIP (capital improvement plans)," said Loveland. "The first segment has been funded at $7 million. As we go through, we will have a better handle of the costs to come out of the design effort. Once we have the preliminary design study done and we have the cost, we can use that as a basis to explore some grant opportunities."

Town officials hope more money or grant dollars come in so that a utility replacement project involving a Beach water system and County sewer lines can be done at the same time without interruption. Storm water work should also be coupled in as well. With utility poles practically up against the road lines at various points on the boulevard, some questioned if electrical utilities could be placed underground so that sidewalks could be constructed where poles currently lie.

"You would have to have substation boxes that come out of the ground every couple hundred feet and room for those, so that is something that has to be resolved and paid for," said Loveland. "We do have a big problem where parts of the north end only have 50 feet of right-of-way. Trying to fit sidewalks and potentially bike lanes and utilities will be quite a shoehorn job."

Kosinksi asked if pre-burying conduits under the road's surface and applying for Federal funds would be an option. He was told officials would look into that process.

An interlocal agreement between both government parties is close to being adopted.

Gas tax money is the source for funding the road project. Roughly $12 million to $13 million per year are collected off that source, but half of that money goes to County road maintenance, such as resurfacing. That leaves not much to be divvied up between the Beach and other communities.

The Town reconstructed North Estero Boulevard for $5 million, but Commissioner Frank Mann cited that section as "the easiest mile" of the seven-mile stretch. He called the six-mile County project as a "huge undertaking that has no funding."

"It is the everlasting challenge of trying to find solutions. We just don't have $40 million," he said. "Everything involves a traffic impact. We advertise with millions of dollars to bring people to Fort Myers Beach. Everything we are doing is working against us."

Impact fees associated with a proposed San Carlos Island development project may help support Estero Boulevard road construction, but that project may bring more traffic and a bigger hassle to do work on the Beach road.

"We need a commitment from everybody here what we are going to do in 2014-15," said Kiker.

Acting Vice Mayor Alan Mandel pointed out the Beach and Sanibel are the leading contributors to the tourism industry. Money needs to come back to help to increase that factor.

"If we are going to enhance the experience of people coming to this beach and drive that industry to the benefit of the County, we need to spend this next year looking for those funds," he said. "This issue is extremely critical. We need to find a creative way to finance this entire project."

n Seafarer's property Mandel, the point man on this issue, asked County officials about intent and transfer of development rights of the site formally know as Seafarer's mall as it sits idle. That area, which County purchased in September 2010 and subsequently demolished the building on it, has been looked at for short-term parking solutions and long-term traffic solutions as well as a public/private partnership enterprise. It is referred to as the epi-center of the Beach commercial district one day and called a "disguised blight" the next.

"There are a lot of considerations there," said Mandel. "We are looking at ways that we can create possibly a tax-increment financing area there."

Commissioner John Manning expressed an interest to bring in a third party to outline uses of the parcels there.

"This is a prime piece. In urban areas such as this, it's a great way to facilitate and restrict the capabilities and flexibilities to government with respect to what we can logically give to developers as incentives," he said. "It can also help traffic flow."

Kosinski asked if property could temporarily be made into an employee parking lot where Times Square employers would pay for employee key card accesses. In June 2012, parking lot aspirations were put on hold so that Town and County officials could work out a better overall solution.

A low-profile parking lot is still being considered, but nothing concrete was decided on.

"There was no consensus anywhere where we were going," said Mann. "I am just glad we have it and can fight about it. Something better than what we used to have will come out of it."

Councilman Dan Andre agreed with Kosinski about an employee parking lot, one that would not cost too much to construct or maintain.

"A crush shelled, low landscape employee parking lot would look better and be more purposeful than it is right now," he said.

The item will be brought back to County Commission during one of their future meetings.

n Animal control Andre, the point man on this issue, stated unincorporated Lee County accounts for 60.26 percent of animal control calls and 46.9 percent of the total bill. Discrepancies lie with communities, such as the Beach, who only receive half of a percent of the services or calls yet pays 3.3 percent of the $2 million budget.

Methodology has been questioned on how the Beach pays ($900,000 per year) for what it receives (last year only 86 calls were made/answered).

"We believe that this methodology is not equitable in the amount of the cost allocated to the Town and other municipalities in relation to what is allocated to the unincorporated areas," Andre said.

County administration Dave Harner stated he recently "reached out to all municipalities to schedule a meeting" to discuss the issues.

"We wanted to open up the entire cost allocation for animal services. Once the municipalities meet, we will be meeting with them to go over all of the costs," he said.

Stewart confirmed communication regarding the subject and stated he has forwarded County officials a budget analysis provided by a Cape Coral official.

n County parks interlocal Councilwoman Jo List, the point person on this issue, asked Council officials if both governmental staffs could get together to make a similar agreement to the one County has with Sanibel. She also asked for an in-place policy to ensure that County officials inform each municipality when each of its neighbors is doing projects for impact reasons.

County pays its park & recreation workers to maintain facilities. Town employees could easily maintain those facilities.

"We have people doing that at adjacent properties. You wouldn't need to be funding your cost structure nor would TDC," said Mandel. "I think this would save money for everybody."

Town has requested data relating to the topic on a number of occasions in the past. After a lapse in communication between County and Town officials, Stewart pointed out better lines have been established with a change in upper management at the County level.

"I spoke with (Acting County Manager Doug Meuer) after he took over the position, and he jumped on it immediately," said Stewart. "We recently received some data and are working on that now."



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