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Planners propose hotel to replace Topp’s building

January 30, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS (jmeadows@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A proposal to redevelop the old Topp's building on Estero Boulevard was met with apprehension in council chambers last week.

Al Quattrone of planning group Quattrone and Associates presented a plan for a hotel and commercial space on the 2.1 acre lot to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Advisory Board on Thursday.

"It's a visual blight on the Fort Myers Beach civic core," he said of the building that used to house the Topp's grocery store.

The plan, which town staff has yet to review, was brought before BORCAB to gather ideas about integrating the site with the recreational center next door.

He presented two options: residential, which would be easy to permit but have less opportunity to enhance the neighborhood, and hotel/commercial, which could bring people to Bay Oaks and provide retail spaces for the community to utilize, but would be more difficult to permit.

He proposed a 40-room boutique hotel with spa and wellness commercial space at the back of the lot and 20,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space in the front of the lot on Estero Boulevard.

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The hotel would be two stories over a parking garage, and the retail space could be one and two stories.

The lot's expired permit allowed for 13 dwelling units, or 32 hotel rooms, meaning they would need a deviation to put 40 rooms in the hotel, he said.

The group plans to include more green space, and create a sidewalk that could connect Bay Oaks to the beach and make it more accessible from Estero Boulevard.

"It's not very inviting to walk to Bay Oaks down the road. That's one of the things we can do," he told the board when asked about public benefit.

Some board members thought the plan seemed overbuilt.

"That's quite a bit of building on a two-acre lot in front of one of the older subdivisions... I've lived on the island for 65 years, I remember when those homes were built," said Lee Melsek.

"For me, I don't like to talk about anything before a developer talks to the adjacent property owners. I think that's the first thing you have to do. Before we start talking about trade-offs and what you can do for us, I'd like to hear what you can do for the property owners," he continued.

Mayor Tracey Gore, the board's council liaison, agreed that she felt the development seemed too big for the property, but reminded the public that the owners can build a hotel there under current code.

"A lot of what they're asking for is allowed by right... they can't have as many units as they want by right, so they're saying, to make it feasible for us, what can we do to help you," she told the board.

Several neighbors were present to comment.

Larry Abramoff, who lives on Tropical Shore Way, voiced concerns about noise from the hotel guests and increased traffic on his street.

Delbert Clark, who lives across the street on Estero Boulevard, agreed that the plan seemed overbuilt, and said he would prefer to see another grocery store replace Topp's.

"It's easier to leave for groceries to go to Walmart and get back on the island. It's faster. We're losing potential tax revenue, and I think the developers need to look at that," he said.

Quattrone replied that the owners, "an investment firm from out of town," asked his group to put together a plan for the highest and best use possible for the property, and said he didn't know why grocery stores had not been economically feasible.

Clark also said he would like to see a crosswalk go in on Gulf Beach Road to connect pedestrians to the beach access.

"We agree 100 percent on the crosswalk... so there actually is a walkable path from Bay Oaks to the beach," Quattrone replied.

"We appreciate being able to come here and present. Our intent isn't to come here and not talk to the public. We're definitely willing to talk to the public, and we want to get everybody's feedback before we go further with the project," Quattrone said.

He told the board that their plan could be ready to bring before the Local Planning Agency and then Town Council in 30 to 45 days.

"We know something is going to happen to that piece of property. It's too valuable to have it continue as a parking lot," Chair Betty Simpson said.

 
 

 

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