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County has role to play as Fort Myers Guest opinion: Beach development moves forward

June 29, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

An opportunity now exists to come up with options to help traffic flow and improve on bicycle and pedestrian safety at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge on the north end of Fort Myers Beach.

It will take a collective effort between the Town, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Lee County, TPI Hospitality and the Margaritaville Resort. The County has made a verbal commitment to lead stakeholders and to facilitate that discussion. County staff is beginning to look at conceptual options which should result in a very preliminary plan, hopefully by later this summer.

TPI and the Town have completed a grueling approval process that most believe will change the face of Fort Myers Beach forever. In that process, the Town was able to accept property that was formerly the location of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce site.

Article Photos

Larry Kiker

That constricted and congested area could potentially now have more proverbial elbow room, given the now-public ownership of that site. Lee County's ownership of the old Seafarer's property and the Crescent Beach Family Park also adds to the publicly owned footprint. For over a year, FDOT has continued its work studying the base of the bridge and its traffic patterns, while accommodating for bike and pedestrian safety on the bridge.

All of this is triggering the need for collaboration and conversation.

Lee County and the Town have significant work to do - and are fully committed to - finishing the Estero Boulevard project, including the portion at the north end. Completion of the north end portion could be a similar experience we encountered during Segment 1, where we saw how complicated it was but how gratifying the results were.

To me, the conversation that needs to happen now is obvious. We have an opportunity with the Town, TPI, FDOT and the County to get this right. We can create an entryway to the Beach that is aimed at safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, helping to sort out traffic and make it attractive all at the same time. During that dialogue we can discuss the options that are available. For example, the BoCC could declare the old Seafarer's property as surplus and place it on the open market for bid. This would surely result in another project to be built in that bustling and congested area.

On the other hand, for years the County has had many discussions and regular meetings with the Town (beginning when Bob Raymond was mayor and all the others since to set the timeframe) on what could take place. We explored many good ideas. The problem was that all of the pieces of the puzzle were never all there. Now they are!

The County's intent was always to leave the very north tip of the Estero Boulevard project until the end. The single biggest discussion leading to a correct decision is to increase the right of way anywhere we can in that immediate area. This will take - as noted - cooperation from everyone that can be involved. It may mean concessions resulting in land swapping, ridding development rights, and of course more funding.

This possibility was not discussed during the TPI/FMB approval and it has not been a consideration for the FDOT study either. All of this should be accomplished before any major changes are made moving forward, and frankly it does not have to be a complicated process.

TPI has noted verbally that they would cooperate as much as they can, with the underlying theme that no actions will become a catalyst to begin another approval process. The Town indicated that its interest would be based on the initial plan, when it was ready. Both parties indicated that the primary goal would be to not build any additional buildings and use the space for a view corridor. Both acknowledged the need for the bicycle, pedestrian and traffic opportunities.

Lee County has alerted FDOT that we would like its assistance in the formation of a preliminary plan that would begin the process to identify critical paths so that they can be addressed. We have to get this right, and now is the time. Of course there will be plenty of public input, and hopefully the end result will be the crown we all have always hoped for.

- Larry Kiker represents District 3 on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners



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