Candidates share vision for Zemel development
By MEGHAN McCOY
Editor’s note: Each week, The Breeze will ask candidates for city council their views on an issue of interest to the voters. Each candidate is asked the same question in a phone interview. This week’s question is: What is your vision for the Zemel property annexed into the city and how would you deal with the environmental issues raised by the state?
Incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor, said the seven-year negotiation concerning the Zemel property has resulted in a tentative agreement as to how the property may be developed. The plan now is in the re-submission process required for a land use change, he said.
Burch said the parties traveled to the Zemel property and spent an 18- hour day there, so the conflicts could be worked out, along with opening the communication lines among those involved.
John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker/IT consultant, said the Zemel property could be used partially for light industrial development.
When asked about the environmental issues he replied the “areas that are environmentally sensitive must remain pristine.”
Seeking the District 1 seat are Jim Martin and Marty McClain.
Martin, a 77-year-old retired aerospace engineer, said the property is an excellent example a cooperative agreement.
“You have to get the infrastructure into that property to allow that part of Cape Coral to develop into an eco-friendly portion of the city,” Martin said. “It’s a plus for the city, with the marriage of the environment and community.”
McClain, a 51-year old construction consultant, said he thinks the county needs to help Cape Coral with the property.
“There seems to be some friction in getting this matter resolved,” McClain said.
He explained that his vision for the Zemel property is to work with the environmental people to come up with a livable plan for the city to continue to expand.
Chris Chulakes-Leetz, a 53-year-old USCG-licensed captain, is seeking to unseat the District 4 incumbent, Dolores Bertolini.
Chulakes-Leetz said as a candidate or council member, he does not believe it is or would be his role to impose his visions for the Zemel property upon the city or the citizens.
“My role as a councilman will be to listen to the visions and expertise provided by the citizens and business people in developing Zemel property.” he said.
He said that he does not believe that land availability is an issue.
“I believe that at the current time we have already created considerable consternation with the projects that we have been unable to complete,” he said.
He addressed the environmental issues by stating that “we should progress to work with the state to fulfill their environmental protection guidelines while presently keeping the land unadulterated.”
Bertolini, 75, said her vision of the Zemel Property does not include seeing more single family residential homes, but rather nonresidential infrastructures.
“I would like to see retail, hotel and offices, a mixture in a controlled fashion,” she said.
She said that environmental issues always concern her.
Bertolini said since the western portion of the land is out, it will alleviate roadways and bridges through the wetlands, which will force developments around them.
“We have the responsibility to protect the wetlands up there,” she said.
Kevin McGrail, a 53-year-old medical technologist, and John Cataldi Jr., a 69-year-old retired police detective, cleared the primary in their quest for the District 6 seat.
“First of all, I have said in the past that the Zemel property is a wise decision for the city of Cape Coral,” Cataldi said, due to the need to develop a commercial, residential friendly area.
“There are no residential issues and we need commercial business to offset the taxes that the residential people are paying now,” he said.
Cataldi said currently, residents collectively are paying 70 percent of the property taxes, businesses 30 percent. This needs to be better balanced, he said.
He said environmental issues would have to be addressed and a compromise would have to be agreed upon with all the parties involved.
McGrail said the future for the Zemel property will have mixed uses and will be similar to the Florida Gulf Coast University development, which he believes is a prime example for what residents should expect.
“I don’t foresee that property getting totally developed with high density buildings, I believe you are going to see a mixture some development and some greenscaping,” he said.
“There are some wetlands there and we have been undergoing debate and discussion with the county over this for a long time now. It’s too important to Cape Coral’s future to not develop that property,” he said.
He said the environmental issues are critical and they will have to respect them through a compromise decision, which he said needs to be done when all stake holders are present.
“I very much respect the fact that we don’t want to lose the environment of Florida that brought us all to the area in the first place,” McGrail said. “This is a vital issue because this is going to be a major artery for Cape Coral and Cape Coral’s future in the development and we don’t want to disrespect the rural feeling and wetlands of this coast.”
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, with early voting to begin Monday, Oct. 26.
Cape Coral mayor and city council elections are non-partisan and citywide meaning voters registered within the city can cast a ballot in every race, regardless of party affiliation or the district in which they live. Everyone votes in every race.
Staff writer Drew Winchester contributed to this report