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Status updates: checking in on Fort Myers Beach area projects, issues

November 29, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Season is ramping up and part-time residents are starting to head back to town to spend a warm winter on the beach.

Fort Myers Beach and San Carlos Island are both buzzing with upcoming projects and ongoing issues, so it's time to check in and see what's new with the area's biggest topics.

Hurricane Irma recovery:

Article Photos

TPI Hospitality has adjusted the proposed architecture of the resort facing Crescent Street to prevent a wall-like effect for the neighbors. The landscaping and barrier between the ground-level parking area and the street has been beautified to make it more appealing to pedestrians walking by. Renderings courtesy of TPI Hospitality.

Fort Myers Beach was lucky and missed the worst of Hurricane Irma's damage, but it has taken some time to pick up the pieces.

Lee County has completed the first pass of vegetation and construction and demolition (C/D) removal and is still at work on a second pass. As of Nov. 21, the county has collected 1.5 million cubic yards of debris. That number jumps to 2.5 million including the municipalities' collections, as of Nov. 13.?During Hurricane Charley, the county collected 485,000, according to the county's website.

The county has piled this massive amount of debris in different county-owned lands; it's begun to covert the vegetation into wood chips for mulch.

According to the county's Hurricane Irma page, the losses are $725 million in residential and $102 million in commercial.?Fort Myers Beach's vegetation debris has been collected, and Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said the C/D removal would be complete this week. The town is waiting to fix some non-vital issues, like damaged signs, until it finds out how much funding it might get from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"We can submit for all of our preventive measures, like protecting town hall," he said. ?The town is still working to calculate how much loss was incurred from the storm.

"The main thing is, the town's emergency plan worked very well," Hernstadt said. "The public was very cooperative, and our team did an excellent job."

TPI's Times Square Resort:

TPI Hospitality has been quiet in the last few months about the Times Square Resort application, submitted in the spring.

Town of Fort Myers Beach planning staff and TPI have been going back and forth for months with questions, reviews and answers. In August, Bill Spikowski submitted a review of the TPI application to the town after the council asked him to examine the project. Spikowski wrote the town's original Land Development Code. He pointed out some issues - for example, while there are height restrictions for different districts on Fort Myers Beach, the TPI property is not in any of the districts, meaning it technically doesn't have a height limit.

Now, Tom Torgerson's goal is to get the project to the Local Planning Agency for its first look in January.

"We had to tweak existing ideas to meet code concerns," said TPI consultant and spokesman, John Gucciardo. "The code is silent on aesthetics, but we've heard concerns and stepped back to make it more appealing."

After concerns were expressed about how the hotel would look along 5th Street and Crescent Street, Torgerson adjusted the design. The first level of the bayside property will be valet parking to encompass the resort's guests, with one entry-exit area and one service entry-exit, eliminating many of the access points originally in the site plan. The side of the building fronting Crescent Street is staggered, with different architectural styles, to break up the view for neighbors across the street. The parking area will be blocked with a lattice-type barrier that will support vines or native flowers like bougainvillea.

Torgerson's pedestrian overpass is staying, and he's working to make it an attraction of its own with a second-floor cafe open to both hotel guests and the public.

It's been almost a year since TPI submitted this application, a scaled-down version of the original Grand Resorts.

"Grand Resorts was a mistake, out of step," Torgerson said. "The process got nasty and I regret that. I have reason to hope this proposal will be a healing process. There's a lot of community thumbprints on this project."

Once it goes to the LPA, the plan will be reviewed and the LPA will recommend approval or denial to council. Then, it will be sent to council for two public hearings before a vote.

Stormwater/ Estero Boulevard project:

Drivers beware: traffic is backing up, but it's not just season. From now until Dec. 15, traffic will be shrunk to one lane at Lovers Lane and there will be flagging Monday through Friday. Stormwater drains are being installed, and project spokeswoman and Cella Molnar President Kaye Molnar said there isn't enough space at that location to keep open two lanes of traffic.

Within the Estero Boulevard project is the center lane stormwater drain; the installation of the sanitary sewer force main, and the town's Waterlines replacement project.

Segment 1 of Estero Boulevard, Crescent Street to Lovers Lane is complete.

Segment 2, Lovers Lane to Madera Road, has had its force main installation completed and utility relocation is nearly complete. Work on the center lane storm drain system will begin in December. 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.

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.

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

Bay Harbour Marina Village:

The commercial and residential development on San Carlos Island has experienced a set of delays.

The Bay Harbour Marina Village project would place 113 residential units, 38 "workforce" units, a marina, a 500 plus-space parking garage and other commercial space on a 7.58-acre piece of land, which now houses Southern Comfort Storage. It needs a comprehensive plan amendment and a rezoning approval to be built, two steps which the developer has requested are kept concurrent.

This project has been in the works since 2015.

In November 2016, Lee County Commissioners remanded the project back to staff for further examination after both the Local Planning Agency and Hearing Examiner recommended its denial. Early in 2016, the Bay Harbour developer then proposed an alternative amendment to change the land to Destination Resort Mixed Use Water Dependent (DRMUWD), a use already approved on San Carlos Island for the bankrupt EbbTide project. However, the developer also kept its central urban amendment on the table and the county staff instructed the developer to choose one or the other to move forward.

Jack Mayher, one of the developer, spoke to the Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) group in September about changes to the application. The height of the condominium tower was cut back from 175 feet to 145 feet; some units were moved to townhome style housing along the canal; and the building footprint moved to 90 feet back from Main Street.

The project was supposed to come before the county in November, but according to Tim Engstrom, county spokesman, the developer requested the plan amendment be placed on hold as they finalize information for both the amendment and the rezoning application, because the developer wants the applications processed together. Once the information is received and deemed sufficient for review, the project will be heard again by the LPA.

Water Quality:

Hurricane Irma and other summertime storms filled Lake Okeechobee to the highest it's been in more than a decade, bringing the lake to 17.2 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake and the dike around it, usually maintain a depth of 12.5 to 15.5 feet. The corps released high volumes of freshwater into the Caloosahatchee and only slowed the flows Friday. Nov. 17.

The releases so far have not caused toxic cyanobacterial blooms, as seen on the East coast in 2016. However, the freshwater releases are causing dark water, filled with colored dissolved organic matter, to be pushed out into the Gulf. Rae Ann Wessel, policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said the ebb and flow of dark water or brown water will probably continue through the end of 2017, and will continue past then if the center of the state should get a significant amount of rain in the next few months.

The dark water prevents sunlight from reaching the aquatic vegetation below, and is preventing seagrasses from growing. Directly after the hurricane, a lot of detrius and seaweed washed ashore; the vegetation die-off could continue if the water levels stay hypoxic (deprived of oxygen) and plants are unable to grow or photosynthesize.

Senate Bill 10 was approved by Governor Rick Scott in May, which expedites the planning and design of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area in advance of the end of the lease agreement with agricultural companies in 2019. Then, pending approval for funding for the 50/50 cost share from the U.S. Congress, construction could be completed in 10 years.

The timeline seems long for relief, but getting the EAA reservoirs in 10 years is a lot faster than normal.

"You're going to have to fasten your seat belts," Wessel said. "This is like whip-lash. It's in high gear."

Other projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) are also in the queue.

Construction of the the C-43 reservoir, a freshwater storage facility for the Caloosahatchee River, is underway on the south side of the river near LaBelle. Freshwater can be stored there for timely released during the dry season. While too much freshwater flowing down the Caloosahatchee is a problem, so is too little.

Red tide isn't directly related to the freshwater released from Lake Okeechobee, but the high volume releases have been keeping a "significant" red tide bloom in the Gulf from getting closer to shore. It hasn't come ashore yet, but Sanibel has started seeing some dead fish washing up on the beach. As of Monday, Wessel said she hadn't heard of any fish kills on Fort Myers Beach. The nature of red tide can cause it to affect some areas and not others. The freshwater releases have kept the bloom out in the Gulf, but as the Army Corps slows down the amounts, it could start washing ashore.

Rae Burns, environmental technician for the town, said as of Tuesday the town had not had any testing showing red tide on Fort Myers Beach. The next testing occurs on Wednesday, and the results come in on Friday. There have not been any fish kills, but Burns said some cormorants have been observed as effected by red tide. To check on the beach's red tide status, visit myfwc.org.

 
 

 

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