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Meeting unveils possible plans for river development

By Staff | Sep 6, 2008

Residents, business leaders and county officials attending a recent Key Stakeholders meeting got a first look at plans for what could be a North Fort Myers Riverwalk.

The North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel’s Design Review Panel and the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce hosted the meeting.

Joe Beck, a landscape architect with Atelier Design Studio, revealed a conceptual master plan for a riverfront development that could include a marina, a park, convention space, a boardwalk and even a bandshell. The proposed area for the project is the Caloosahatchee riverfront between the two 41s.

“North Fort Myers is looking to create a vision for what is possible for the community,” Beck said. “The emphasis on a river district or a riverwalk would allow for commercial development per se. Currently we’re in the process of envisioning what could be possible.”

“Today was the initial roll out of the plan, the first time I’ve viewed it,” said Scott Brenner, president of the Design Review Panel and president of Sellstate Advantage North Inc. “It’s aggressive but it holds true to the nature of the charettes which we’ve held from the community input toward the future growth of North Fort Myers. What was revealed today was an aggressive concept of what may come.”

Brenner spearheaded the meeting and invited the public and business owners to get an update of what may be new in the area in the future, including catching up on the progress of the NFMCPP vision statement. The focus of this meeting was the targeted area from the river between the two highway 41s back to Pondella Road.

Wayne Daltry, FAICP, director of Smart Growth, added his comment on the plans.

“With the clear understanding… these are examples that can be gamed, and do not constitute a plan of action. However, showing what can be done or what may be wanted long term can lead to plans that further the ‘downtown’ concept. It also acts to demonstrate an understanding that road improvements, if effectuated, don’t lead to neighborhood decline but can lead to the reverse, revitalization.”

Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall, Lee County Planner Jim Mudd, Scott Gilbertson of Lee County Department of Transportation and Sarah Clarke, project manager for the county, also spoke and gave comments on the Riverwalk plan.

“It’s exciting and aggressive,” said Hall of the proposed commercial/retail district.

She noted that there still is a lot of work to be done to get to such a plan, and noted that the challenge for a riverwalk plan would be dealing with private property owners in the area, and hoped it would be a voluntary process rather than a complicated eminent domain issue.

Alec Myland, who has worked extensively with the planning panel on the overall vision statement, said property owners had been approached to get their feedback on such a project.

One part of the plan would include the extension of Hancock Bridge Parkway from U.S. 41 to Business 41. Scott Gilbertson of the county had come prepared to address the issue even before seeing the newly revealed plans. He noted that there is already a study for that project funded.

“We’re just getting started,” said Clarke of the Hancock Bridge Parkway issue. “I’m here to find out what the issues are so we can incorporate them and take them into account while we’re going though the study process.”

Jim Mudd also reported that the county was in the process of hiring a consultant to develop codes that go along with the vision plan for North Fort Myers, something he said is a lengthy process, at least nine months, to develop.

Currently, the vision plan itself that could spark this development is before the Lee County Commissioners, who intend to make the vision plan part of the Lee Plan. The Lee Plan itself will be voted on and implemented by the end of October.

“It’s very progressive for North Fort Myers and let’s remember this is a long-range goal,” said John Gardner, president-elect of the chamber and current president of the NFMCPP. “This is not going to happen pronto. The concept was the first to come out and I like what I see. It incorporates smart growth, continues residential in the area but gives to commercial, retail and green space.”

Future meeting on the issue and design review panel updates will be announced.