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2018: development, infrastructure, transportation

January 3, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In the Jan. 4, 2017 edition of the Observer, we said redevelopment would be a big topic for the coming year.

That doesn't look like it will be changing in 2018, but this year should start the process of public input on a variety of projects.

And, in 2018, Fort Myers Beach and the surrounding area will definitely start to see some new construction.

With the new Park and Ride Lee Tran facility, a new tram system, the Estero Boulevard project, the San Carlos Boulevard traffic study project, and the Big Carlos Bridge repair or replacement project, transportation and infrastructure will also continue to be big topics for 2018.

"There's a lot of infrastructure projects going on, both ends and in the middle," said Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker.

The county and the state are both invested in various aspects of Fort Myers Beach and San Carlos Island's projects.

"I'm excited we've been able to get that much attention and convince people of the importance of Fort Myers Beach," Kiker said. "We're going to kick off the year with public input."

Here's a check-in and outlook on the islands' development and transportation projects.


Times Square Resort

At this time last year, Tom Torgerson of TPI Hospitality had released a new design for his commercial development at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. With only one resort hotel, a beachside pool venue, a restaurant and a small business center, Times Square Resort was a major scaledown from his original Grand Resorts Project.

Since last year, it's been a back and forth between the town, Lee County and TPI Hospitality.

TPI originally hoped to get a land-swap deal with the county, trading the corner of San Carlos Boulevard and Estero Boulevard, the Ocean Jewel property, for a part of the county's Seafarer Plaza.

Seafarer Plaza is currently the staging site for the Estero Boulevard project and its multitude of construction equipment.

The county declined to consider the swap and said it would continue to use it as a construction site. So in March, Torgerson had to redesign the project again to fit within the parameters of the property TPI currently can control.

Then, TPI officially applied to the town on March 30.

From March to December, the back-and-forth continued.

Town Council retained consultant Bill Spikowski to review the application because of his in-depth knowledge of town documents: Spikowski helped the town write its original Land Development Code.

In August, Bill Spikowski submitted a review of the TPI application to the town, and TPI made some adjustments based on that critique, such as the architecture of the resort facing the residential areas on Crescent Street and limiting the number of vehicular entry and exit points.

Former deputy town manager John Gucciardo, who Torgerson retained as a consultant for the project, said there are hopes that the application will go before the town's Local Planning Agency at the Feb. 13 meeting: the first opportunity for official public input.

However, Matt Noble, the town's principal planner who has been working with TPI on the application, resigned for another job opportunity and his last day was Dec. 21. Gucciardo is hoping the staffing situation won't delay the LPA schedule.

Olde Seaport

Two new restaurant buildings were approved for a stretch of land on Old San Carlos Road on Fort Myers Beach.

In November, Town Council approved an amendment to a a commercial planned development project that was approved in 2015.

Property owner and 25-year resident Jim Figuerado plans to built two restaurants, one in front of the parking lot across the street from Harbour House and the other in the now-grass area between the Marin Village condos and Matanzas Pass. The project as a whole is called "Olde Seaport."

The two restaurants will have a "old Florida" feel and aesthetic to tie into the area's history.

"This is the exact kind of project we envisioned in the Old San Carlos (redevelopment) plan," said Council Member Anita Cereceda during the November meeting.

The "skinny" restaurant as it's been called will block the view of the parking lot, which will remain of service to the business in the area, and not become a beach lot. The other restaurant will have an open-air concept, with seating out by the water.

Figuerado planned to pursue a building permit and submit before the end of the year. He's going to start with the dockside restaurant first before moving to the "skinny" restaurant in front of the parking lot. He's hoping these new developments will fill in the southern end of Fort Myers Beach's northern commercial area.

"They have Times Square on the other end, I think we'll call this Harbor Square and draw people down to this end," he said.

The 2015 plan called for a restaurant, an open-air market area and potentially a pirate museum built out on the dock. However, a Department of Environmental Protection regulation prevents building out on the water, and Figuerado decided the shops would be a hard sell, since flood plain regulations will require the building to be elevated.

Instead of the pirate museum idea, Figuerado has a new plan that struck a chord with the council.

"I'm thinking, I'd like to put some history stuff there to attract people to that area of the waterfront," he said. "When we get done it's going to be something you can all be proud of."

Some of the dock space will also be used for Fort Myers Beach Sea and Sun Rentals, a boat rental company owned by Figuerado and his son, David.

Apartments and Aldi's

New buildings are going up on the northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Road, Summerlin Road intersection.

Dirt has been moving on the approximately 20-acre site. In 2016, the property sold for $1.6 million. Atlanta-based developer, 360 Residential, is planning 224 luxury apartment units on the property. The first units will be available for rent in October 2018. A separate parcel and separate owner is developing a small commercial center, and Aldi will be the anchor grocery store to serve the new apartment community.

With the proximity of the beach, the Sanibel Outlets, and the Health Park, Taylor Hawke of 360 Residential said in a previous article her company hopes to draw some young professionals to their new development. And with an Aldi opening next door, it will be a walkable place to live, she said.

Aldi is a low-cost grocery store which uses cost-saving measures such as its bring-your-own-bag and selling its own brand to maintain a lower expense threshold. It will compete with Publix and Walmart nearby.

Chris Hewitt, Royal Palm Beach division vice president for Aldi, confirmed via email that Aldi is going vertical at Summerlin and Pine Ridge, its fourth Lee County location. There's no set opening date yet except that Hewitt said it will open in 2018.

Community Visioning with San Carlos Island

During Kiker's last election cycle, he said he wanted to get San Carlos Island and other unincorporated communities started on a self-visioning process to find out the needs and wants of current residents for their neighborhoods.

The effort coincides with the overall update of the Lee Plan, a policy document that guides the county's Land Development Code. Part of that comprehensive update includes checking in with communities and updating their own community plans. That process has already begun: on Dec. 5, Lee County staff held the first meeting to explain the process to interested residents and to show the "technical amendments" that are already proposed.

Planning Manager Mikki Rozdolski said at the meeting that these are not substancial changes, just making the community plans consistent with the rest of the Lee Plan, removing "redundancies" or "vague" language.

These technical changes are the first step, and the second step incorporates Kiker's mandate to staff, to meet with communities, review community plans, and make needed amendments to reflect modern desires.

San Carlos Island will be the among the first for this visioning process. Its community plan didn't even get the technical review by county staff.

"A lot of other plans are more substantial and were written more recently," Rozdolski said. "San Carlos Island hasn't been touched in a while. It will be more valuable to do the visioning with the community first."

A date is tentatively set for early February but has not yet been confirmed, said Betsy Clayton, spokeswoman for the county.

County staff will be meeting with the San Carlos Island community at least twice, and maybe more, to get input and feedback. Rozdolski said she hoped to get a large swath of the whole community, not just the most vocal.

"Some people say there's never been a community plan, some people give you a copy," Kiker said. "Iin my book, scratch all that and start over."

-- Infrastructure and Transportation --

Estero Boulevard

Work continues on Estero Boulevard as crews move into Segment 2.

Kiker said he hopes to continue to look at ways to shorten the project's length; at first, it was estimated to be a 10-year ordeal. The county re-budgeted to shorten it to five years, and it's now in year two.

"Permitting is slowing it down," Kiker said. The project requires permits from a variety of local, state and federal agencies each step of the way.

The boulevard project is really four projects in one: replacement of the sanitary sewer force main; replacement of the town's waterlines; installation of the new stormwater system; and a multi-modal road improvement project.

Segment 1 wrapped up in Spring 2017. Segment 2, running from Lovers Lane to Madera Road, is in the works.

The waterlines portion is underway and expected to be complete by Spring 2018. The side street joint outfalls are underway, construction has begun for the outfalls on Eucalyptus, Jefferson and Donora Boulevard; after, Bay Street, Connecticut, Bay Mar, Hercules and Bayview will begin construction.

Center lane work began in December; while two lanes of traffic are expected to be maintained, the concrete barrier wall will be going up in Spring 2018.

Before the barrier can go up - and work be done on the center lane storm drain - the outfalls must be built, Kaye Molnar, spokeswoman for the project, said. The at least one outfall has to be ready so when the center lane drain is put in place, any incoming stormwater has somewhere go. The timeline for Donora's outfall to be finished is February or March, Molnar said.

Segement 2's projected substantial completion date in fall 2018.

Segment 3, Madera Road to Driftwood Lane, has had its county right-of-way clearing and force main installation completed. The relocation of public utilities has begun, and the design for the joint outfalls that will service the center lane drain is underway. The waterlines project will begin in Fall 2018.

Segment 4, the remainder of the island is underway with right-of-way clearing and public utility relations. The force mains are completed.

The county is working on the design and construction of the pervious pavers placed in the center of the lane. These pavers caused maintenance issues in Segment 1, and the county is working to fix the design and the construction of the paver used to prevent the problem in Segment 2, Molnar said.

Molnar said communications about construction updates will continue via a 24-hour hotline, the project's website, weekly or more email notifications, fliers and as-need community meetings.

FDOT's San Carlos Boulevard study

San Carlos Island residents have been waiting for years now to get involved in the San Carlos Island traffic study through the Florida Department of Transportation.

The study seeks to find new ways to manage traffic going to and from Fort Myers Beach. The study was almost finished last year, until the Lee County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), told FDOT to go back to the drawing board.

Kiker and Town Council Vice Mayor Tracey Gore pushed for the halt. At the start of 2017, FDOT was ready to present some of its traffic ideas - but both Gore and Kiker were unhappy with the results.

FDOT was proposing multiple ideas, such as removing the alternating light at Buttonwood Road and re-striping the Matanzas Pass Bridge to allow two lanes of traffic to the beach, and, in long-term ideas, widening the bridge to have another sidewalk, putting a traffic signal at Main Street, and considering roundabouts at appropriate intersections as potential problem-solvers.

Both Gore and Kiker said many of the ideas had been "done before." Kiker also suggested the department should be consulting with local officials who know what's already tried and failed, and also should be thinking outside of the box. Many of the solutions didn't deal with traffic coming back off the beach.

FDOT canceled its public workshop for Feb. 2017 and continued to brainstorm. Now, it's almost a year later, and Kiker said public input time is coming soon.

A meeting was tentatively set in December and canceled, with hopes of rescheduling in January or February.

Big Carlos Pass Bridge

"That's a big one," Kiker said.

Lee County is in the process of deciding whether to repair of replace the Big Carlos Pass Bridge, and it's brought out concerns from residents about quality of life impacts.

The county started holding meetings in January 2017 with the nearby condo associations, residents and town council to inform everyone on the process of the project.

The bridge is 52 years old and is in need of replacement, according to the county staff, because bridges of its age were built in a time before civil engineering could calculate for a natural phenomenon called scour. Bridge scour is the removal of the sediments around the bridge pilings, which compromises the foundation of the bridge. During a meeting with the town, Scott Gammon, project manager with the county, said the scour could result in the bridge's demise during a severe storm, and current building standards would rebuild the bridge to withstand such issues. There are also cracking issues: the bridge is still safe, but small cracks could become larger and larger cracks, said Sean Donahoo, a consultant with AIM Engineering and Surveying. It also is not as wide and does not have bike lanes as current design standards have.

The county is finishing up its study looking at different options for replacement or repair. Some options include an updated, widened version of the same size bridge at 21 feet tall, a mid-level bridge of 45 feet tall, and a 65-foot tall bridge, the same size as Matanzas Pass Bridge on the north end.

Part of the study requirements include gathering public comment, Kiker said.

A public meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. At Bay Oaks Rec Center, 2731 Oak St. County staff will be collecting public input and showing to-scale replicas of bridge alternative designs.

"That thing is happening. There's a lot of consternation on the height of the bridge and it ruining someone's view," Kiker said. "We have spent $20,000 each on scale model replicas of two of the bridges. Your house is to scale."

After gathering public input, the project will start moving, Kiker said. It's potentially a $50 million project, and he expects in 2018 the county commission will begin talks of scheduling it into the Capital Improvement Project budget.

"Upgrading the current one might cost more than a new bridge," he said.



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