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City to research possibility of northwest beach area

By Staff | Jun 10, 2015

By JIM LINETTE

jlinette@breezenewspapers.com

Is a second public beach area in Cape Coral’s future? That’s the question City Councilmember Richard Leon pitched to his colleagues at Monday night’s council meeting in City Hall.

The idea is not a new one and several on council expressed doubts it will ever happen in the suggested area on state owned preservation land off Old Burnt Store Road at Durden Parkway.

“I love the idea of having another beach somewhere in Cape Coral,” said Councilmember Rick Williams. “I just don’t see this (area) as being feasible. It would be a miracle if the state permitted it and I doubt the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) would allow it. I know they would not let us take out the mangroves.”

Williams, in whose district the proposed site sits, also pointed out that the bottom is not sand, but mud.

“That’s not fun,” he said. “It’s real muck. I don’t see this as feasible and I don’t see using staff time to work on this. Staff has enough to do right now. There have been three studies done previously. I think the property owner must be contacted first and asked if Cape Coral can put a beach on their property. If they say no, then the idea is dead.”

As far as previous studies resulting in no action, Leon responded, “Cape Coral has changed from 18 years ago. The state has changed from 18 years ago. The DEP has changed from 18 years ago. I understand there are many challenges. I say how do we overcome them. I just want to calm down the residents and bring this forward by researching the project.”

Leon, who needed the support of a second council member to continue his research over the next year, got it from Councilmember Derrick Donnell.

“I’m glad to give you a second,” said Donnell. “Do what you have to do and bring it back to us.”

Councilmember Jim Burch applauded Leon’s determination and dedication.

“Sometimes I think we need to think outside the box,” said Burch. “It is a very mucky bottom there, but very different from the Yacht Club (beach). I think it would be wise to look at all the studies done. After reviewing those, then you have square one, which is determining the sovereignty of the property in regards to the mean high water line. If you get the players involved and ask the questions to see if it is even feasible, then I will support you. I just don’t want to tie up staff time before that.”

Leon explained he is not looking at a major beach attraction, but one more like Bunche Beach on the Fort Myers side of the Sanibel Causeway. It likewise is an inlet beach with shallow water surrounded by preservation land.

Other council items

Council attempted to fill a vacancy on its Budget Review Committee, but only one of the four applicants made themselves available for interview by council Monday night. A resignation created the vacancy on the seven-member committee.

Two candidates withdrew their applications leaving only Graham Morris in attendance. The other, Scott Pierson, did not attend. Some on council were uncomfortable appointing a candidate they could not question in person and Morris already serves the city on the Planning & Zoning Commission. Council decided to delay the appointment until their next meeting while making an attempt to get Pierson to the podium.

Donnell reviewed the Fire Service Assessment legal matter in regards to the city being reimbursed for costs associated with the Circuit Court trial and subsequent appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Legal fees and costs in the three step process amounted to just over $250,000. In bond validation proceedings, the city is limited to recover from the losing side only filing fees, transcripts and photocopying costs. Those costs are less than $1,000.

“I’m not happy with it, but I just want everyone to know that I understand the process,” said Donnell.

City staff and its legal representative Bryant Miller Olive, advised Donnell that it is in the city’s best interest to accept the payment and not pursue further reimbursement proceedings in court.

Council held the first of two public hearings Monday on its five-year HUD Consolidated Plan and One-Year Action Plan for Community Development Block Grant funding. The hearing did not require a vote, which will be done at the second public hearing on July 20.

The plan identifies the city’s affordable housing, community development and economic development needs as required by the State of Florida for receiving federal funding from HUD.

Housing Coordinator Amy Yearsley said the city has a CDBG allocation of $917,441 available plus $235,944 in carryover funds and will spend the total allocation of $1,153.385 in the coming fiscal year.

She said 65 percent of the funds goes toward public facilities, housing and economic development with 15 percent to public services. The remaining 20 percent covers $183,488 in administration costs.

Public comment on the plan is accepted now through the July 20 public hearing. The approved plan is submitted to HUD by Aug. 5 in order to take effect on Oct. 1.

Mayor Marni Sawicki introduced council to the concept of a participatory budget program that has been used successfully in other communities. The program strives to create more citizen participation in project funding for discretionary money in the annual operating budget.

The program sets aside the funds in its budget and citizens gather in workshops to come up with projects on which to spend the money culminating with a public vote.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Burch.

“I love the idea. I have seen this before,” said Williams. “It’s an excellent idea for citizens to vote on projects they’d like to see.”

While no decision was made on the program Monday night, council favored more conversation and meetings with “experts” in creating the program for Cape Coral.

Sawicki concluded that the city already is working on its 2016 operating budget so she would bring the idea forward for implementation in 2017.

Council has two meetings scheduled before taking its four-week summer hiatus. A special workshop session takes place at 4:30 p.m. today in Council Chambers with the final regular Monday meeting on June 15.