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Town OK's Lighthouse Island after debate

November 29, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Despite numerous issues that individual members of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council had with the Lighthouse Island Resort, it still approved a measure Monday by a 4-1 vote to amend the zoning of the land and the previously revised concept plan.

However, the mayor believes the text of the final draft sets a dangerous precedent and will open a pandora's box.

At issue was exactly how the approval would go, as well as the fact that the project has taken many years and is nowhere close to being finished on time.

Lighthouse was approved for 72 hotel rooms in 2003, with the five-phase plan to be finished by 2020.

Owner Tom Kohler and Dennis Boback made an agreement that the Kohlers would buy property near Bay Oaks Recreation Center and donate it to the town in exchange for allowing Kohler to keep the cottage that was there, which was slated to be demolished a decade ago.

This technically gave Lighthouse 75 units.

Mayor Tracey Gore said that while she loves that the parcel will enhance Bay Oaks, the transfer of density halfway across town rather than in close proximity (which the development code requires), sets a precedent she is not comfortable with.

Council was able to get around this by declaring an "extraordinary circumstance" for public benefit.

"I don't want to be the first Council to approve a transfer of any density halfway down the island," Gore said. "I'm afraid everyone is going to worry about what will be transferred next to them, like a hotel. Meanwhile, they hadn't done anything they were supposed to do going back to 2003."

Anita Cereceda wanted a straight transfer because it was cleaner, easier, and because the Kohler's were willing to donate the land to Bay Oaks.

"I'm picking my battle because the big picture is I want that parcel for Bay Oaks. I'm in a bowl of soup," Cereceda said.

Joanne Shamp was concerned with the length of time the project was taking and the lack of follow-through on many proposed plans, such as combining the five parcels they had into one.

Shamp wanted to see completion by 2023, while the Kohlers asked for 2028. It was decided the project was to be completed by 2025.

They also wanted to see the units combined by the end of February and the completion of the next phase by the end of 2023.

In other business, staff is working on an update of the code to clarify common issues and consider amendments to things like permitted uses and special exceptions.

As it was the first of two public hearings and there are many issues that need to be hashed out (such as dunes and walkovers), Council decided to discuss the issue further at a planning meeting, with a second hearing date to be decided.

Council also voted to authorize the town manager to enter into an agreement with Chris-Tel Construction to manage the installation of a concrete sidewalk on Estero Boulevard from Lani Kai to Times Square.

The town did not bid out this project because Chris-Tel is responsible for the sidewalks and right-of-way reclamation along Estero Boulevard, as part of its improvement project.

Town Council also moved an ordinance to amend the Land Development Code to a second hearing, adding language that the special magistrate shall be appointed to serve in an ex-officio capacity to address any dual office holder concerns. The Town can also select another special magistrate or substitute the magistrate in the case of a conflict or concern.

Council also voted 4-0 to authorize the town manager to provide collection services for the Times Square merchants until Jan. 31, 2019, using the same fee from 2017-18. Cereceda abstained due to conflict of interest.



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