Residents Voice Concerns at Ebbtide Hearing
About 20 people – many of whom were representing larger groups – showed up to testify at the final day of the Ebbtide development zoning hearing on Wednesday morning. County staff and some homeowners were in favor of the project, saying it would increase property values and bring upgrades to Main Street, but those opposed said that doesn't make up for the additional traffic the project will create and the loss of the 'small town' feel of San Carlos Island once the development is complete.
Rob Price, testifying for Lee County Community Development, said that the county had given San Carlos Boulevard a Level of Service (LOS) rating of B and C (last month, the Town of Fort Myers Beach's consultant gave the road an F rating because of the way traffic backs up during season). When the hearing examiner asked him about eliminating left turns onto San Carlos from Main Street, he replied that he'd check with Lee County Department of Transportation (LDOT).
"I think the idea of forcing traffic down Buttonwood is a good idea, but I don’t think we should put it in as a condition,” he said. "If we closed off the left onto San Carlos and forced them to go to the light at Buttonwood it would make people feel safer but may slow down the through traffic on San Carlos.”
When asked if – the decision was made to route traffic down Buttonwood – the applicant would be required to upgrade that road as well as Main Street, he said he wasn't sure.
"We did not analyze that intersection,” he said.
Emily Lane resident Charlie Whitehead asked Price what the county was going to require that the applicant do about the "deathtrap” curve on Main Street, and Price replied that the applicant would widen it to 24 feet.
Following Price's testimony, the hearing examiner heard from the public, after which the developers' representatives answered some of their questions.
Joanne Semmer - who lives on Oak Street near the edge of where the development will be located - spoke in favor of the project.
"I went over all the information provided and feel that what they are doing will only enhance the island,” she said. "This will increase property values and bring much needed upgrades to Main Street which the county has ignored for years.”
Janet Haldick of San Carlos Island disagreed.
"I have heard little that convinces me this will increase my quality of life,” she said. "As far as the traffic, a few years ago Taste of the Beach was held near my house and the traffic was so bad I felt trapped.”
"As far as the use of Buttonwood, I have sat through three light changes because cars go through the alternating light when it’s green and just sit there and you can’t squeeze in,” she continued. "Also, the residents are mostly middle class families and retirees who cannot afford luxury condos. We too, deserve our place in the sun and should not be forgotten about.”
John Keane said he doesn't see any problem with the development and Richard Bobatt – who said he was representing the residents of San Carlos Cove – said that he also supports it.
Walter Fluegel, Community Development Director for the Town of Fort Myers Beach, said that Town officials are not opposed to the project.
"Town Council met this past Monday, and they reiterated their concerns about traffic, but they are not opposed to this project and neither is the mayor,” he said. "As a Town, this is our only opportunity to say anything. I am concerned how we have this disparity in views amongst professionals – I think there is a difference in perception happening here - traditional, quantitative measures don’t always address all the issues. Some of these things have to be gotten at a different way.”
The project's loudest opponent was Whitehead, who spoke again as a representative of the residents of Emily Lane.
"We are made up of 80+ residents,” he said. "Many of us live there because there are no crowds and no high rises. The facts are that it will be a massive increase in density at the end of a dead-end road, through an already established neighborhood and will increase traffic. We are not against a reasonable redevelopment, but this is not a reasonable one.”
Whitehead then asked a number of questions including exactly how many boat slips there will be, what will be open to the public and what won't and if there will be any control over the size of the boats coming in and out of Hurricane Bay.
The developers' attorney, Matt Utley, replied that both the water taxi and shuttle – if needed – would be public.
"The hurricane shelter would not be open to other island residents since it will be sized to this project only.” he said. "There are 63 wet slips on the north side of the development, and 130 wet and 302 dry on the south side. The future number of slips has been capped at 850. The public will be welcome at all of the development that is commercial on the south side of Main Street, but anything in the residential area on the north side will not be open. Also, we have no plans for the submerged lands in Hurricane Bay.”
The developers' traffic consultant then explained that the county does not require them to determine a Level of Service for Main Street because it's considered a 'collector roadway'.
"These streets are assumed to have a LOS of E, which is 860 cars at peak hour,” he said. "With our project, we estimated – up to the year 2017 – there will be 700 vehicles, so it will actually improve the traffic conditions on the road.”
Project designer Joe McHarris explained that - when you increase height - you decrease the amount of land needed.
"We have also tried to decrease our footprint by providing several levels of parking under the buildings,” he said. "Mid-rises would cut off all views because it would create a wall. Higher means more light, more air, more green spaces.”
The Hearing Examiner findings will likely go before the Lee County Commissioners sometime early next year.
Keri Hendry Weeg