Report 3: deny TPI
There are now three staff reports about TPI-FMB’s proposal to redevelop 5.11 acres in Fort Myers Beach’s commercial district.
The first, a detailed analysis provided by Bill Spikowski, the author of the beach’s Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan, and hired consultant to review the TPI project. Spikowski did not make a recommendation in this report, however he did provide the council with a series ways in which to approve, deny or approve with conditions.
The second, a “supplemental” staff report that appeared a week before the LPA meeting, which did not contain a recommendation to approve or deny.
And now, a third: another staff report, building off of the first two and giving an answer: “staff cannot recommend approval.”
Reasons for this recommendation include height deviations for the bayside parcel, traffic impacts and continued disagreement on required parking.
The Local Planning Agency recommended approval of the project according to Spikowski’s review and with Spikowski’s recommended conditions.
This barrage of conflicting reports have caused confusion for both the applicant and members of the Local Planning Agency.
Spikowski himself said he thought there’d be just one report, compiled by both himself and contracted Community Development Director Jason Green.
Breeze Newspapers paid $216 to the town for a public records request. The request was for any and all emails to and from town council and staff with the keyword, “TPI,” between Nov. 1, 2017 and Feb. 28, 2018 – the time in which Green was “officially” contracted as the director, and during which former Principal Planner Matt Noble resigned.
The result returned approximately 876 emails, which had to be read and redacted as necessary by town clerk Michelle Mayher.
According to a departmental report emailed to Green from Building Manager Robert Bogart, Matt Noble was listed as the planner overseeing the TPI-FMB project until Dec. 12, when he resigned.
Spikowski had been working with the town in relation to TPI since summer 2017, when he was contracted for an initial review of the project. His work continued after Noble resigned and when Green became more involved with the project. In January emails, Green and Spikowski refer to “the staff report” continuously, with no other mention of any other report. In an email stream beginning Jan. 17, Spikowski emails to Green what he called a “nearly complete draft of the staff report,” requesting reviews of the document by Tetra Tech’s traffic and stormwater engineers, other town staff, and the town attorney. Green forwarded the document to the requested reviewers Jan. 22, in an email saying “Attached is the draft report for the TPI application. There may be items or opinions contained within it that members of the Town staff disagree with or that need clean up. Please review your relevant portions I need any comments back to me by Friday so I can complete the LPA packet early next week.”
A stream of emails between the two in January also show Green seeking advice on areas of the code, which Spikowski is very intimately familiar, and Spikowski asking for clarifications on new ordinances which could affect his review.
Then, in an email Jan. 29, Green includes Spikowski’s report to be sent out to the LPA members, with a note that “the Town will have a supplemental report to follow.”
Green’s supplemental was published online, Feb. 7, six days before the LPA hearing and was at odds with Spikowski’s work in some regards.
Green’s analysis of parking was some 847 spots to Spikowskis’s 371, which included an LDC discount for being in the “park once” area of Fort Myers Beach.
Green counted parking for every single use of the project – even the bar and restaurant within the resort, and claimed the proposal’s estimates and Spikowski’s calculation did not include employee parking at all.
However, Spikowski pointed out at the LPA, that accessory uses do not require their own parking spaces – as in, a restaurant within a hotel is meant to serve primarily the guests of the hotel, who have already parked their vehicle there.
No emails in the records request suggest that the town reached out to TPI with concerns about parking. Such a conversation could have occured over the phone, but TPI claimed at the LPA that many of the issues brought forward by Green’s first report had never been addressed with the applicant during review.
Green’s newest report applies the downtown discount to parking, bringing the staff recommended parking from an adjusted 896down to 601 spots; however, Green is still claiming employee parking is not included in this round-up. Spikowski’s report includes employee parking; TPI’s staff has said they will be encouraging employees to take public transit at the new Beach Park n Ride or charge them to park in the valet-only parking area. An email dated Jan. 24 shows Spikowski telling Green that ancillary uses within a hotel or resort don’t need additional parking spaces. TPI’s application states that the Ocean Jewels building, which is now the Chamber of Commerce, will an ancillary retail store to the resort – i.e., a gift shop – but on Green’s latest report he still counts 6.9 spots needed for the retail.
The three documents have left some with more questions than answers; but for others, support for TPI’s project is unwavering.
During the timespan of the public records request, the emails from residents, snowbirds, property owners and business owners were overwhelmingly in support of the proposal. A handful of emails expressed concern for the density and intensity.
But from the majority, a plea to council to approve the plan, to allow the area to redeveloped by a project developer who had made an effort and become part of the community.
TPI has been generous to local causes in the last few months, donating to the Beach Kids Foundation, Fort Myers Beach Elementary PTO, and more.
TPI’s name has been everywhere, with supporters displaying their loyalty with yard signs and banners and marching in local parades. The LPA was filled with many people who spoke in support of the project, including business and residential neighbors; and the LPA recommended approval with the conditions set forth by Spikowski’s report, not Green’s.
Now, the project is arriving at what TPI’s Chief Investment Officer, Chris Flagg, has called the Super Bowl: a hearing before Town Council (although, as of last Monday, it’s still undecided if it will have one or two hearings.). Its first appearance is April 9. At the last council meeting, the town was still unsure if the development would have one or two public hearings based on it being approved or denied as a resolution or an ordinance.
It’s down to five people to put aside personal opinions and examine the LDC to this rezoning request.
Asking for deviation
The Comp Plan and the LDC work together, with the Comp Plan providing the big picture idea of how the town should be and the LDC more narrowly defining how that should happen. The Comp Plan is the upper limit. TPI’s application is a rezoning request with deviation from the land development code, not the comprehensive plan.
TPI-FMB has requested the following deviations from its request:
1. To allow 290 rooms by calculating an equivalency factor of 12 instead of the maximum three as defined in the LDC. The town has a calculation to covert the number of allowed single-family homes on a property to the number of hotel or condo units which would be allowed. The highest multiplier now is three.
2. To allow the main resort and beachside building to be four stories and 40 feet tall over flood regulations. The LDC allows a three story, 40 foot building on the Gulfside of Estero, however the bayside is capped at three stories and 30 feet.
3. To allow a floor area ratio (FAR) of 1.6 for the entire property. Now part of the FAR for the property is 1.4 and the other part is 1.1. FAR determines how large a building can be based on its parcel size.
4. To allow a different buffer and sidewalk plan than the Type D stipulated in the LDC.
However, per the LDC, a proposal can ask for deviations to the town’s codes – if those deviations provide a public benefit to balance the request.
In Spikowski’s report, he outlines that by right, TPI could build an 84-room hotel, that is it could build this many rooms without asking council for permission. But the LDC specifically allows a request to increase the equivalency factor in 34-1803 (a)(2) if a developer can show that all other aspects of the development are compatible with the surrounding area, that the proposal not only meets but exceeds the standards in the comprehensive plan, and that the increased intensity does not exceed the maximum in the comprehensive plan.
The town has approved countless rezoning requests with deviations: Edison Beach House, Harbour House, Pink Shell and Matanzas Inn are just a few businesses which have benefitted from wiggle room provided by the allowance of deviations.
Beach House was supposed to build a park across the street in exchange for its deviations; however a few years after its rezoning approval it returned to ask to build a parking lot, instead of a park.
Pink Shell has been redeveloped a few times, both before and after the town incorporated. It traded an extra story on its main tower by removing a building on the bay side and turning the lot into parking.
TPI’s proposal has proffered what it claims are several public benefits.
One, its “beach club” section of development would come with an agreement to the town that would remove development rights to that property, so that even if decades from now the property changed hands, the beach area would not be able to be replaced with another hotel or resort.
It’s offered to open the beach club to paying public, adding an amenity for other vacationers and residents.
It’s proposed two pedestrian crossovers to help alleviate pedestrian crossing the street on Estero and Fifth Street. Approval of the Estero walkover is dependent on county approval as Estero is a county road. Green did not recommend a Fifth Street walkover.
Both walkovers would be ADA accessible. Green’s second supplemental report suggests these crossovers may not be often used by the public . In an entirely separate study, however, FDOT has proposed installing handrails from Fifth Street to Crescent Street to inhibit jaywalking. It was also considering walkovers at one time in the study, but has since cut them from potential ideas.
TPI’s project will build the town a new beach access and public parking lot in exchange for the vacation of Canal Street. To promote the park-once idea, TPI has suggested it will add an automated bike rental program, open for the public to use.
However, Green’s conclusion in the staff report said it’s up to the council to value the public benefit, and that he can’t recommend approval because the town will have no “back stop” if parking and traffic estimates turn out inaccurate. Green offered a list of stipulations if the council chose to grant deviations, in addition to conditions set forward by Spikowski and recommended by the LPA.
All the town’s documents on TPI, including the three staff reports, can be found on the town’s website at fortmyersbeachfl.gov.