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Szerlag addresses public at civic association meeting

By Staff | Jun 30, 2016

Residents came to the Cape Coral Civic Association meeting Tuesday armed with signs either in opposition to 4 a.m. bar hours or to support a resident notified his property will be taken by eminent domain.

City Manager John Szerlag was the guest speaker at the group’s monthly meeting at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, and the few dozen people in attendance both listened and were heard on a myriad of topics.

Szerlag gave the attendees a brief history on what his four-plus years have brought to the city, from revenue diversification to the fire service assessment.

He also discussed how the city has begun road paving, buying new cars and computers, as well as some of the new projects such as the UEP in North 2, Bimini Basin, The Seven Islands, Parks & Rec plan and the economic development master plan.

When it came time for the Q&A, reaction was mixed. While some praised Szerlag for the job he has done, many took the time to make their views known.

In regards to bringing high-salaried, high-tech jobs to the city by bringing in universities or colleges, one resident said there is nothing wrong with offering technical schools so people can learn trades such as plumbing and auto mechanics.

Cheryl Schaaf said she feared the city was going to become a big box town with cheap homebuilders.

“High-tech businesses are looking for high-end homes, not 4 a.m. bars. We can do better, or we’ll be like Lehigh Acres,” Schaaf said.

Szerlag said he is trying to create an environment for investing by making the city safe. Cape Coral is considered the second safest city of all in Florida with more than 100,000 people, he said.

Which is why Debbie and Charles Guida came to the meeting. They were concerned over what the 4 a.m. bar hours might do to the serenity of their city.

“We’re concerned about the safety of our community. We’re among the best places in the country to retire, and we want to keep it that way,” Debbie said. “By inviting people here from other towns that don’t have 4 a.m. bars, we’re inviting danger. If they want to drink, let them go to Miami.”

“The streets are already rolled up and I’m trying to figure out where these people are,” Charles said. “I live on a busy street, but I can sit there for hours and not have any cars come by. That’s why we came here.”

Jeff Bunch, for whom Schaaf made a sign in support, talked about his situation with the city regarding eminent domain and his property.

“There are 20 properties for sale all within the area where they want to put an irrigation lift pump, but wanted my property, which isn’t for sale, and offered me a fraction of what it’s worth,” Bunch said. “They just want to pay less than what the market is bearing.”

Bunch said if the city takes the land he’ll go to court.

Szerlag did not comment, since the possibility of a lawsuit exists.

There was also concern over eminent domain at Bimini Basin. Szerlag said the developers could end up buying up the surrounding land and neighborhoods.

As far as the undergrounding of electricity in North 2, city spokesperson Connie Barron said the city is trying to find a way to lower costs.

Szerlag said he enjoyed the lively discussion about local issues and that he would continue to make the city safe for everyone.

“I’m happy and proud the police make us the second-safest city in Florida and I’ll do what we can to keep that moniker,” Szerlag said. “I consider myself as a manager on demand, and when I’m asked to speak, I’ll be happy to communicate with them about anything municipal.”