Pelican Elementary traffic issue brought to council
With public schools in Lee County back in session Monday, City Council is looking to help resolve traffic complaints homeowners say exist along Southwest 36th Terrace as parents drop off and pick up children at Pelican Elementary School.
Residents say they have experienced property damage, speeding and careless driving habits on their street making it an unsafe environment for children walking or biking to school. They claim the problems were created in 2013 when the traffic pattern at the school changed from separate entry and exit points to the current curricular pattern using the same entry point.
Residents took their pleas to the school principal and the Lee County School District administration, but to no avail. The second access point on Southwest 3rd Avenue was torn out and landscaped when the pattern changed in 2013.
“I agree with other members that this is a sSchool Board issue,” said Mayor Marni Sawicki. “I don’t know why the city should be involved in this.”
Residents suggested making Southwest 36th Terrace one-way from 6-8 a.m. Traffic cones and additional law enforcement presence also were discussed.
Councilmember Jim Burch told the residents in attendance, “What I want to know is who closed that entrance?” Told it was the school district, he continued, “They will say it’s our problem because it sits on our property. The problem is the school district created it so the school district has to get involved in this by restoring the old entrance.”
Councilmember Lenny Nesta agreed that the solution rests with the School Board.
“If we get involved in this we will be asked to get involved in any number of traffic issues at other schools, too,” he said. “There are traffic issues at virtually every school.”
School district representatives told the residents the exit was closed due to congestion that caused delays in getting school buses through on time and causes long lines on Pelican Boulevard.
Police Chief Bart Connelly said his department was contacted about the complaints too late to get a grasp of the situation as it is and try to resolve it.
“I was about to go see the situation when I found out it was coming to council tonight,” Connelly said. “One way is no way, it creates other problems. Give me time to assess the problem and see what can be done.”
Lee County School District transportation manager Ken Dobson was in attendance to defend the pattern change as council pounded him with questions.
“The route we have is the best route with what we have to work with,” Dobson said. “There always will be a small percentage of (drivers) that won’t follow directions creating the problem.”
Burch fired back, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this (pattern) and see it made things worse. This is not acceptable to us. All I ask is for you to take it back to the powers that be and say look at it with an open mind.”
Burch suggested a traffic study, but no one on council wished the city to be on the hook for the cost of such a study, deferring any costs to the school district.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell assured the residents that the city will work with the school district to come up with a solution.
“You have our attention,” Donnell said. “Just be patient while we try to work things out.”
On another topic, council approved a one-year extension for the proposed Embers Lakes Estates residential development project located along Embers Parkway and Nelson Road. The original Planned Development Project was approved by council in 2007 before the economy tanked. The property was sold in 2013 to Ayal Keren, who asked council for the extension. He plans to develop a much different multi-family and condominium project on the 104 acres.
Keren agreed to follow the established site plan while drawing up an amendment to the PDP to suit his vision for 300 to 400 upscale units, including updated codes and landscaping regulations.
Some on council wanted assurances that there would be no negative impact on the project or the community if the original PDP or an amended version was brought to council at some point.
Councilmember Rana Erbrick wanted to know why the owners were requesting an extension rather than applying for a new PDP.
“Why not just let the project die and bring back a new PDP?” she said.
Keren explained that it would take up to 18 months to prepare a new PDP from scratch, but an extension would save him time and he could follow the old site plan to begin certain infrastructure work right away.
“Who knows what will happen if we wait for a year and a half from now,” Keren said.
Council voted 6-2 to approve the extension with Erbrick and Nesta voting no.
Council members will discuss the Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal at two special workshop sessions this week. Both start at 4:30 on Wednesday and Thursday in Council Chambers at City Hall. Council’s next regular meeting is next Monday.
All City Council meetings are open to the public.