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TPI proposal forges ahead, with compromise

Fort Myers Beach Council votes unanimously to move rezoning to second hearing

April 10, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It was unanimous, and emotional: TPI-FMB is moving forward to its second hearing with support from council.

In a 5-0 vote Tuesday following a two-day meeting, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council moved the TPI-FMB rezoning request to its second hearing.

After 14 hours over two days of discussion and deliberation, council came mostly to a consensus over the requests of the development's requested deviations and proffered public benefits.

Article Photos

Mayor Tracey Gore and Tom Torgerson embraced after a 5-0 vote to move the project to its second hearing.

"How lucky we have been to be here right now," Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp said, before making the motion to move the project to its second hearing.

Now, the project's team, town staff and attorneys will go back to finalize the language and conditions of the rezoning request for second and final hearing at the Town Council's second May meeting, currently scheduled for Monday, May 21.

"It was very emotional for me today. It's a lot, but I really wanted to give you a 5-0 because I appreciate that you brought in the community," Mayor Tracey Gore said.

After applause, and handshakes around, TPI developer Tom Torgerson had a smile on his face - but said his brain was dead after two days of intense talks.

"I'm happy for the whole community," he said. "It's the right outcome, the right decision. It's a healing thing."

The unanimous vote didn't come without some significant changes to the TPI-FMB proposal, several of which Torgerson offered up himself.

"I'm relieved. There were a lot of concession ... the original design is scaled back," Gore said. "Not everyone will be happy, but at the end we all compromised and came together."

During Monday's arduous council meeting, which lasted nearly nine hours, Torgerson sweetened the deal with some perks that piqued council's attention.

Torgerson showed a scaled down version of his current plan, that cut the overall height to 50 feet at the roof, reduced the room count to 254, scrapped the business center plan for the parcel next to Lighthouse Resort, and also eliminated the use of the Ocean Jewel property.

This changed the original proposal of 290 rooms.

In addition, Torgerson revealed he is under contract to purchase 15 acres of property at the corner of San Carlos Boulevard and Pine Ridge Road, at 17365 San Carlos Blvd. He thinks 370 parking spaces proffered at the resort sufficiently contain his project's needs, but offered to turn part of that property into a temporary off-island parking lot as a "backstop" to mitigate concerns about the discrepancies in parking numbers in the applicant, town staff and consultant Bill Spikowski's report. The latest numbers, as of Monday: Community Development Director Jason Green says 604 including the park once discount but not the employee parking; Spikowski says 371 including the discount and employee parking; and TPI-FMB says 370, because of the more than 100 bike rental racks it's proposing grant it a one-space discount.

Shamp said she'd like TPI to "give" Ocean Jewel to the town - and, Torgerson indicated it was a deal that could be struck if TPI could be allowed to keep the rerouted Canal Street parking lot, which it's also giving to the town, in the design it had planned. Green had suggested TPI should have to widen the parking lot to 70 feet.

"We never intended to give you that property, but we can put that on the table," Torgerson said.

While TPI may not have planned to give Ocean Jewel to the town, trading it for something has always been a tactic: when TPI first attempted to apply for the rezoning, it had hoped to trade Ocean Jewel for part of Lee County's Seafarer's property with the reasoning that Ocean Jewel poses a critical point in future transportation needs. In those beginning stages of what's now TPI-FMB, the developer preferred Ocean Jewel to be transferred into public ownership. That talk died down when the county declined to negotiate - but it looks like Torgerson might have offered a deal the Town Council can't pass up.

Council Member Anita Cereceda said she had been ready to approve the project as it was, the 290 rooms and all, because of the valuable trade-off of removing development rights from TPI's Gulfside property, a public benefit TPI offered when it applied.

But Shamp said she'd come prepared to only allow about 163 rooms - until TPI showed its "bottom line" alternatives.

"They just threw in some more value," she said.

By cutting out the business center, and the Ocean Jewel building that currently houses the Chamber of Commerce, the developer offered up another view corridor - without those buildings, a pedestrian could see almost straight to the Gulf at the base of the bridge.

Shamp also asked if it'd be possible for TPI to architecturally stagger its Crescent Street frontage. Crescent Street is still home to several residential properties, and Primo Drive is also nearby.

The "wall" of development was a primary concern to Spikowski, town consultant and author of the comprehensive plan, a stance he'd made clear when he reviewed the plan in August. TPI had offered up a vegetative lattice type buffer between the floor-level parking and what it considers attractive variation in the building facade.

"I really think there is a problem with the low buildings, but we know from the record they support it," Spikowski said.

The surrounding Crescent Street property owners - businesses and resident - have all told council either by public comment, letter or email that they supported the project as proposed. Even Doris Grant, a long-time Crescent Street resident who would be across the street from TPI's entrance, said she supports the project.

Cereceda pointed out that if residential redevelopment continued along the same track that can be seen throughout the rest of the island, TPI's height on Crescent Street would be compatible with its neighbors.

Any new home built has to be built above flood level, and therefore the living space is elevated. She said the new homes at the Gulf end of Jefferson Street, where she lives, are nearly 50 feet tall to the top of the roof architectural features - which are not, by code, counted in total height.

"Crescent Street will redevelop like that," she said - and reminded her council that she's been trying to get its members to think about that kind of redevelopment that's changing the island.

"In reality, it will be alarming and that's to code," Shamp said.

The staggering was not brought up again Tuesday, and consensus was reached to approve a maximum height of 52 feet with three stories over flood elevation.

Gore said she wanted to help TPI out, but didn't know how to, by code, get from 84 rooms by right to the requested 254, a concern Shamp had also expressed during parts of the meeting but had resolved by the end. Cereceda tasked her to think of the value proffered by the Gulf development rights being given up - a public benefit that Spikowski also reiterated was unlikely to happen elsewhere.

"Not building on the beach is a significant thing," he said. "I can't imagine anyone else considering that."

He added that the code allowed for deviations in trade for something that valuable, that if the developer would "give up" something that significant, it's fair to give them slack on something else. He also said that the language of the rezoning could so narrowly condition TPI-FMB as to make it an exception, not a precedent-setter.

Shamp agreed the trade was valuable, and agreed it was fair once Ocean Jewel was tossed in.

"It's not just the view, it meets a lot of our goals of diminishing density on the beach front. It's an exceptional circumstance that's not likely to be replicated," she said. "Other resorts own property on both sides (of Estero). I cannot imagine many of them to move off the beach front."

Tuesday, Shamp said she preferred not to grant a deviation to density using the multiplier method, but she'd rather award extra density based on the public benefits the development was proffering to the town, a method three of five agreed to support.

Gore asked to have the beach access moved from between the public restaurant and the beach club to between the restaurant at the Salty Crab, as she felt the beach access would be easier for the public to use in that location.

TPI-FMB had agreed to increase the parking lot it's donating to the town at the southern end of its property to a width of 67 feet, rather than the original 61 feet. That increase was going to cut into the beach club - so moving the other beach access north actually allowed Torgerson make up that loss.

This near-consensus came around 6 p.m. Monday, following lengthy discussion and more than two hours of public commentary. The Chamber of Commerce provided lunch for all the meeting attendees during a midday break. Tuesday, the council spent several hours hashing out the exact details of different concerns so it could send the proposal to its second hearing with a general agreement among council and the applicant.

More than 40 people spoke during public comment to put in their two cents; the majority, about 25 people made up of residents and property owners, spoke out in overwhelming support of the project. Of the dissenters, there were about three residents, one resident both a hotelier and Voice of FMB member, and several other Voice of FMB members. The Voice also brought two outside consultants and an attorney to speak against the project.

Some residents continued to be concerned with traffic impacts. Bob Boykin, one of the Pink Shell owners, says he already has guests threatening to not come back because they don't want to deal with the traffic.

For Dawn Ferguson, season traffic is a signal of an economically-healthy island.

Ferguson, a south-end resident, said she's noticed businesses are down this year. Restaurants where she'd normally not get into seem empty. She expects to hit traffic on Estero Boulevard headed north during the latter part of the day - and is concerned if she doesn't.

"I get worried for the businesses and the people who live here," she said.

She and several other residents expressed concern with the negative path they saw the town going: shuttered businesses and increased crime activity in Times Square.

"TPI has worked diligently. It fulfills a vision to create a thriving environment," said island resident Megan Zelenak "Every person has a stake in this project. We're unlikely to see another development team who will work with the community."

Ray Murphy, one of the members of the first Town Council, urged the council to approve the project.

Fort Myers Beach measures its time in hurricanes, and by his estimation, the Helmrich Plaza area was blighted before Charley. When the new bridge was installed, Old San Carlos became blighted because the new main street didn't go down it anymore. The town put a plan together to revitalize it. The council also closed Times Square into a pedestrian plaza during that time.

All these things were done for the greater good, Murphy said.

He estimated during his time in town government, he'd heard more than 150 rezoning cases in six years, and TPI was a good one.

"I have never heard a development come in like this. Never," he said. "You have the best plan you're ever going to see. It's your legacy. Do it."

 
 

 

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