Is The Beach Rebuild Too Slow?

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Fort Myers Beach LPA member Patrick Vanasse says it is and he wants to move the process along. Vanasse has come up with 3 options he wants both the LPA and Town Council to consider that he believes will get smaller businesses rebuilding faster and give big developers clearer direction.

Vanasse’s build-back ideas stem from feedback he says he’s getting from small business owners on the island, big developers who were unhappy with the town’s refusal to make changes to the Comprehensive Plan and his personal view that things are just moving too slowly.

Part of the issue, small business owners say, is the town process to build back is too cumbersome, costly, and some of the rules in the code are outdated for what they are dealing with post-Ian. And, when they spend boatloads of money to present plans to the town, there’s no guarantee the final answer from the town will be a yes. It could be a long and costly no go.

Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak, who also owned the boutique Estero Boulevard hotel The Sea Gypsy before it was destroyed by Ian, told LPA members this week that the town needs to do more to help small business owners. “We need to put a process in place for the small business owners on the island, the owner/operators who were here before the storm. We need to find a path forward to help them get from a no to a yes. It’s going to take some creative work. We need to get out of the box of where we are, to get the small folks moving in the right direction.”

The Sea Gypsy, which Liszak owns with her husband Scott Safford (who’s also an LPA member), is on a piece of property that is 60 feet by 75 feet. She says unfortunately her hands are tied because what she could put back on the piece of land right now is so small they couldn’t pay for the building they would need to put there. Liszak estimated the building she would need to construct with all the current code rules would cost between $2 and $4 million. “The fact of the matter is if I can’t put something on that property it’s probably going to get sold to somebody else who’s going to put a bunch of property together and put up a big building. We need our small boutique hotels and little businesses back.” In order to make the Sea Gypsy financially feasible Liszak and Safford need the town to loosen up their height limitations and parking requirements.

Liszak went on to say that too many small business owners on the island can’t afford to write a $50,000 to $100,000 check to the town just to get to a no. “You’ve got to know you’ve got a yes before you lay that kind of money out otherwise these businesses are going to take their money somewhere else. Help us find a way.”

Liszak’s comments set LPA Chair Anita Cereceda off. During the discussion about The Whale proposal Cereceda said, “I feel like I’m off my game because I’m angry. I’m angry because if you all had any idea how much work we put into these cases…and when people who know that Jacki (Liszak) get up and make comments that we need to get to yes. When these comments are made, these catchy little phrases that we’ve got to get to yes, we have rules that we have to abide to and we agree to uphold those rules when we sit down in these chairs. When you make comments that we gotta get to yes, Mr. Fowler and Mr. Miller (the builder and owner of the Whale respectively) have to find a way. We don’t need to find the way, they need to find the way. It’s their project.”

You don’t often see an elected or appointed official use their position as chair to berate a public speaker as Cereceda did Tuesday. Later in the meeting she apologized for calling Liszak out.

So how does the town help a small business owner get to a yes quicker?

Back to Vanasse’s ideas.

He says, after the recent joint LPA/Town Council meeting, where they voted to stick to the Comprehensive Plan, he received many angry calls. The feedback he received was that the town was anti-development.

Vanasse proposed that the LPA recommend adoption of an amended Development Agreement process to help small business owners on Fort Myers Beach and speed up development.

There are 3 Development Agreement options that Vanasse was hoping to pitch to the Town Council Monday.
#1) The Small Hotel Development Agreement option that could grant additional density/lodging units, height and reduced setbacks without the need for a CPD.
#2) The Site Plan with Deviations Development Agreement Option that would simplify and streamline the variance process for small business owners.
#3) The Preliminary/Conceptual CPD Development Agreement that would provide an expedited review process for larger developments.
You can see more detail about Vanasse’s three options HERE

Vanasse believes the Development Agreements can trim the process in some cases by 9 months and will get business owners to a yes – or a no – quicker. He says it already has the OK from the town attorney. In fact this idea was first floated by Town Attorney Becky Voss several months ago but it wasn’t advanced. Vanasse says he’s just picking up the ball and running with it.

Vanasse added that this could be temporary, perhaps sunsetting after one year when the sense of urgency to get businesses back up and open dies down a bit. “We are one year in and there is no sense of urgency. We need to get the ball rolling. This is simple.”

In the end, Chair Cereceda would not allow Vanasse to take the idea to the Town Council because the LPA just saw it when he pitched it to them at the Tuesday meeting. “You just handed this to me. I’m not comfortable with you presenting it to the council.”

A special LPA meeting will be held December 12th to discuss the idea further.

30 COMMENTS

  1. This article addresses businesses. Homeowners would like to rebuild quickly also. I wonder if Jacki L. Got her approval for reducing the setback on her hibiscus property?

  2. I hope the city does not compromise the building codes in the favor of developers, Real estate agents and other commercial interest. We had too much traffic and to many buildings on the Island before Hurricane Ian and should try to avoid that situation in the future. Better to slow development and move forward carefully in order to support a better quality of life for FMB residents.

  3. Anita is not been open mind about variances, she just care about following the rules of CPD that is outdated with the need FEMA codes.

    • FEMA doesn’t say you must allow 6 and 10 stories and it doesn’t say you must rewrite your entire code.
      Only a few developers are saying that. And the people who buy their BS, such as the island can’t survive without a new comp plan and towering buildings.

  4. Unfortunately, ideas like this are being floated to the LPA by people with personal or business interest in getting around the comp plan and CPD. I honestly feel that a slower rebuild is better to avoid over the top development. Every home owner had to go through the permitting process and jump through hoop. Some being unable to rebuild no. Why should big developers get to skip the line and get what they want to the determinate of others that complied with the process and rule? The proposal came off during the LPA as very sneaky was of getting what the developers want and it appear Mr Vanessa has an agenda. Most of these new developers knew what they were buying and the code when the bought. If everyone gets more than where does that level FMB residents. Once these developments are approved and built there is no going back.

  5. Lets not give in to these crummy big developers that just want to do what they want with no repercussions. Our town coucil should consier certain permit lifts for people trying to rebuild as permitting 9/10 is just another way for government to make money. Disasters happen, and the FMB government is all too familiar and shouldnt hurt its businesses and tax payers because they were not prepared.

  6. Good for you Anita!
    Big Development is finallly out of the closet – they want the Comp Plan and building height limits buried. They’ve convinced some it’s the only way the island can survive. That’s BS of course, but
    what residents need now is a clear understanding of exactly who’s who in these conversations and even on the LPA.
    Records at Town Hall show Mr. Vanasse’s company is representing one of the island’s most controversial developments, Neptune. You have a right to know that and he has neglected to disclose it on his financial disclosure documents filed with the Lee County Elections office. He should publicly disclose once and for all his financial ties to that development at the next LPA meeting and even how much his company is being paid to help Neptune get what it wants.
    I’d say the fox is in the hen house here, but you can decide that for yourselves.

      • Except as he often does, Lee is exaggerating the truth, but to be fair he is a retired member of the legacy press so it’s in his blood. Patrick fully disclosed his financials for anyone wanting to view them. https://docs.lee.vote/financial-disclosure-statements/V/VANASSE%20PATRICK%202022.Form1.pdf

        Lee and others in his posse regularly accuse committee members and Council of unethical behavior without any facts. It’s despicable. These same people who make these accusations should file a for,Al complaint if they really have information (which they don’t) or maybe volunteer themselves to be part of the rebuild instead of a detractor to those who do.

        • Dear “Truth Seeker,”
          I challenge you to show us anywhere on Mr. Vanasse’s four years of financial disclosure forms where he identifies his client, the Neptune, or it’s owner, Continental Hospitality. It ain’t there seeker.
          Neptune is the name islanders know and whose plan they identify with.
          Mr. Vanasse and his company are the planners for the resort. His company and Continental Hospitality are joined in seeking serious changes to the comp plan, height limitations and zoning. They’ve asked Mr. Vanasse and his LPA to get that done.
          And Neptune may not be the only developer seeking comp plan and code changes he’s been hired to represent.
          Because of his financial relationship with the Neptune resort alone Mr. Vanasse’s objectivity in matters of comp plan and code changes is a legitimate concern.
          There’s a long standing concept that public officials should avoid even the appearance of conflict in play here, or should be. Mr. Vanasse either apparently isn’t familiar with, or doesn’t see value in, that concept.
          I’ ve simply raised legitimate questions about Mr. Vanasse’s membership and objectivity as an LPA member and it’s
          influence with the town council.
          He has publicly lobbied his colleagues on the LPA for changes to both the comp plan and height limits. He advocated it at a recent LPA meeting as option one in his plan for “small hotels,” whatever that is. The question is at what point would that become applicable to the needs of his client, the Neptune and Continental Hospitality.
          He can say he would refrain from voting on any specific issue regarding Neptune, but his votes for specific changes in the comp plan and building heights overall may well enure to his client’s needs.
          Truth is, he should avoid even the appearance of a conflict by abstaining on anthing regarding the comp plan and building heights.

  7. I don’t believe bigger us necessarily better, but I do believe the comp plan and other rules and regs need to be adjusted based on FEMA changes. Ground floors used as parking should not be considered building height. Tweaks not rewrites

  8. Everyone wants more – whether its density or height … because of codes.
    It is what it is – build better, NOT bigger.
    Business owners that can’t rebuild –
    like Sea Gypsy .., redidents have lost homes that cannot be rebuilt – no one is alone.
    Everyone would get a “yes” if they submit plans within the existing codes.
    Process for permits should be alot faster, that is what should be worked on.
    Any change “amendments” to anyone for density, height etc., is only going to unleash majors problems for anyone else wanting more density, height etc., –
    I commend Anita Cereceda !!!
    I too was very pleased to hear LPA and Town upheld the Plan.
    Has anyone looked around this small island, it does not, by any means, need nor want ( speaking for residents …) more density or height !
    Anyone living, doing business on a small barrier Island knows about the posdibility of Hurricanes and its potential destruction.
    Post – Ian, tragically everyone, residents and business owners cannot rebuild the homes and businesses they lost.
    No one is alone, or singled out !
    Having these types of meetings — let’s change this, amend that — is only prolonging any rebuilding at all on this little island.
    Submit plans within specifications on the books – get permitting faster.
    Density = more traffic. It appears NO one wants to addrress this.

  9. Jackie was spot on !! And Patrick being a resident and LPA member is getting the thru sentiment of the business owners and Residents!
    The facts are that the town has not done anything to assist , lead or guide our community to Rebuilding!! And it’s been 14 months and counting!!
    Please listen to Patrick and Jackie !! These are the folks that care about our community and it’s businesses and wants to see us have all of our businesses back , without change to the comp plan !! No small business will afford to reopen!! Anita as a small business owner you are aware of the hardships !! The cost to rebuild is enormous plus add the comp plan and codes requirements and it is impossible for most small business If any commercial properties are rebuilt, no small business will be able to afford the RENT !!

  10. Anita’s intentions and love for FMB are unquestionable, however I feel she is too invested in its past to be open-minded enough to embrace a new Post-Ian vision. She is very smart and must know that in her heart, and that was the source of her anger, not actually Jacki’s comments. We are all angry that Ian wiped away the reason all of us loved FMB and live here so nobody has exclusivity on that emotion, however Jacki spoke the undeniable truth about the need to change the process to accelerate life and rebuild FMB with a new vision, and it was not directed at any individual. The Town drastically needs leadership on its committees and Council who have the self-awareness to stop living in the past and blaze a totally new trail for future generations. The fact that even the Council already decided the Pre-Ian Comprehensive Plan created in the 1990’s doesn’t need major revision just illustrate how disconnected the Town and its Leadership is from reality on this major topic, in my opinion.

  11. As a nonresident my suggestion would be to find a community that successfully rebuilt after a hurricane and model their actions. With all the storms that Florida experiences, surly there is a good example out there to follow. Best Wishes 🙏

  12. People are sleeping at the wheel – we are in the most precarious time in FMB history , couple that with real world reality and you are going to see all kinds of projects pulled and mothballed because Numbers don’t work and can’t work with all the lack of common sense and Bureaucratic insanity.
    Not only don’t the numbers work for small businesses , they don’t work for homeowners either and lastly the Big Corporate Money dries up –
    Thank God for Patrick’s proposal –
    It’s a big improvement from Anita embarrassing herself and making it about her or the guy who needs to “protect the Code” –
    We are on the edge of a disaster much worse than the natural disaster called IAN, we are following DC on slippery slope of a historic man made crisis that could take decade or more to recover from.
    MATH doesnt work and FMB can’t print its own FIAT money

    • Not really sure what “numbers dont work” for homeowners means. Many new single family homes being built. And I think once the big corporate money realizes its not “open season” here, we will see projects more in line with what FMB has always been. The only disaster waiting is giving away the farm in the name of quick progress.

  13. I was surprised and pleased that both the LPA and Town voted to uphold the Plan and LDC. I dont want haste to allow developers to over build this place I call home. As for the Sea Gypsy, that place wasnt just grandfathered in, it was great-great- grandfathered in. 4 units on a 4625 square foot lot that would need a variance to build a single family house. And now they are asking for more units to “make the numbers work”. As business people, the owners had to have been aware of a redevelopment or disaster buildback problem. Anita’s emotional response was unfortunate, but I would guess she feels under assault.

  14. Slow as molasses, my RE bill is $20K+ to live in a war zone! Most reconstruction has been band aid approach, and without a viable downturn area we go nowhere, where’s the state and county helping out? I’m confident that they are missing some of the $54M in tourist taxes collected in 2021. I posted a comment about loosening rules and regs in a FB post moths ago regarding Moss Marine and got lambasted, it’s very sad and I sympathize with small business who can’t afford to spend tens of thousands on plans and permitting and get nowhere. Without significant changes we’ll be living on this blighted island for years to come.

  15. I watched the mtg as well and this seems like a great way to help the current owners get back what they had reasonably! Just getting our house plans ready to submit to permitting has taken a year already and we aren’t building anything out of the ordinary (1500 s ft). It is not cool. We signed with a reputable builder a year ago. Seems like every move takes forever.

    • Agree, love that Margaritaville will be up and running, bringing in some well needed tourists and tax dollars! We need more nice tourists resorts like this!

    • Just change the code for building stores , resturant and bars.This is not adding rooms/people or any parking.
      These are in a commercial zone anyways .

      This will help make walk only zones which is awesome!!

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