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Mayor sits in the hot seat

Estero Island Taxpayers Association invited Dennis Boback to a community meeting.

May 17, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Some islanders got the chance to ask questions - and voice their frustrations - during the monthly Estero Island Taxpayers Association meeting last week.

Executive Director Bev Milligan moderated a discussion between Mayor Dennis Boback and approximately 20 people who attended May 9's meeting. It is the first in a series of meetings EITA will have hosting each of the Fort Myers Beach town council members.

Although the room was at times tense, Boback said it was good to attend.

Article Photos

Mayor Dennis Boback fields questions from the Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA) moderated by director Bev Milligan.

"I prefer this format," he said. "I want to sit down and let people ask questions."

And they had questions. Development, or lack of, was a collective concern on the minds of the meeting's attendees.

Many residents urged Boback to push harder against the county to "do something" with Seafarers Plaza. The area is currently used for the county to stage construction equipment for the ReFresh Estero Boulevard project, but the county has owned it since 2010, and it's been vacant since 2011. The town tried to purchase the land in 2013 but was turned down. TPI Hospitality developer Tom Torgerson had hoped to make a land swap with the county, trading a piece of his own property in-kind for Seafarers. The county declined and has indicated its only plan for Seafarers is a continued staging site.

"We've gone 13 years without half the business area functioning," Jane Plummer said. "We look like we've been hit by a bomb."

When TPI asked for a land swap, Torgerson requested that the county enter onto the development application with TPI so negotiations could occur. The town council supported this measure, and Boback said he "hand-delivered" the town's consent. However, the county did not join and TPI has redesigned the Times Square Resort project without Seafarers.

"We supported the county and TPI talking," Boback said. "We got nothing out of it."

Meeting attendees said the town had to do more than send a letter, with several attendees calling the property "blighted" and that the town was "not doing enough." Others asked if they should begin contacting the county themselves, although some thought that should be the role of the council.

"Should we swarm the county?" resident Bobbi Kemp asked.

Boback said it always helps to tell the county commissioners what residents want. TPI submitted an application to the town, sans Seafarers, in April. The application was reviewed by staff and sent back to correct discrepancies, so it could be a final opportunity to get the county to get on board before TPI sends it back with corrections and it moves forward in the process.

TPI wasn't the only development discussed.

Jack Mayher, developer of the Bay Harbour Marina Village project on San Carlos Island, expressed his frustration that the town council had sent principle planner Matt Noble to speak during public hearing at a Lee County Commissioners meeting to oppose his project. The Beach Area Civic Association had recruited the council's help to oppose a project that many residents on San Carlos Island are against.

Mayher's multi-use proposal, located on Main Street, includes a 500-space parking garage. Some of the spaces will serve the residential and commercial space and the marina, but the rest is proposed to be paid parking to serve San Carlos Island and beachgoers.

He said it "blows my mind" that the council would oppose a project that he believes will alleviate traffic going onto Fort Myers Beach. San Carlos Island residents have said they don't want to be the beach's parking lot.

Mayher also referenced TPI's project, asking the Mayor if he was willing to consider a variance or deviance from the comprehensive plan. The TPI project would require two. Boback said he would consider them.

"We have those built into the comp plan," he said. "I'm not strict - I'm willing to listen. It's not just black and white."



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