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Grand Resorts talk to stop until consultant on board

January 5, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

As many as 10 local people have been approached by the town's manager regarding Fort Myers Beach's desire to hire a consultant to guide it through the upcoming Grand Resorts proposal. A candidate list likely will come to town leaders in the next few weeks, Town Manager Don Stilwell said.

The consultant will work only on behalf of the town. Because the cost will likely exceed $25,000 and is not budgeted, the Town Council will have to vote on its implementation as a budget amendment, going line by line through the budget to find the funds.

Meanwhile, any potential votes and/or discussions regarding Grand Resorts - the $250 million, 10-acre , four- to five-year downtown development proposal featuring four hotels, a pedestrian mall, a parking garage, a combined boardwalk/seawall, a roundabout, and the re-routing of Estero Boulevard - will be avoided until the consultant hire is in place. The official title will be special projects coordinator.

"We won't take another single step until this firm, person or entity is on board with this," Mayor Anita Cereceda said.

Stilwell said expertise is crucial, considering the town's staff fills the roles of generalists.

"This is what the developer does full time," he said of the process. "We need someone on the same level."

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A resolution asking the town to sign on with developer Tom Torgerson's desire to pursue seawall permitting with the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the nation's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was tabled indefinitely Monday, an indication of the new strategy. Lee County also passed on the request last month, wanting more details.

"We don't need to act on this. Let the DEP come to us when it's time," Cereceda said.

However, Torgerson can still make progress considering the land where his 2,000-foot seawall would sit - from the northern tip of Lynn Hall Memorial Park to the public beach access south of the Mermaid Lounge - because he and the county own all of it except the sliver where the access is, which belongs to the town. And the town's signature would have not represented any financial investment or approval of the project.

A packed council chambers on Monday, with many fearing some sort of decision was on the table, again spurred Cereceda to remind residents that not even a project application had been submitted.

"No deals have been made. We all need to take a deep breath," she said. "This will be a long, grueling process."

Vice Mayor Dan Andre used the moment to remind residents, "We're not slick, greasy politicians on the take."

Many on hand reminded the council the town has a comprehensive land-use plan in place, and that the project's 562 hotel rooms exceed the suggested density and the six or seven floors exceed height restrictions.

Cereceda acknowledged this.

"This project is of a scope the island has never seen. It's our duty to represent the town's code," she said. "We've been sworn to it. But I would ask that instead of telling Mr. Torgerson what you don't want, tell him what you do want."

Torgerson was on hand at the meeting, telling residents public input is essential and has already brought improvements to his concepts.



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