The Lee County Board of County Commissioners have agreed to look into a Town-written Interlocal Agreement (ILA) for Estero Boulevard -one that will formalize a timetable and assign responsibility for the planning, design and construction of the County-owned road under a five-year Capital Improvement Plan.
The consensual approval came during a joint workshop of the two government bodies at Town Hall on Tuesday (Jan. 24) afternoon. The document will be reviewed at a future board meeting.
The BOCC and Council discussed four other agenda items. A park management proposal (including Seafarer's Mall property), transportation issues and talks about the water system were other Beach items brought forth.
"The ILA is at the forefront of all discussions going forward and to memorialize what we both need to do on this is very important," said BOCC Chair John Manning. "We can gain consensus here today, but we have to bring it back as a formal agenda item at a near future board meeting. My other suggestion would be to have our staffs talk preliminarily about what that agenda might look like before it comes back to us."
Councilman Joe Kosinski introduced the ILA discussion by first thanking county commissioners for island improvements, including the resurfacing of Estero Boulevard at the south end of the Beach, the trolley pull-off at Newton Park and placing the County-owned main road on the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan.
"What an undertaking Estero Boulevard will be," he said. "For eight months out of the year, it is a sleepy little road and the other four months it can be a nightmare for people. I think we all realize that is a once in a lifetime shot to begin to address the traffic issue by the redesign of Estero that will go a long way of solving the traffic problem."
Town Attorney Jim Humphrey, who initiated the ILA idea, followed Kosinski with a plea for both governmental entities to work together on "a coordinated approach" for the timing of improvements regarding the Estero Boulevard. Issues such as sidewalks, bicycle paths, utility improvements and new water line placements were listed.
"We know that you have been supportive and funded the planning effort. With that, I suggest this commission authorize their staff and county attorney office to work with us to try to address all of the issues. I would hope that you would expand it and work in preparing an interlocal agreement consistent to the act for a governmental unit to make the most efficient use of its powers by cooperating with each other."
Park management proposal
In past joint meetings, Council has inquired about ownership and operation of County parks on Estero Island (Lynn Hall Park, Bowditch Park, Matanzas Pass Preserve). County officials have declined such surrender, since their park properties are considered "regional" in purpose. At the recent meeting, Council inquired about negotiating an agreement to authorize the Town of Fort Myers Beach to have management and operational duties of such County properties, but appeared to be unsuccessful in that approach.
Councilman Alan Mandel cited Council opinion to reduce County expenses in such an endeavor. Since the Town underwent a structural reorganization that created a parks and recreational department and the hiring of an experienced director, the request was for both governmental staffs to crunch numbers and check the viability of such a move.
"If our staff here on the island would take over the operation of maintenance of these facilities, we feel there would be a net expense reduction to the County," said Mandel.
Commissioner Tammy Hall stated "unintended consequences for overall efficiencies in managing all regional facilities collectively" for the dismantling of the County park system. County Parks & Recreation Director Barbara Manzo was asked for details.
"The expenses of running the Beach parks are paid for by our tourist development council dollars. The revenues of the Beach parks all go back to the municipalities and to the County," she said. "It would be a loss in general for the County to turn those operations over to the Town.
The revenue extracted from Lynn Hall Park and Bowditch Park parking lots was reported to be between $500,000 to $750,000 a year.
Mandel also asked County officials to look into building the idle Seafarer's Mall property into more than just a planned parking lot "to achieve a development that would improve traffic, provide parking, but also have a tremendously successful commercial development."
County officials consensually agreed on that concept, but were unsure of the process.
"In the interim, I think we make it at an at-grade parking lot, make an arrangement where the Town gets a percentage of the revenue, which can then be used to purchase the site and do with it as you wish," said Commissioner Ray Judah.
"I'm open minded to utilizing that property and other properties contiguous to it to accommodate development, parking and ingress and egress," said Manning. "Somebody will have to bring back a plan to put that into action."
Council then questioned County's permitting process for the gated empty lot at the foot of Matanzas Bridge. County officials have said they are waiting for the developer's rights to sunset on May 7 before taking action.
"Our community development office put together a list of issues that we believe need to be addressed. Waiting for the developer's agreement to expire is not going to solve the problems that many of your staff have indicated might happen," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. 'The last thing that we want to happen is sit around and wait for that date to come, then everybody finds out that there are issues that should have been dealt with all along. That is what Council, my staff and I are working very hard to avoid."
It was agreed that officials from both sides would confer to see if the overall vision of the property is shared and that the issues list be looked into. Besides the developer's agreement, the permitting process would involve a master concept plan, Community Planning and Development amendment and development zoning issues.
Transportation, sidewalk and bike path
This agenda item is an informational part of the proposed Estero Boulevard project that will be focused on the ILA. Council hopes that County would incorporate its "complete streets" approach with sidewalks, bicycle lanes and beautification landscaping when the project comes to fruition.
Vice Mayor Bob Raymond, absent at the meeting due to sickness, has personally recommended and supported a dedicated trolley lane along San Carlos Boulevard as a cost-efficient and quicker means of transportation to Fort Myers Beach. A recent transportation study recognizes the trolley lane as a way to mitigate traffic.
"Fort Myers Beach has a greater ridership based on population than any area in Lee County," said Stewart. "We have a lot of transportation demands here on the island based upon tourism. The island is a playground for all of Lee County."
"The issues, not only with traffic but with the safety of the folks that use Estero Boulevard, are yet another catalyst that has brought up our redevelopment (discussion)," said Mayor Larry Kiker.
Potable Water and Fire Main rebuild
Councilwoman Jo List was the point person in discussing a major rebuild and upgrade project for the potable water system. She placed emphasis on the importance that the coordination of project timing and design element is needed during all construction activities.
"At some point, that project will require Estero Boulevard to be affected by underground construction work. Storm water system work is also planned in the near future and will impact Estero Boulevard," she said. "We want to point out that this water work is not just for potable water. We have to upgrade the flow capacity for fire mains and hydrants throughout the Town."
It was noted that Lee County Utilities might also need to do sanitary sewer work at that time.
Mayor Kiker wrap up
"We have conquered some big, big problems, issues and priorities. Some of them were aged issues," he said. "At the end of the day, this Council has backed off a bit and asked, 'What can we do as our No. 1 goal this year?' That is to improve the image of Fort Myers Beach. We are going around to different organizations and asking for just one thing to support that goal. Then, we will collectively support that."