Another Big Month For the DR/GR
On September 24th
the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC0 heard a presentation by
staff followed by public testimony concerning major proposed changes in the
Comprehensive Plan for the 83,000 acre Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource
(DR/GR) area just east of I-75 in Estero. Over a dozen representatives of Estero
civic and community associations and region-wide environmental and growth
management groups testified in support of the staff recommendations. A copy of
this coalition’s joint statement may be viewed at
Prior to the meeting the
County indicated that final action would not be taken at this meeting; that a
DR/GR water model workshop for the Commissioners would be held on October 26th
and another Board meeting would be scheduled for October 28th for a
final decision about transmitting a Comprehensive Plan change to the State
Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The public is encouraged to attend and
testify in support of the staff recommendations because there is still
substantial opposition from some land-owners and mining interests.
On May 20thLeeCounty
released the “Proposed Lee Plan Amendments for SoutheastLeeCounty…Planning for the
Density Reduction/ Groundwater Resource Area (DR/GR)” and posted it on their
http://www3.leegov.com/dcd/CommunityPlans/SELC_DRGR/CPA2008-06/Proposed-Lee-Plan-Amendments-for-Southeast-Lee-County_May2009.pdf. This 72 page document details Dover Kohl & Partners, the CountyDR/GR
planning consultants, recommendations for updating the County’s Comprehensive
Plan for the DR/GR. This extensive document, if approved by the BOCC and the
Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA), would provide the legal framework
for concentrating mining in the Alico Road industrial corridor; DR/GR locations
where residential development should be clustered; locations where agriculture
should be encouraged and where and how the natural resources and ecology of the
DR/GR should be preserved. Since then there have been numerous reports and staff
analyses that have provided further in-depth support for this new plan for the
DR/GR area. They can be found at the following website…
Earlier this year the prospects for a 24/7
Free-standing Emergency Department in
the Bonita Community Health Center (BCHC) looked very bright (see “Background”
below). We were told that throughout the summer Lee Memorial and NCH, the
co-owners of this facility, would discuss how this commitment could be
implemented while retaining the existing shared ownership arrangement.
Unfortunately in late August our Hospital Committee learned that Lee Memorial
and NCH had decided that their first priority had to be to work on making BCHC
profitable and that the Emergency facility had to be placed on the “back
burner”. Upon learning of this decision the leaders of the Hospital Committee
decided to send a letter to the Chairmen of the two systems seeking a meeting
with the BCHC Board to learn first hand what the intentions of the Board are
regarding the south Lee County community being served by a 24/7 Freestanding ER
in the BCHC.
That September 24th letter states in part the following:
“We understand that NCH and
Lee Memorial have decided to continue your joint ownership and operation of the
Bonita Community Health Center and that the inclusion of a Freestanding
Emergency Department as proposed by Lee Memorial has been indefinitely delayed.
As you must appreciate we are exceptionally disappointed by this news.
Nonetheless, our commitment
to obtaining a 24/7 Freestanding ER for south LeeCounty
that will ultimately lead to a medical surgical hospital in SouthLeeCounty, remains as resolute as ever.
Therefore, we respectfully request an opportunity to meet with the full Bonita
Community Health Center Board as soon as possible so that we can fully
understand your position on this important matter.”
To date the Committee has
not received a response from the BCHC nor either hospital system.
In fulfillment of the South
Lee County Hospital Committee, which consist of about 40 volunteers many with
strong health care backgrounds, plans to demonstrate itscommitment to obtaining a 24/7 Freestanding ER for the area by developing
a community awareness and support program to be implemented during the
On March 19th the
Lee Memorial Health System (LMHS) Board of Directors approved two motions in
order to implement their commitment to provide Free-standing Emergency Services
to south LeeCounty. They are:
“Administration is directed to extend an
offer to the Naples Community Health System to purchase the NCHS share in
the Bonita Community Health Center Joint Venture for the sum of one dollar.
If the offer is accepted, LMHS will assume 100% of the bond obligations on
this facility”. This transaction would add $28.5 million of bond debt
obligation to their balance sheet.
“Administration is directed to include up to
$4 million in capital in the FY’10 capital budget for the purpose of
developing a Free-standing Emergency Room in the Bonita/Estero market and is
authorized to spend not more than $500,000 in FY2009 to allow legal,
planning, design, and architecture work to proceed immediately.” The
analysis provided to the Board by Lee Memorial staff shows that the system
would experience an estimated “net incremental gain” of about $2 million in
the first year and $2.6 million in the fifth year.
LMHS’s project summary for
this facility further state:
“Absent any unknown regulatory delay,
it would be reasonable to target opening of this facility by January 2011”,
“Although Bonita Community Health Center
would be the preferred location for the free-standing emergency room, LMHS has
identified two other possible sites that are centrally located in the
Bonita/Estero area. All of these locations are compatible with the target
opening date”, and
“Negotiations are currently underway with
NCHS toward this goal and LMHS leaders are optimistic that a satisfactory
resolution will be achieved. Regardless of the outcome of this negotiation,
however, the free-standing emergency room would not be delayed.”
On September 11th
the ECCL sponsored a workshop on the existing zoning for the Estero Parkway/US
41 Wal-mart store in order to inform the thousands of Estero residents who now
live along Estero Parkway but were not in the community during 2003-04 when the
site was zoned. About 60 Estero residents from these communities, the Vines,
Breckenridge and other Estero communities attended. In addition to the ECCL,
Skip Block, the County Community Development staffer assigned to the case, Neal
Noethlich, Chair of the Estero Community Planning Panel (ECPP) at that time of
the zoning and Chris Smith who represented the Vines when the property was zoned
were available to discuss the plans and answer residents’ questions. Subsequent
to the meeting the Boards of The Vines and Breckenridge, the two communities
closest to the store site and most involved in 2003 and 2004, voted to resist
changes in the existing zoning.
On August 26th
several representatives of Wal-Mart met with members of the Estero Community
Planning Panel (ECPP), the Estero Council of Community Leaders and residents of
The Vines and Breckenridge to discuss their proposed plans for rezoning their
property on the northeast corner of US 41 and Estero Parkway. The major elements in
their proposal would:
Reduce the size of the Wal-Mart store by
about 40,000 square feet
Add three outlots along US 41 for stores that
would offset the reduced size of the Wal-Mart store,
Substitute a new standard Wal-Mart design for
their store for the existing “Estero” unique design that was negotiated by
the community over a period of two years in 2003 and 2004, and
Amend the “super-concurrency” provision in
the existing zoning that requires construction of the store to begin only
after the widening of US 41 in this area has been finally approved and
To date Wal-mart has not
followed up on this meeting.
Estero Fire District Limits, 2010 Budget and Tax Rate Increase
On September 14th
the Estero Fire District Board voted to approve a $2.00 tax millage rate for the
2009-10 fiscal year beginning October 1st. This is about a 15%
reduction from the $2.347 millage rate that could have been adopted and is an
increase of only 5% over last year’s rate of $1.9037. The increase was necessary
in order to maintain the present level of service in spite of a reduction in the
District’s property tax base of 22% from the prior year. In order for this
budget and rate to be achieved the District has not filled five vacant
administrative positions, made cuts in a large number of line items and has
negotiated an agreement with the firefighters union to reopen their existing
contract in order to reduce some of the automatic increases required by that
Many community members and
representatives of the Brooks Concerned Citizens and the ECCL testified in
support of a rate no higher than $2.00. We congratulate Chief Scott Vanderbrook,
Board President Dick Schweers and the other members of the Fire District Board
for their support of the cost cutting measures and the responsible budget and
tax rate they have adopted in these trying times.
At the meeting Commissioner
Barbara Akins resigned from the Board inasmuch as she and her husband are moving
to Texas. The
Board is seeking applicants to fill this vacancy and plans to screen and choose
a temporary replacement at its meeting on Tuesday, October 13th at
the Fire District Administration building on Three Oaks Parkway beginning at Whomever is chosen will be subject to election in 2010. The public is
invited to attend and comment.
At the end of September the
RCH mine hearing had completed twelve days. In addition to this testimony the
Hearing Examiner has schedule six more hearing days during October before
adjourning to write his report for the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).
This will make the case the longest in LeeCounty
history and one of the most expensive for the community to contest.
The Hearing has been
prolonged by the applicant proposing first a “grout curtain” and later a
“hydraulic barrier” to manage offsite ground-water impacts. This resulted in
much of the early testimony and cross examination to become irrelevant and for
the County and the Lee County Port Authority to study a new, previously locally
untried proposal, to present their findings and to cross-examine the applicant’s
hydro-geologist about this new proposal.
The County has spent about
five days rebutting the applicant’s case and is still not finished. Once the
County is finished the Hearing Examiner will take further testimony from all
three hydro-geologists. After all of this the Hearing will be concluded with
rebuttal on the part of the applicant, the County and the community’s attorney,
To date about 50 Estero and
east Estero residents have testified in opposition to the RCH mine. The Hearing
Examiner has recently terminated all opportunities for the public to testify.
Funding Community Representation
Over the years the residents
of east Corkscrew Road
have successfully defeated two new mines along Corkscrew Road. In the process they have
raised and spent about $200,000 to preserve their and our quality of life. As a
result of their efforts those of us who live further west have been spared
several thousand round trip truck trips per day on west Corkscrew Road and north
or south on I-75, US 41 and Three Oaks Parkway.
Our attorney on this case,
Tom Hart, estimates that the total cost for the case will be at least $36,000.
If everyone affected by this mine and its trucks makes a small contribution this
is very affordable. Please support your community and protect the value of your
home by making a contribution to this effort. Make your check out to:
Thomas B. Hart Trust
And mail it to:
1625 Hendry Street, Suite 301
Ft. Myers, Florida
A recent court decision has
ordered LeeCounty to schedule a public hearing to
consider rezoning and mining permits for the proposed Resource Conservation
Holdings Mine. The request is to rezone 1,365 acres on Corkscrew Road to
mine lime rock to a depth of 110 feet with blasting.Because of the court order, the application must be reviewed under the
old mining rules rather than the more stringent Chapter 12 rules adopted by the
County last September.
The site is located on Corkscrew Road east
of Flint Pen Strand and is immediately adjacent to the SouthwestFloridaInternational
Park, the South Florida Water Management District
Corkscrew mitigation bank, and an established rural residential cluster on
Burgundy Farms Road. The recent County initiated DR/GR planning study identified
the project site as environmentally sensitive and categorized it as a Priority 1
and Priority 2 Restoration area. The site is outside of the Primary and
Secondary Preferred Mining Area as identified by the Dover Kohl and the DR/GR
If this latest attempt to
industrialize Corkscrew Road
is approved, the decision would:
new development pattern and set a precedent for seven other rock mine
applications pending on Corkscrew
permanent adverse impacts to hydrology, surface water flow, and natural systems
function of wetland and aquatic resources of regional importance
impact endangered and threatened species including the Florida Panther and
unacceptable impacts to community character and public safety by potentially
adding as many as 2,000 dump truck trips per day to Corkscrew Road
staff recommended that this rezoning application be DENIED.
In a parallel but separate
action, the County has begun a legal challenge of the proposed mine’s
consumptive water use permit on grounds that it would adversely affect the
recent Corkscrew municipal well field expansion. This wellfield, along with the
others in the DR/GR, supplies about 80% of all the water consumed in LeeCounty.
Several wells installed as part of that expansion last year are immediately
adjacent to the RCH Mine project site.
Ownership of the RCH Mine
project includes Ascot Development which is also developing Midtown Estero, as
well as Youngquist Brothers Excavating which operates an active rock mine on Alico Road.
South Lee County
Watershed Plan Progress Report
During September the South Florida Water
Management (SFWMD) District decided that it would split the South Lee County
Watershed Study Update into two parts. One part would complete the existing
study, under the direction of SFWMD and Lee County, as amended by analysis of
new information provided by the DR/GR water model and from other sources. The
second part, conducted with the City of Bonita Springs and the Water District,
would focus on Bonita Springs flooding issues and possible relief provided by
directing some water south into northern Collier County.
This proposal was discussed on September 25th by the City of
Bonita Springs and the leaders of Estero who meet with the City Council and the
Mayor several times per year to discuss regional issues. The Estero contingent
encouraged SFWMD management of a single study for the entire watershed,
believing such an approach would yield better results and be less wasteful of
taxpayer funds. Some of the Bonita representatives were concerned that a single
study might delay water planning work that the City needs to start soon.
The Water District, the County and likely the City of Bonita Springs have
been reviewing the scope of work for the continuation of the existing South Lee
Watershed study but it has not been made public. We look forward to reviewing
that proposal. Efforts are underway by the leaders of the ECCL and the Brooks
Concerned Citizens to arrange a meeting with the leadership of the Water
District to discuss this matter.
Meanwhile the six-laning of I-75 proceeds closer to completion without
installation of any of the five culverts that the Water District has been
encouraging FDOT to install at their expense just east of the Brooks. The
District’s permit to FDOT for widening I-75 contains a condition requiring the
study results to form the basis for installation of any of these culverts at
this location. Until this condition is met through completion of the study the
culverts cannot be installed
On April 22, 2009,
the South Florida Water Management District ("SFWMD") hosted a public meeting to
report on the progress of the update of the South Lee County Watershed Plan.
This is the study to determine if five additional culverts need to be
constructed under I-75 where Half Way Creek ("HWC") enters into the Brooks at
At a prior meeting
in March, the engineering study team indicated that Halfway Creek (HWC) could
not accept additional water without flooding in communities along HWC. In this
April 22 meeting, the engineering team outlined the corrective actions which
would be required to direct more water into HWC. The report was silent, however,
on how many, if any, additional culverts could or should be constructed under
I-75. In questions after the formal presentation, the engineer in charge of the
study said that up to two or three culverts could be constructed under I-75 (not
five) to accept up to 630 cubic feet per second (cfs) during flood conditions,
but they could be opened only after the recommended corrective actions were
The Director of
SFWMD who is responsible for the issuance of permits in our area, confirmed that
SFWMD would require that any culverts that were constructed would be "blocked"
(with bricks or concrete plugs) until the corrective actions were completed.
An important point
was made at the meeting. The model runs indicated that even if the corrective
actions were completed and all five culverts were constructed, it would have
virtually NO impact on reducing flood water levels in the Bonita Springs
communities that have historically flooded (and flooded again during Tropical
Storm Fay in August, 2008). Because of the substantial cost of implementing the
recommended corrective actions, with no benefit to Bonita Springs flooding,
legitimate concerns have been raised about the cost justification of
constructing any culverts under I-75 at this time.
A summary of the
April 22nd recommended corrective actions are listed below:
Clean out the
overgrown vegetation in the HWC flowway West of Via Coconut Pointe Road to
US1 and also to the West of US1. An alternative West of US 41 would be to
dig a trench just to the South of Fountain Lakes, but this alternative could
have environmental disadvantages for Estero Bay.
wooden walkway on the West side of US 41 which goes over HWC next to the US
"water amenity" lake to the South of Rapallo to the main HWC channel to
improve the flow between Via Coconut Pointe Rd. and Via Villagio Road which
connects Rapallo to the mall.
flow in the ditch which runs along the East side of 3 Oaks Parkway between
the gates at Williams Rd and the Estero River South Branch ("ER SB"). This
would involve substantial cost and time. It would require removing the "V
notch weir" near the North end of the ditch, increasing the capacity of the
gates at Williams Rd, and increasing the capacity of the ditch itself. At
present the V notch weir permits the ditch to act as a settling reservoir
for polluted storm water from 3 Oaks Parkway. However, the weir also
prevents the ditch from acting as an escape for flood waters rising in HWC,
which was its original design role. Therefore, if the V notch weir is
removed to re-establish its flood control role, a new replacement settling
reservoir will need to be constructed, probably in the median on 3 Oaks
recommended actions were to clean out overgrown vegetation in the south
branch of the Estero River (ER SB) and increase the capacity of the
Sanctuary Bridge in Corkscrew Woodlands and the Country Creek Lane bridge in
The Villages of Country Creek by raising those bridges.
inspection and maintenance programs were recommended for all the areas where
clean outs are required.
A North South
channel was recommended to be dredged on the East side of I-75 to permit
better flow to HWC and the ER SB. Several large culverts under I-75 already
exist north of HWC. These culverts are under utilized during flood
conditions. This new channel would require a control structure to assure
that dry season water in the Edison Farms wetlands would not be impacted.
On the Estero
River North Branch, it was recommended that the bridge at River Ford Road
should be replaced.
Although there is
capacity to send more flood water down Spring Creek (which is under utilized),
this was deemed too expensive and could involve purchasing additional land or
homes, so no action on this improvement was recommended in the report. Only
limited benefit from increasing flow down Spring Creek was projected by the
model, but it did provide more improvement than increased flow down HWC or the
The possibility of
building a large reservoir to the east of I-75, involving an elevated berm from
Corkscrew to Bonita Beach Road, was rejected as too expensive and not practical
due to the probable major "leakage" below the berm in the porous limestone in
this area. However, If this project could be made to work, it is the only action
which could dramatically reduce the flooding in the Bonita Beach Rd communities
of Bonita Springs.
possibility to help the Bonita Springs flood areas was the possibility of
directing flood water further to the South to drain to the Cocohatchie River.
Even 200 cfs to 300 cfs in that direction would help. It would not eliminate the
flooding but could reduce the duration of a flood by up to 63 hours, based upon
model simulation runs. The southern "border condition" for the model was Bonita
Beach Road, so the engineers determined that they would need more information
and an expanded scope of investigation to determine if the residents along the
route to the Cocohatchie could accept that additional water, or more, without
themselves being flooded. This could be a follow up study.
Estero’s Housing Permits Continue Slow Pace
During August 14 single
family homes and 4 duplex units with a building value of $4.5 million were
permitted in Estero. This slowdown in construction of new homes should continue
to help reduce the inventory of unsold new homes constructed in Estero during
2005 when 2,833 units were permitted.
The following table shows
how the first eight months of 2009 compares with the same period of the prior
Building Value of Units
BuildingValue Per Unit
Percentage of Single Family Units
Not only are the 2009 total
housing units far below all prior years, they equal only 10% of the quantity
during 2002, the season immediately following the tragedy of 9/11/2001.
On the other hand the
average building value, excluding the land beneath it, continues to increase, up
substantially from all prior years and over 2.5 times (153% above) the average
in 2000. Some of this increase is due to the increase in the single family share
of the permitted units.
The first eight months of Estero building permits of all types continued at a
very slow pace. The value of
buildings permitted in Estero during these eight months totaled $7.9
As the far right column in the above table indicates Estero’s commercial
development started to expand rapidly in 2004 and peaked in 2006 with a total of
$184.7 million. (All figures are exclusive of the underlying land). Nonetheless,
2007 was still Estero’s second highest commercial development year, far ahead of
the third place year, 2005, with $111 million. Commercial development in Estero
has almost come to a complete halt this year, down 78% from last year (2008).
From January through August the major projects that contributed to the 2009 year
to date total are: