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Council OKs Downtowner Car Wash

By Staff | Aug 12, 2015

By a vote of 5-3, Cape Coral City Council overturned the rejection by the Planning & Zoning Appeals board and will allow developers to build a third Downtowner Car Wash on Cape Coral Parkway next to Ford’s Garage.

The project came down to a difference in interpretation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, CRA Redevelopment Plan and South Cape Vision Plan regulations. City planning staff maintained the project was not compatible with the plans while developers maintained that it is compatible. City staff also noted that the business does not follow the pedestrian friendly goal of the South Cape district.

The property required developers to file for a special exception to build the car wash.

“I think this is a perfectly good use for this property,” said former CRA executive director John Jacobsen. “I am in total support of the car wash. It is a clean, good use for downtown. A car wash was specifically included in the special exceptions of the 2010 Zivkovic Plan that I helped write. Here comes somebody willing to take a problematic piece of land and do something with it.”

Problems with the property include being dissected by an alley and agreements with the owners of Fort’s Garage that the property can not become another bar/restaurant for a number of years as well as a joint agreement for use of available parking spaces.

After a lengthy presentation by the developers, attorney, architects and designers and Downtowner owners Jay and Troy Montpetit, council weighed its decision diligently. The evidence presented at the meeting seemed to sway some members. A screening wall and additional landscaping plans along with placing entrances to the car wash on Southeast 17th Avenue and Southeast 47th Terrace instead of Cape Coral Parkway weighed heavily.

“Right now we have an opportunity to remove a non-producing blighted site that has been vacant since 2011,” Troy Montpetit told council. “We can be part of a small change right now, otherwise who knows how long this property will remain vacant.”

The owners were supported by dozens of blue T-shirt clad employees, business associates and friends in the audience. Several of them voiced their support at the podium and two citizens voiced opposition.

Making a motion to uphold the PZA decision, Councilmember Jim Burch told the ownership, “I support your business, I support this project, just not on this parcel. It’s not about making a punitive decision. This decision is very difficult one for me to make. I would be glad to help you find another parcel in the South Cape.”

“I can count on less than one hand the times I’ve disagreed with staff’s decisions,” said Councilmember Rana Erbrick. “Is this the best use of this land, probably not, but do we want to wait 20 years? No.”

Councilmember John Carioscia chimed in, “Seriously, with the wall and landscaping could you tell from Cape Coral Parkway that this is a car wash? I think not. That area is not suited for walkability like the core area. People are not going to cross six lanes on the parkway to get to the other side there.”

Burch’s motion to uphold the staff rejection failed 3-5 with Erbrick, Richard Leon, Lenny Nesta, Carioscia and Derrick Donnell opposing.

Donnell then moved to overturn the staff decision and that passed 5-3 with Mayor Marni Sawicki, Rick Williams and Burch voting no. Donnel’s motion included conditions regarding the alley vacation, relocating all utilities (at an estimated cost of $200,000), no access from the parkway and following the revised site and landscaping plans.

Developers will now move forward on the alleyway and utility relocation before construction can start on the 1.3-acre site. The full-service car wash will consist of three buildings, the car wash, an office building and a pet wash building. Total investment was stated to be about $5 million. They anticipate opening for business in about 18 months.

Other action

After delaying action on an ordinance formalizing requirements for the composition of the city Canvassing Board last week to seek answers to questions, Mayor Sawicki recused herself from serving on this year’s board because she has attended two campaign fundraising events for the upcoming election. However, council voted 3-5 to not approve the ordinance with Nesta, Sawicki, Williams, Burch and Carioscia casting dissenting votes.

Williams suggested future members of the board should include a non-elected official, perhaps city manager or city attorney, to avoid conflicts of interest. Members liked the idea of removing council members from the board.

“I agree with Councilmember Williams,” said Burch. “As council members we have too much to do otherwise. With four members each election it might be hard to find a council member to serve tonight in place of the mayor.”

Nesta favored bringing the ordinance back in another form. Council voted 7-1 to do just that with Erbrick dissenting.

Council approved five Local Agency Program agreements with the Florida Department of Transportation to install nine miles of sidewalks at no cost to the city using more than $2 million in FDOT grants.

Sidewalks are targeted for Sands Boulevard from El Dorado Parkway to Cape Coral Parkway; Chiquita Boulevard from Pine Island Road to Northwest 4th Street; Palm Tree Boulevard from Southeast 47th Terrace to Southeast 40th Street; Sands Boulevard from Cape Coral Parkway to Beach Parkway; and El Dorado Parkway from Del Prado Boulevard to Coronado Parkway. The projects include both sides of the road except for the stretch of Chiquita Boulevard at this time. Completion is anticipated by the end of 2016.

Council will be repealing its own ordinance governing taxicabs and other vehicles for hire to adopt revisions approved by Lee County Commissioners. Council will vote on the new ordinance at a public hearing on Aug. 24.

The ordinance as introduced does not include a rate schedule, which cab operators have asked the city to consider including to further protect riders from sliding rates.

Starting Sept. 1, the Cape Coral Fire Department will be launching its Medical Priority Dispatch System which has been undergoing testing over the past year. The system is set up to prioritize the rising number of medical calls the department receives each year and decide on what resources to send.

“Do we really need to send a fire truck on every call?” asked Chief Donald Cochran. “No. Our goal is to respond to 60 percent of the calls within five minutes.”

Cochran said the past several years the department has not been able to keep up with the calls causing response times to suffer.

“This will not help us reach that goal this year, or next year,” Cochran said. “It is a long-term process that includes building future fire stations. This is a change in philosophy.”

The department expects the MPDS system to reduce the number of calls for service by 10 percent.

Council’s next meeting is Monday, Aug. 17, at City Hall. Council also has scheduled two joint workshop meetings with the Budget Review Committee on Aug. 19 and 20 at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.