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Lines in the sand

As TPI’s proposal approaches the LPA, locals are taking sides

February 7, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In six days, the much-anticipated TPI Hospitality Times Square Resort will go under the Local Planning Agency's lens for the first time.

The plan, and an extensive staff review, are available now on the Town of Fort Myers Beach's website.

Part of the staff review includes insight and comment from Bill Spikowski, a local planner who was brought on as a consultant to the town for the project. Spikowski has a long history with the town, being the planner who helped develop the town's comprehensive plan when it incorporated.

But rather than make a recommendation, these comments break down the council's options.

"In a simple case, staff recommendation is a yes or no. but the way that comp plan and LDC are written, council has some discretion," Spikowski said. "I'm not telling them what they should do. I

helped them with the information they need to make a decision."

Fact Box

What TPI Hospitality can build "by right"

84 hotel rooms

Three stories and 40 feet in height, measured from the base flood level, on the Gulfside of the property, three stories and 30 feet on the bayside

What TPI Hospitality seeks to build with deviation requests:

290 hotel rooms

Four stories and 40 feet in height on the bayside for the bulk of the resort, four stories and 40 feet in height , measured from the base floor level, on the Gulfside for one building

TPI's proposal to town requires a rezoning of the property to a commercial planned development zoning district. It does not require any amendments or deviations to the comprehensive plan. But, the project is asking for deviations from the land development code.

"They (TPI) are following the comprehensive plan and the code, the LDC contemplated that they're allowed to ask for deviations," Spikowski said. "I've heard arguments about why people disagree with what I say, but I'm confident the project would be consistent. The council has discretion."

TPI's resort and beach club project asks for the following deviations:

1. To allow up to 290 rooms based on an adjusted density calculation for rooms smaller than 450 square feet;

2. To allow the resort building to be 40 feet tall with four stories;

3. To allow a floor ratio area of 1.6; and

4. To allow a different buffer and sidewalk plan than the 15-foot buffer plan required for Estero, Crescent and Fifth.

The first deviation requires than deviations 2 and 3 also be approved. The LDC determines the maximum intensity for a hotel or resort based on a calculation: one to three hotel units for every single-family dwelling unit that could be built on the same property. The one-to-three calculation depends on a site's place on the future land use map, and the highest number is used on sites within the Pedestrian Commercial category, which includes the TPI project's 5.07-acre footprint.

If TPI wanted to build a hotel "by right," or without having to ask for deviations, it could build an 84-unit hotel, according to the staff report.

The LDC does allow for a request for a higher multiplier than three - hence, TPI's deviation request. TPI is asking that since a majority of its rooms will be under the 450-square-feet calculation, that it get a higher multiplier of 12 for the smaller rooms.

Spikowski provides pros and cons for this set of deviations; for example, by placing the bulk of the resort on the bay side of Estero Boulevard, TPI is providing a view corridor to the beach, but but approving four stories at 40 feet along Crescent street might be "alarming."

"The subject property includes some of the most blighted parcels in town, presenting a poor impression to residents and visitors as they arrive," the comments read, adding later in the 'cons:' "The design of this resort achieves some but not all of the benefits of promising redevelopment concepts for this immediate area."

"They can have 84 units by right. They have to ask for the 290," Spikowski said. "That's up to the council. They have to look at the whole package."

While traffic and parking are always the first concern expressed, Spikowski said he doesn't believe the impacts will be negatively significant on either issue.

"This development does not exceed the level of service standard for traffic," he said.

Traffic counts are generated by the number of trips to and from a development, and because of its location, trips can include pedestrians, bicyclists and trolley riders as well as vehicles.

The proposal would add 56 trips to the current trip level during peak morning hours; 17 to peak evening hours and 853 to weekday trips.

"It's surprisingly low," Spikowski said. "It's not because the hotel is small, but because of the current trips going to that property."

The current development has the 70-unit Pierview Hotel and and shops and a parking lot at Helmerich Plaza - which draws a lot of vehicles, he said. But the flipside to that is, the current parking lot will be eliminated and people who parked there will now be traveling elsewhere to find a spot.

And, the 366 spaces for parking in the proposal are nearly sufficient for both the resort and the beach club.

Spikowski said the development might be five spaces short based on his calculation, but that's it. Parking is otherwise accounted for, for both the resort and the beach club concept.

By making the ground level of the resort a valet-only lot, TPI can stack cars tighter into the lot. The developer is also going to utilize mechanical lifts that allows cars to be lofted and placed over the top of each other, granting even more space - a good thing. Spikowski said the town doesn't want a big, expansive parking lot.

"(A lift) is common a lot of places. You do it in cities where parking is scarce," Spikowski said. "It will be the first on Fort Myers Beach, maybe first in Lee County."

The valet lot includes enough spots for the paying public who want to go to the beach club across the street.

If the development were outside the downtown area, it would have to provide 553 spots. But because the denser commercial district uses a different calculation, it's a smaller requirement.

Throughout his and staff's review, Spikowski analyzes the application, the development and its deviations and provides options to the council based on each analysis. Those options include an option to approve as applied, to approve with amendments or to deny. The application will go under review by the LPA before going to council, and the public can comment at the LPA meetings and the town council meetings to bring forward their thoughts and opinions about the TPI proposal.

"It's what we have been looking forward to, a public setting where the community can actually evaluate the plan and make their feelings known," said John Gucciardo, the project spokesman, TPI consultant and former deputy town manager.

Taking sides

The TPI proposal goes before the LPA Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 9 a.m. It will be the only item on the agenda and the first opportunity for public comment.

But many residents and business owners have already made up their minds about the project.

Carla Pine is a Fort Myers Beach resident and owner of Salty Dog Gallery and Gifts. She's had her business on the island for 12 years, and she's ready to see something change.

"Our town is very tired-looking. It looks worn out, like no body loves it anymore," she said. "We need some fresh blood. We need to put some life back into it."

Pine believes some of those against the project have their mindsets stuck: "get out of the 1950s," she said. She doesn't want to hear complaints about potential traffic issues, either. She compares Fort Myers Beach traffic complaints to 14 lanes of road rage in Miami - and also, the beach can't expand to fix the back up, she said.

"I get annoyed with people and the traffic issue," she said. "It's an island. I don't want to hear it. You know what you're getting into."

Pine's concerned that turning away something that would attract visitors could start a trend. There are a few empty storefronts on Estero Boulevard, and Pine doesn't want to watch Fort Myers Beach's industry die.

"Typically I don't put myself out there for these political discussions, but this is our livelihood. People don't realize that the backbone of our island is tourism," she said. "Our beautiful island is not so beautiful right now. Town Council needs to get their head out of the sand and help (Torgerson) get this done."

Steve Duello, also a beach resident, thinks the timing is right for Torgerson to uplift the downtown area. Since Hurricane Charley, the commercial area's seen a lot of empty storefronts.

He's happy to see that Torgerson has pulled together several of the dilapidated properties under one ownership and brought them together to propose something that "makes sense" for the beach.

"I know there's a faction on the island that say keep everything it's fine, but i don't know how you can say that with a clear vision," he said.

While he's a proud resident of the island, he thinks the entrance needs help to look better.

Duello supports the deviation requests to add more rooms. While he thinks the traffic impacts will be the most talked-about issue, he doesn't think the impact will be significant enough to justify halting the project, and he's worried that the council will "spook" Torgerson with too much push-back.

"He's done an exceptional job of listening to the island, sat down with numbers of individuals and entities," Duello said. "It scares me to think of if the Town Council gets together and turns it down."

Pine and Duello are both members of the TPI Facebook page, TPI-FMB, in which the developer has gathered supporters to help spread their opinions and pick up banners and yard signs to display their pro-TPI stance.

However, another group opposing the TPI proposal as it is now is also rustling up support.

The Voice of FMB started up when Torgerson originally unveiled the Grand Resorts plan, which faced immediate backlash. Now that the Times Square plan is nearing the LPA, The Voice has been getting more vocal in its opposition. The organization of business owners and residents hired a public relations firm, CONRIC PR & Marketing*, to manage and reach out to the local area to spread information.

In its press releases, the Voice claims "we say yes to development, no to overdevelopment."

Robert Boykin, a Voice member and co-owner of the Pink Shell Resort, said the group isn't against TPI Hospitality or Tom Torgerson: they only object to the requests to deviate from the LDC and increase the hotel's density and intensity.

"Candidly, I hope that Torgerson can figure out a project that will improve that park of town," he said. "It desperately needs something."

But he considers the requested deviations as "a pretty material variance to the LDC."

The parking plan has to include parking for employees, but Boykin doesn't think it will be enough. TPI has suggested it will encourage employees to take public transportation from an off-island location to get to work, so as to mitigate parking constraints. But Boykin said that just looks good on paper.

"I get it, ask for what you can and take what you can get," he said. "Being a hotel operator myself, it looks good on paper but not what will happen."

Doug Speirn-Smith, owner of Matanzas Inn, said he's not against change, but thinks the beach is built out.

"It would be nice to see new development there, a positive change," he said. "I don't think the beach needs a lot of a lot more. It's already built out."

The original Grand Resorts plan was intense, but Speirn-Smith said this plan is "in many cases equally extreme." With all of the deviations, it's adding more intensity. He would prefer to see something like the old Seafarer's CPD, which was a two-story building with retail shops over parking. With the "by right" allowances, a developer could also put in an interesting, profitable boutique resort, too.

"It's not a good place to put an urban intensity resort," he said. "I think we could do better.

Both Speirn-Smith and Boykin said they didn't have a problem with "good competition" from a new hotel. Both also said having a new hotel would be good - "The beach could use some new inventory," Boykin said. "We support a new hotel. He appears to be a good operator."

But, they, and presumably the rest of The Voice, want a TPI proposal that sticks to the code.

"If (the town) gets this wrong, it's going to be wrong for a very long time," Boykin said. "It comes down to a couple big items. If he addresses those, we'll stand up and clap for him."

Correction: *In a previous version of this article, the name of the PR firm hired by Voice of FMB was incorrect. We apologize for this error.



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