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Council hears updates on Bimini Basin, Seven Islands

By Staff | Dec 4, 2015

Cape Coral’s City Council members understand there are a lot of moving parts going on right now, including the progress of two of the city’s most ambitious projects, Bimini Basin and Seven Islands and the Northwest Cape.

With all this going on, the city has to find the right people to invest to make it happen.

That was the theme of Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting at the Nicholas Annex.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout said she was confident city staff has the knowhow to make things happen regarding the two projects in making them destinations.

“It’s going to take time. I would imagine if the economy stays good, we can see progress by the beginning of next year,” Stout said.

In the meantime, City Manager John Szerlag sought the council’s input and eventual approval on the two projects to proceed with the creation of new zoning districts and FLUM amendments for the districts, and preparation for an RFP to hire a project manager.

In a presentation to council, Szerlag said the top five attributes for Bimini Basin are a entertainment hub, aquarium, marina and cultural venter, two-tiered boardwalk and farmers market.

They also presented a timeline of expected events, culminating in a rezoning of Bimini Basin by early fall.

During council discussion, there seemed to be some trepidation.

“Let’s take preliminary steps before we move forward and determine if this is feasible. Feasibility is one thing, building it is another,” Councilmember Jim Burch said.

Mayor Marni Sawicki said it is a complex issue, especially in regards to the Rubicon, staff’s ability to handle it and the infrastructure. That said, the city shouldn’t be its own worst enemy regarding progress, she noted.

“We are going to do what we’ve done the last 20 years and that is getting in our own way of progress,” Sawicki said.

“We will continue to get in our own way if we have eight people not talking to each other,” Councilmember Rick Williams said. “We have a great staff, but they don’t do things like this. We need a developer to work on what needs to be done.”

In the end, council decided zoning would move forward.

Regarding Seven Islands, Javier Omana, director of Land Planning Services, gave council a timeline on what has happened to this point, including the town meeting and the three-day charrette.

“The process was enlightening. We had ideas for both land and water use and learned parellels between the islands and Northwest Cape,” Omana said. “Elements are there for possible mixed use and entertainment.”

There are things the Northwest Cape residents are adamant about, such as high rises and affordable housing. Council wasn’t so sure about the former, seeing as it spent lots of money to purchase the land and wants the bang for its buck.

“We need to be more vertical on the islands. Our return for our dollar will come from that,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “I’m hoping this is ‘while I’m still alive’ doable.”

“The higher you go, the more revenue you get. This was purchased with tax dollars, so it’s a difficult situation,” Sawicki said. “I think we have the council to get this done.”

Omana said three concepts from the charrette would be presented, along with a hybrid fourth option.

Economic Development Director Dana Brunett also spoke to council about an economic development master plan that would view the RFP process, identify doable master plan initiatives, establish measures to monitor progress toward its goals and seek approval to get an RFP to proceed with the plan.

Brunett said as a pre-platted community, the best the city could hope for is 20 percent commercial. As it is currently, Cape Coral is 10 percent commercial. Translation: City residents have to pick up much of the slack.

This could mean having to bring in more staff and incentives to keep the people they hire.

“I want a plan as quickly as possible. I want a visual and see where we can look for land,” Burch said. “We need to make commercial development happen.”

Stout said she would support an RFP. The problem is the city is limited by a lack of an airport or an interstate.

Councilmember John Carioscia agreed.

“We don’t have a main artery running through Cape Coral. That means we’re on the short end of the stick regarding transportation. We are also in competition with the county, which has a larger budget, more sites and an airport,” Carioscia said. “We also have thousands of plats owned by thousands of people. How do we bring them together?”