On Monday, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted 3-2 not to pursue a grant that most likely would have been used to build an upland services building on a piece of property behind town hall.
The application for the grant needed to be submitted by April 1st. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt was hoping to leverage the property, which cost the town $1 million, as a match for the grant that had the potential to bring the town back $3 million for the building.
The reason the council voted narrowly to defeat the grant application was the residents on Tropical Shores Way. The canal behind their homes would have been the waterway used by mooring field residents to get to the new building. Nearly every homeowner in that neighborhood opposed the building being built on that property. Their concerns included the increased traffic on the canal behind their houses, the possibility that mangroves would need to be cut down and the shallowness of the water.
The Anchorage Advisory Committee, which has been trying to find a location for upland services for years, also opposed this location. And while that location appears to be dead for now, it can still be considered in the future if it’s determined there is no other feasible location on the island for upland services.
Councilman Bill Veach was in favor of the location because of its proximity to town hall, he believed the additional noise on the canal could be managed and the fact that he believes that property on that canal will eventually be developed by someone.
By law, the town must provide upland services in order to have a mooring field. Currently, the town is leasing space at Harbour House on Old San Carlos. Before that the services (restrooms, showers, laundry and trash) were provided by Matanzas for many years. Hernstadt said with the current arrangement with Harbour House, “we are subject to the whims of the landlord.” He went on to say that the town needs to find a permanent home for the upland services operation.
At the council meeting Tropical Shores Way residents and their supporters spoke during public comment at the beginning of the meeting. In addition to opposing the location they were also angry with the process. They say they found out about what was going on when an unsigned flyer was left in all of their mailboxes.
Councilman Jim Atterholt voted against applying for the grant. He said the process to get this building on that piece of property was too aggressive. He said that people don’t trust the government as it is and this “damages their faith in the system.”
After the meeting Tropical Shores Way resident Larry Abramoff told Beach Talk Radio News that he was happy with the vote. “We are certainly pleased that, for now, the town is not going forward with this grant application for the placement of the upland facility at the end of Tropical Shores Canal – of course a 5-0 vote is preferred but we will take the 3-2 vote and pledge to work harder next time to convince all parties of the wisdom of our perspective. Many thanks to the neighbors and community that showed up to support our position and to the councilors who put the brakes on.” (Watch our tour of the canal with Larry Abramoff HERE)
What happens next for upland services is anybody’s guess. In all likelihood town staff and the Anchorage Advisory Committee will go back and look closer at some of the previous locations they were scouting out before this location was fast-tracked by town staff.
This is the second location that a large number of residents have opposed for the facility, the first being Bayside Park. That location was even further along before residents and business owners heard about it and spoke up at a council meeting.
Perhaps to save time and money with the next location, the town might want to notify surrounding neighbors about their plans, and how they can get involved in the process. Governments are rarely criticized for over-communicating.