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New CRA district nudges forward

By Staff | Dec 9, 2014

After much debate and answers to probing questions, Cape Coral City Council decided 7-1 Monday night to move forward in the process of considering creating a Community Redevelopment Agency for the Mid Cape Industrial Park area.

After hearing a general presentation by Real Estate Research Consultants representative Tom Kohler, two citizens and several council members voiced concerns.

Councilmember Rick Williams, who cast the lone dissenting vote, has been against the CRA since the beginning and hasn’t changed his mind.

“I don’t think this is the way we have to clean up that area,” Williams said. “We have the tools in place now to deal with mattresses in the yard, trash in front of Dumpsters (as shown in the presentation). Can’t we just send someone (code compliance) to tell them to clean it up? Also, I don’t like the size of this CRA. There are other ways to incentivize businesses to fix up their places.”

Councilman Jim Burch said a lack of details on what expectations are for the area is of major concern.

“We need to find a sense of purpose to find a sense of place,” Burch said. “That is something that I’m not hearing right now. I’m not a fan of the CRA anyway. It’s time to answer why are we doing a CRA? Is it infrastructure? I’m looking for a better answer than that. We can deal with infrastructure. I have no feel for what we will accomplish there.”

The area of the Mid Cape CRA designation was extended during the consultant’s study to include Cape Coral Hospital and surrounding properties.

“The hospital needs to be included even though it is not a taxpaying entity,” said Kohler. “It is a business generator for health care services and offices wanting to locate near it. There is quite a bit of vacant land nearby.”

State statutes only require two of 14 points be met by an area to be considered blighted. Kohler said the area meets seven of the 14 points, including infrastructure deterioration, declining taxable value, inadequate street layout, unsafe or unsanitary conditions, increased crime and emergency calls, code violations greater than the city as a whole, and declining housing and property conditions.

“It meets and exceeds the requirements needed to take action,” Kohler added.

The majority of the district consists of the industrial park with some surrounding single-family residential and residential rental as well as commercial zoning.

Economic Development Director Dana Brunett advised council that, if approved, the next step is to work with the county commissioners and county manager in the CRA creation process as well as discussion of Tax Increment Funding (TIF) from the county to help fund the CRA along with city property taxes. He said the district could receive up to 95 percent of the additional money from additional tax revenue.

Mayor Marni Sawicki expressed concern over the additional work load for the CRA Commission, which encompasses the current city council members.

“I’m struggling with this one,” Sawicki said. “I’m not sure I or we will have the time necessary to devote to another CRA district. Perhaps we should consider a separate board again dedicated to the CRA?”

Councilmember Rana Erbrick, who has been involved in the CRA project for several years, tried to satisfy the proposal opposition.

“I sat down with county commissioners and the county manager and I think we will get their support,” she said. “The county has five areas of focus and one of them is redevelopment. Will we get as much TIF money as the South Cape? No, but as a CRA district it can purchase property to create parking lots, for instance. This is just the mechanism to get us talking with the property owners to decide what we want the plan to be. The area needs and deserves attention.”

It was suggested that building another CRA district only creates more government on top of what already is in place.

“All of the concerns brought forward, I think, demonstrates why we need a CRA in that area,” said Councilmember Richard Leon. “We don’t have much industrial property in this city, and I hope to see this come to fruition.”

The vote to bring the matter to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners is the next step in the continuing approval process.

Because the creation of the agency is proposed to entail county tax dollars as well as city, county approval is required.

In other business:

n One item on Monday’s City Council agenda was expected to generate opposition, but the owners of Ford’s Boathouse Tiki Bar & Grill withdrew their request for extended hours until a future date. The establishment wants to stay open an extra hour until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until midnight Friday through Sunday.

In response to the request and not knowing the issue had been withdrawn, a handful of citizens showed up to tell council they oppose the request. The comments pleaded with council not to allow the extended hours due to “noise pollution” from the music and patron chatter along with increased traffic and motorcycle noise rumbling later into the night. The nearby residents complained their previously quiet neighborhood has become quite the opposite since the Boathouse opened seven months ago.

Owners withdrew the request to further consider plans and alternatives to be a “good neighbor” to the nearby residents.

n Council also approved changes to the police pension plan to offer retiring members an option for a partial lump sum payment of their retirement benefits in exchange for a reduced continuing lifetime benefit. It is part of the recent labor agreement the city made with the union that included a 5 percent raise in base pay effective Oct. 1, 2014, as well as an additional 5 percent raise retroactive to July 2014,

n Council scheduled a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the A200 conference room at the Nicholas Annex building.

Members are expected to discuss in a workshop setting extended bar hours for the South Cape CRA district as well as land use regulations of additional boat canopies, and the impact on the 2015 operating budget due to the delay of the Fire Service Assessment bond validation appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

A number of bars and restaurants in the South Cape have requested extended their hours until 4 a.m. on the weekends, which is a polarizing topic.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on all three topics.

The last regular council meeting of 2014 is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15, in Council Chambers at City Hall. Council will be on holiday break until its first meeting of 2015 on Monday, Jan. 12.