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Council backs community garden project

By Staff | Sep 1, 2015

After rejecting previous efforts over the years, Cape Coral City Council approved its first community garden pilot program at Monday’s meeting thanks to the cooperation between the city Parks & Recreation Department staff and three city Rotary Clubs.

Rotarians’ involvement was key to the project, which will be constructed on city-owned land just north of and adjacent to City Hall. Just as they did at Rotary Park, the clubs will fund the project with a $30,000 donation along with members providing the labor and equipment.

The garden will have perimeter landscaping and fencing to protect the 52 approximately 10-by-10 garden plots that will be rented out at the rate of $50 per year. The facility will have an irrigation system, a shed for storage of garden tools and a centrally located sun shade seating area.

“Most gardens are at overflow capacity,” said Parks & Rec. specialist Honey Phillips. “There are waiting lists at other area gardens.”

Phillips has been pulling the project together for the last couple of years because of the success of garden projects in other communities. The last major hurdle was finding a central location that had access to water.

“This will be another project that Rotary can give to the citizens of the community,” Rotary member and longstanding resident Elmer Tabor told council. “We are excited to be involved in this project.”

Now that the project has received unanimous approval from council, it was not clear how long it will take before the garden area becomes operational.

Sands Boulevard

sidewalk/palms issue

Council accepted City Manager John Szerlag’s solution to the Sands Boulevard sidewalk controversy by a 6-2 margin Monday night.

According to the proposal, the 70 palm trees planted in the city right-of-way still have to be moved, but closer to the street instead of onto private property. Szerlag suggested the idea also called for the sidewalk to be installed one foot closer to the private properties. That would give a 6-foot “planting area” between the roadway and the sidewalk, instead of 5 feet, for the trees.

A suggestion that residents apply for a no-cost permit to plant trees in that 6-foot area was rejected by council.

Residents wanting to keep their palms will be relocated at their expense, which could run as much as $1,000 per tree. Any trees that residents do not want to relocate will be removed at no cost to the owners.

Reiterating her objections to the plan from the discussion a week earlier, Councilmember Rana Erbrick said, “To do this is telling others that it’s OK, the city will take care of it. I’m looking at it long term. What happens when the roots start breaking up concrete or pavement? Then we have a maintenance problem. I don’t think 6 feet is enough.”

Councilmember Lenny Nesta added, “We are opening Pandora’s Box. This does not do the city justice. There is a reason why cities have rights-of-way.”

Erbrick and Nesta cast the dissenting votes. The sidewalk installation on both sides of Sands Boulevard is scheduled to start in October.

Other items

Council finally reached an agreement on the makeup of the election canvassing board by appointing City Auditor Margaret Krym to fill the vacancy created by Mayor Marni Sawicki’s resignation from the three-member panel to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest. She stepped down after it was learned she had attended fundraisers for two candidates seeking election to council in this month’s municipal election.

Krym joins Cape Coral City Clerk Rebecca vanDeutekom and Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington on the board that is charged with verifying the election ballots.

Council also made some changes to the ordinance governing the city’s water and sewer utilities.

One of the major changes will increase the deposits paid by customers who are found to have tampered with water meters or obtain unauthorized service to city water, including non-payment of water bills. The deposit charged can be as much as the highest water bill over the past 12 months, or two times the standard deposit, whichever is higher.

Councilmember Richard Leon and staff spent the past year analyzing the regulations for installation changes, billing, liens, violations, penalties, meter tests and fire protection.

Leon made the motion to approve the recommendations with the condition that a customer’s water will not be turned off or charged the penalty deposit until they miss paying a bill on time more than twice in a 12-month period.

“We realize that things happen, people sometimes forget to pay a bill, or are unable to for some economic reason,” said Leon.

The recommended amendments to the ordinance and Leon’s added condition were unanimously approved.

Council has two special meetings on Wednesday in Council Chambers. One at 4:30 p.m. is the joint meeting with the Budget Review Committee to discuss changes to the Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget. The second meeting at 6:15 p.m. is a special meeting to discuss the salary ranges and compensation market philosophy for the city’s non-bargaining employees as well as hear an update of the South Florida Canoe/Kayak Club project on Lake Kennedy.

Another special council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 10.

Council has no regular meeting scheduled on Sept. 7 in observance of Labor Day or Sept. 14 in observance of Rosh Hashanah, but will meet in a special session on Sept. 14 in Council Chambers. The next regular council meeting is Monday, Sept. 21.