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City land purchase draws mixed reviews

By Staff | Apr 10, 2012

Cape Coral city officials submitted the winning bid for 652 acres of foreclosed land in the north end of town in auction Monday.

But despite getting the land for 60 percent of the land’s value, not everyone was happy at the city council meeting held later at city hall.

Some complained the purchase, which was paid for by funds from the city’s stormwater and utility fees, was yet one more burden placed on the ratepayers, while another complained about the “stealthy” way council approved the buy with a special meeting Friday.

The city submitted the winning bid of $13,080,106 plus fees, $100 over the hidden reserve established by the bank. The land, most of which sits north of Pine Island Road, contains 491 properties and will likely be used for retention ponds, public works projects and lift stations.

It also could be used for future parks or for a fire station, but the city would have to reimburse the utility funds for any land used for purposes other than utilities or stormwater.

The property had an assessed value of more than $20 million, according to Connie Barron, city spokesperson.

Financial Services Director Victoria Bateman said $6 million came from both sewer and stormwater funds, while the rest came from the general fund reserves.

But while city business manager Mike Ilczyszyn said the deal wouldn’t affect utility rates or stormwater fees, residents weren’t entirely convinced and let the council know about it.

“You’re constantly going after the ratepayers,” said resident Lynn Roscoe. “I didn’t hear about Cape Coral hiring an appraiser for the cost of the land. There were two bids for $10 million and the city bid $13.8 million. All that came from ratepayers.”

Another resident claimed the special meeting Friday was “stealthy.”

“The lack of an appraisal is a violation of ordinances and those who violate it will be removed from office,” he said.

City officials ruled out their claims of stealth and overpaying.

“We didn’t overpay. Some thought we paid $3 million more than we were prepared to bid,” acting city manager Steve Pohlman said. “One put in a bid of $10.1 million, another of $10.2 million, and the bank put in a hidden bid (of $13,080,000 million).

“When you’re bidding on land, you don’t advertise what you want to pay. That’s common sense,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “This is not dumped on ratepayers. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

Resident Charlie Myers said the purchase was a boon for the city and showed pictures of the land bought, focusing on the seven islands near Matlacha.

“You’ll see people from Naples coming to places like this that are booming,” Myers said. “There’s a BMX track and places for fishermen.”

Myers later said the islands would be a great alternative to fishing on bridges during the long debate on the fishing ordinance.

But there were still naysayers, and the tone particularly bothered Councilman Derrick Donnell.

“I’m irritated we have to play defense. You all have the right to speak up, but it’s not about the name, it’s about the issue,” Donnell said. “You’re pitting staff against the residents and it has to stop.”