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Council approves kayak club ordinance

By Staff | Dec 17, 2013

The City Council had a lot of questions that needed answers, and they liked what they heard.

So, after nearly three hours of debate and listening to both sides of the issue, council unanimously approved the controversial ordinance to approve the lease for an area canoe and kayak club during Monday’s regular meeting at City Hall.

The city will lease property on Lake Kennedy to the Southwest Florida Canoe & Kayak Club for $10 annually for five years, where the club hopes to not only provide kayak lessons to local kids and Special Pops, but make it an international training destination for the world’s elite paddlers.

“We were able to put enough protections in for the neighbors and to ensure they were OK and we could get someone like this to come and make Cape Coral a better community,” Councilmember Richard Leon said.

The decision was the culmination of nearly two months of a roller coaster ride that went from a slam dunk approval from the previous council, to near death, to revival.

In the end, it was the clause where either side could opt out of the agreement after 30 days in the event of a disaster and the promise of annual reviews that swayed the council’s decision, not to mention the opportunity to put the city on the map as a paddling destination.

“It was appropriate based on all the public input and the City Council did a good job discerning reality from perception,” Joe Mazurkewicz said.

There was a decidedly different tone in this meeting with the new council deciding its first major issue. Despite the volume of tense debate, the tone remained civil on both sides of the dais, without even the applause and occasional boos and catcalls that plagued meetings in the past.

Supporters brought up how the lease and the proposed training facility would bring millions into the city and make Cape Coral into a destination.

Former City Councilmember Kevin McGrail, who spearheaded the plan while still in office, was most vocal in his support.

“We have a reputation as a not-ready-for-prime-time player because every development has met challenges from neighbors,” McGrail said. “We were developed as a single-family home city, and no city can survive that way. It’s shortsighted to close the door on this.”

Still, there were many more in attendance who opposed the plan, especially those who live in the area.

“The site will pull in so much congestion and traffic for the residents and change our quality of life,” Florance Lapierre said. “A buyer for my property changed his mind when he learned of this.”

After many had spoken, attorney Andrea Pleimling spelled out the case for the neighbors, which ran the gamut from boater safety from the wakes of the motorboats to overcrowding to claims that club was really a profitable venture.

“This is a private company that charges fees for lessons, isn’t open to the public and charges dues,” Pleimling said. “The club has not gained status as a non-profit as of Dec. 13.

The non-profit status of the club did become a main sticking point for council (which co-founder Ian Mack said has been resolved), as did parking, and the liability issues that would result in case of an incident.

Ultimately, it came down to a simple lease, without all the discussion about dormitories.

“We’ve muddied the waters when all we have to do is vote on a lease. This baby step will help us determine the impact before an impact study,” Councilmember Jim Burch said. “I don’t see anything to persuade me to not vote for it.”

To the victors came the spoils after the unanimous vote.

“We’re very excited. We sat through the stakeholder meeting, we listened and did what we could to come to resolution,” said co-founder Melinda Mack. “We’re looking forward to moving forward.”

That was little consolation to the opposition, many of whom left moments after the vote was taken.

“I don’t think the decision represents the interests of my clients or for Cape Coral,” Pleimling said. “Our position is we disagree with the vote, but we’ll carry on.”

“This is America and we have the right to our opinions and while the council’s opinion isn’t aligned with ours, we’ll see how it goes,” said resident Lindsay Nesnidal.