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business owners say, is the town process to build back is too cumbersome, costly, and some of the rules in the code are outdated for what they are dealing with post-Ian.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.