Underneath the ruins of Beach Baptist Church, neighborhood residents and elected officials attended an informational meeting about a proposed redevelopment plan for the Beach Baptist property. Most of the chatter had to do with a plan to plop an 8-story 40-unit condo building right on the edge of Estero Boulevard.
Beach Baptist Pastor Shawn Critser made a short opening announcement about his desire to work with the community and build a church on the property that would last the next 100 years. He then answered questions from concerned neighbors about the project as others who attended the meeting looked at pictures of the plans and shared their comments with the development team. A comment at the top of one of the big pads of paper summed up a lot of what people were talking about during the 3-hour session; “No 8-story condo building.”
The development team believes a project like this has a chance to be approved. They said one reason was when you drive up and down Estero Boulevard you see homes mixed in with condo buildings everywhere. They will now take the comments from the community and rework their plan before submitting the paperwork to the Local Planning Agency. Critser says he expects the proposal to go before the LPA next month for their initial consideration.
The Beach Baptist Church was completely destroyed by Hurricane Ian. The church did not have insurance. Critser would like to rebuild a church that seats 500 and add 36 work-force housing units that would be built above the church that the church would own and operate. Without insurance money to help rebuild, Critser’s plan is to trade some of the land to a developer who would then build the church free and clear.
That developer is Steve Collins out of Atlanta. Collins is the founder of SJ Collins Enterprises, a company he founded in 2007. You can view some of the projects Collins has built HERE, which include several Whole Foods Market’s across the country, including the location built in 2018 in Fort Myers.
In order to make the numbers work to rebuild the Beach Baptist Church, Collins says he needs to construct an 8-story 40-unit condo building on the property. Each unit would sell in the “multi-millions.” You can watch our interview with Collins from the meeting Thursday HERE. When we asked him how low he’d be willing to go with the condo building he did not have an answer. The original plan was for the building to be 13 stories. That was knocked down to 8 after initial meetings with local elected officials.
The 3.2 acres of church property is currently zoned Institutional and the plan put forth by this development team does not fit within the town’s current Land Development Code. Toward the end of the meeting Critser said he believed the feedback about the project was about 50-50. Councilman Bill Veach, who we also interviewed yesterday, and also lives in that neighborhood, said he’s herd from several long-time residents who told him they would sell their property if the project is approved.
You can watch our coverage of the entire event yesterday HERE which includes 2 interviews with Crister, everyone on the development team and Town Council members John King and Bill Veach.
The town council was elected by the FMB taxpayers to listen to and represent THEM.
This church is wiling to screw it’s neighbors to get a huge new building which will be paid for by the developers. It’s a bribe and a scam and our council needs to represent the will of it’s constituents. To do otherwise is unconscionable. If they start supporting developers like this one and making exceptions to the existing building codes they should be held accountable by each and everyone of US.
Remember, any elected servant in Florida can be recalled after having served 1/4 th of their term. Maybe it’s time to start removing those eligible to open the eyes of the newbies. Only then will they learn they work at the pleasure of the residents and property owners of this small community. Over the last 8 months this town is the only community giving residents a hard time over permitting. It is still next to impossible to talk with someone at the utilities department either by internet and by phone.
What happened to the “tree line” height legislation? Vary it, shame on The Town of FMB.
Sell some land, build what you can.
It was your choice NOT to have insurance.
Residents, especially the residents in the area, should not be paying the price going forward for the poor choices made and options decided by the Church for their benefit.
An 8 story – 40 Unit Condo,
Church – seats 500 ( did not know that..!!.)
Workforce housing managed by the Church to benefit – ARE YOU SERIOUS ?
Hopefully, Town Council will listen to the residents that voted for them, as noted in these comments.
Not only is an 8 story building too tall, the 76 proposed homes on one side of less than half the depth of Connecticut is grossly excessive
I live on Andre Mar which backs up to the church property, we had approximately 50 total units on the entire street pre hurricane and the town is restricting many to less than what was there prior
The density should be restricted to no more than 20 total housing units, be they SFH, condos or townhomes
Sell it and move on. These people that say they don’t want change. I ask you this. Do you drive the same car you drive when you started to drive. How about a 6 -10 year old car. I doubt it. Because you like change. You like shiny new things. Get over the old beach feel. What you are referring to is actually run down old crap. Just like your old car was. Oh and btw. I lost my restaurant on time square so I have skin in the game here. Change is good. Period.
correct, people should check the zoning around where they live and what could possibly be built in their area to begin with. Too many people on FMB got a free ride for too long living in subpar housing with no code updates, if you not up to code then you probably were not insured either. You can’t stop the money that investors and builders have to put into new properties.
Old Florida feel means basically means crap just like was stated. There are a handful of bars and eateries that will still be there that have that feel.
I do feel that the residential zoning should stay the same to prevent numerous high rises from going up.
I hope I’m speaking for most of the residents when I say that we do not want any more high rise buildings and don’t want our island to look or be as congested as Marco Island. It has nothing to do with old structures versus developments or not wanting change, it’s no more high density units on the island. Peak season is already a congestion nightmare without adding more and more units.
I agree with the commenters who say to the church: sell off some of your property, build a modest new church, and get some insurance. Put God first in your thoughts, not money.
I don’t have a dog in this fight since I don’t live on FMB, so I don’t really get an opinion that counts, but I am so in support of the residents who are opposed to this. I think it’s unconscionable that the church board, if there is one, allowed this uninsured situation to occur. the rest of the island should not be punished for the lack of foresight of some. I like the idea of the church selling off some of its land to build homes, but it would be nice if there was someway to limit the lot size, etc. so that they were not mega mansions. And then the church use what money it gets to rebuild a modest church, and pay for its insurance.
It is called progress, we are living in 2023, not the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s! Are the people commenting so negatively live on the island? I vote for progress, let’s move forward, not backwards!
No one is proposing we move backwards. The comments here are in support of moving forward without pandering to the big developers who only care about the money.
I think now is the time for the council to come together for the community that they were voted to serve and whose interests they are supposed to protect and put a message out to all developers that the community and residents of Fort Myers Beach are NOT for sale. And if you want to bring a development to this town that does not comply with current codes and LPA rules then you will not be heard. NO exceptions! Do not waste your time here with anything more, we won’t be wasting ours listening to something that does not work for our island’s vision. That’s it. Just no. Come to us when you have a plan that fits the needs and wants of this island community and the people who make it what it is. No other plans will even be entertained here. Do not sell our your residents and small businesses owners. They deserve better. Only consider development that truly cares about the island, the residents and the environmental health of this island, please 😊
👍 Well said Cindy!
Couldn’t agree more, well said!
Completely agree with you, cindy. If this is allowed to move forward, what will happen on the huge lot at Red Coconut???
I hope they build a competitive grocery store there. Prices in our local Publix are higher than those off island. Publix corporation isn’t going broke.
This person speaks the truth! Thank you for your honest commentary.
The LPA and town need to stick with the comp plan. The church made a poor decision not having flood insurance and should sell off the lots for buildings that meet existing code requirements. Then use that money to rebuild a modest church. Workforce housing is just a teaser bait to get what they want. The council was elected by the RESIDENTS of this town. Time to put residents first not businesses. We thank the church for all they have done and continue to do but don’t expect a free pass as gratitude.
This is an insane idea – something that might work in NYC or LA with increased taxes. I’m absolutely apposed to it!!
Do not be distracted by the shiny object. The developers want us to focus on the high-rise condos so that they can sneak in the “Workforce Housing”. In my opinion, the “Workforce Housing” would be more destructive to the neighboring community than the high-rise.
I support having a nice church on Connecticut, but am against having a cult like commune on the street.
Any chance that the “work force” housing is a disguise for housing the 20+ that already live on the church property in trailers and out buildings behind the church??
Why didn’t the church have insurance? Shouldn’t they be responsible for their poor planning?
7 miles of sand doesn’t afford space for Workforce Housing anywhere. If resorts want staff housing they need to include it in the build out. Mom and Pops need to work and stay quaint. Hire semi retired island dwellers already here. If town feels it necessary to engage with business owners profit or nonprofit to accommodate workforce housing let’s at least make sure the business owner at least lives on the island and pays a real wage. My husband and I make well over $150k a year own a very modest home on island, two used autos paid for, old flats fishing boat paid for, no kiddos and we live very frugal. No way we could work on island and make it. Who pays this much on island for employment being hired? Workforce housing will never equal folks who will buy homes on the island eventually. It will only equal long-term low cost housing that will be filled with transient dwellers working seasonal jobs. Business owners need to deal with finding and staffing there businesses not the town. Businesses can create and start a shuttle service for staff only or build and maintain their own seasonal housing units. We work to pay the mortgage, insurance, taxes but we bought and sold a bunch of houses before we had the down payment for this home. BTW it’s a money pit of maintenance all the time also. My point is, how is 7 miles of sand big enough for low income housing that will move when their work hours are cut after season is over? Who will maintain the property, the non insurance buying church? Who will evict them when they can’t pay the rent? What bench will they be hanging out on when they have no hours to work? Who will help them find another part-time job on island to supplement their income after season? Rabbit Hole… I would love to work on island and skip the traffic filled commute but needless to say no one pays enough to afford me that luxury.
So true…One must consider the long term rules and regulations of having low income housing…is the church required to keep up the housing area and will their church budgets always cover it…how much is the rent and will it have a cost of living cap….will this income be a taxable income or a write-off. Many of us thought nothing of driving an hour to work each day because living in the area we worked was out of our price range…..Even now one does have to admit there are lots of places we cannot afford to live. We too, worked long and hard to get to this point in our lives…The council must put residents first and business second. There is no other island like FMB regarding tourism income for Lee County…Do not give up any more land to developers unless it accepts our rules of land use and taxing. Residents must be a priority to rebuild under different scenarios….what has the 50% rule done for the town and its residents so far?
If the church owns the land – it looks like from the photo – they can sell off 75% of the land and rezone for 6-8 houses on prime property and build the church from the proceeds behind the new homes towards the bay. The land itself is worth enough to build a new church.
Another excellent option to think about instead of a high density development! Town Council, you need to listen to the residents that voted you in.
Great solution Ted!
At least they are being honest about cost -vs- ROI unlike TPI. Most development on the island going forward will face that challenge due to higher construction and land cost. Get ready for massive density exemptions and all the related crowding and traffic.
Everyone has posted excellent comments. And given lots to think about. I hope the council sincerely takes all opinions to heart and makes the right decision.
Work force housing in general is just crazy. What job on this island will enable someone to afford to live here? Basic employment is either hospitality or retail which neither pay enough. Business owners are faced with seasonal sales at best and competition off island for the same sales. I find it hard to understand why this church had zero insurance. Such a poor decision for a non profit when so many grants are available. Decision making for this type of non profit needs more hard work besides the easy way out of a big money developer. Number one priority, hire a professional grant writer well versed in community efforts or partner with a well established non profit in the county or five county area of Southwest Florida. I cannot even understand how this would be taken seriously as non profit in a business profile just based on the lack decision making of the past performance. Example being no insurance alone. No doubt getting under the hood and looking at other decisions made would uncover an entire shambles of poor business decisions and questionable spending as a non profit.
I agree. The underlying decisions of the past under this leadership clearly show the poor thought process to move forward. Breaking all the rules and expecting a different outcome. FMB hold your ground!
It sounds like the town of FMB, kinda likes this new church idea! If the town approves, we the residents of FMB should push back with the laws and ordinances that are currently in place. So if I lost my house and now its just a vacant lot, can I trade my land to a builder for a 4sty condo building on stilts? I get one unit free and from the remaining 3 units @ $1.5 -$2mil, I get 10% kickback!
I too would like to trade my single family zoning lot for at least a 4 plex. I can sell/rent 3 and live 1.
hahaha….great reply…ME 2!! I dont want it but the town is hell bent on changing the code to suit their wants….while everyone else has to comply with the 3 story rule….someone makes a proposal that has no interest in the nearby residents…btw..I owned my home on Connecticut over 20 years because it was the quiet neighborhood…perfect for my retirement…I will also be expecting you to approve my 8 story when I sell to a developer…what a joke this whole thing is…and if council approves this we should all get an attorney
8 stories is 4 stories too tall. Only allow what margaritaville was allowed max. Same for Moss Marina. Stick to the current comp plan! I think a few of the churches who didn’t have insurance could share an “all faith “ space together showing how different religions can get along and having services at different times. Work together on different projects. They could have one amazing space and sell off their lots to cover the cost. Just an idea.
I, too, thought there was a three story limit. I appreciate all this church has done for our community but this idea is ridiculous!! No one wants something this big in their neighborhood…and Connecticut St. Is a true neighborhood.
The Pastors coments aout density, the building won’t be built for 2-3 years they need to project density not use current density in their calculations. Bill’s ideas are worth looking at. His point about Sanibel hopefully lights a fire to make some decisions and put some rules in place now or council will have this fight with every developer coming to this island.
“IF” it indeed the project was for workforce families that had low to medium incomes, it would probably have better acceptance. However, a “non-profit” organization, especially a church, paring up with a developer to sell off million-+ dollar condos is wrong on so many levels. Ft. Myers Beach is losing the quaint family oriented community and trading for big financial gains for developers. Expensive homes, condos and upscale lodgings are taking the place of the quaint cottages and the “Mom and Pop” lodgings. Another big concern is the traffic on Estero Blvd. The master planners of FMB should be studying how the flow of traffic would be handled. The big developers are pushing the envelope with higher buildings for housing more and more people. I would like to see a proposal from the FMB planners as to how they are going to handle the traffic. Pre-IAN, the backed up traffic from San Carlos to Estero was horrible. If we continue to add more housing and high rise condos, we need to pre-study the impact this will have on the environment of our islands, both FMB and San Carlos.
A big, 500 seat church is not needed to do the Lord’s work. Many traditional churches are downsizing as people’s faith needs and practices change.
100% agree, 500 seat church on a small island will never fill. Wouldn’t fill in a large metro city. Laughing literally out loud. Crazy talk, modest church, sell the land off and build your church debt free. Pray God forgives you for your thoughts of greed. May the Lord be with you, go in peace, amen.
why no insurance as a non profit church they pay no taxes very poor business decision no ins and bad management NO to the whole project
I was thinking the same thing! That’s a lot of seats
My only recourse after my house was flooded a few streets over was to sell or rebuild what I had as are most owners. Insurance or no insurance. I say the church can build a church or sell for single family residential thats it.
Thought I read early on that the future building codes after Hurricane Ian would only allow max of 3 stories up and down estero blvd and whatever was on that property had to be replaced with same. Example house replaced by house meaning a house could not then have a condo. The church has done alot for the community over the years totally agree but this is not the place to plan a condo within their land just to have the church rebuilt. If FMB allows this you are opening a can of worms for other to join the parade more high rise condo’s will line estero island like it is the south end looks. The town needs to be consistent and stick to it without big developers pulling stings to get their way. When we bought our condo we were told nothing could block our view because of codes well that went out the window.
Three comments: First, Bill Veach explained another option using (I think) grant money to help rebuild any church on the island that needs help. Why isn’t this option, along with Resilient Lee grant money, being explored to rebuild the church without selling out to a developer? Second, the residents of this town voted the new council in. One of the responsibilities of the Town Council is to represent the views of the residents. A majority of the residents do not want this, so the Council should shut it down. Finally, we appreciate everything Pastor Shawn does for this community and truly hope he gets a new church, but his comment stating that since the density of the island is less due to all the vacant properties, it’s OK to add this 100 unit complex, is misleading. What if a developer came in and put a 100 unit complex on any vacant lot? This island would be a congestion nightmare during peak season. The Town Council needs to stick to the “Whatever was there, is what goes back there” ordinance.
I agree with you! We are residents mid island and do not want the property rezoned condominiums. I think the current height restrictions for Institutional is 35 feet over flood so 2 stories. LPA and Council please follow our current roles.
Grant 1 church , you better grant the others on the island.
It’s all about money’s. The church should be ashamed of it’s self. If God intended for his church to be rebuilt then money is no object. This is nothing but greed. No one could afford to live there that works on the island. What a joke!!!
500 seats? Thats a pretty big church for a small islandd no?
Have you ever considered this very well may be God using this developer to provide for the church?
40 units…$40 million if each unit sells for $1 M. What does the church build cost? $13 million? Investors get a $13 million writeoff? Who leases out retail space? Seems like alot of profit taking under the guise of helping the church.
Agree. I think the church may be getting taken advantage of by this developer. What the church is getting in return is not equal to the developer’s gains.
After attending many council meetings, since 2015, the need of workforce housing was apparent and discussed many, many times. Last year the Town Council set aside $1M for work force housing which would not get very far. Finally an attempt is made to offer workforce housing and it’s met with opposition. How does the community of FMB expect to get workforce housing from a developer without a trade of some kind?
What I was hearing in the small amount of people who spoke was, they don’t disagree housing is needed, they just don’t want it in their neighborhood.
The other thing that stood out to me was that the developers are out of touch with the WHY of the height restriction. Just because there are other condos that are taller than 8 stories doesn’t mean that they can be approved NOW.
I don’t like the plan and I don’t even live there! Hope the people there make the right decision.
Just say NO to the Big Money developers as well as ANY height Variances –
What a Joke to call this work force housing and for Families and now it comes out the units are Million dollar plus-
The workforce housing is over the church area. The million dollar condos are a separate building.
…with Claire’s comment—should have had coffee before hitting ‘send’! 8 stories is ridiculous. The entire plan is a money grab.
I thought the limit on the height of buildings was five stories. I do not think that we should have an eight story condo building at that site.