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Council debates need for more gas stations

By Staff | Oct 3, 2017

Members of the Cape Coral City Council would love nothing more than to offer high-paying jobs to its residents. The problem is finding a way to get there.

That debate came to life Monday night during its regular meeting at City Hall when a quasi-judicial hearing was held regarding the proposed construction of a convenience store/gas station and tire store on Pine Island Road.

Councilmember Jim Burch was of the camp that the more the land is subdivided for gas stations and not large companies, the less chance small companies will come, since it’s harder to put parcels together.

“We continue to subdivide for Race-Tracs. We are losing opportunities to build malls or huge facilities when we subdivide one acre instead of five or 10,” Burch said.

Councilmember Richard Leon disagreed, saying after Hurricane Irma, it brought to life the fact there are far too few gas stations.

“I’m tired of hearing about how we can’t have them. We need gas stations and we need that type of infrastructure after Irma,” Leon said. “I want big business here, but we need to take baby steps.”

As far as them being “low-paying” jobs, Councilmember Rick Williams had a different take: Don’t worry about the kid behind the counter.

“Have you seen what managers, assistant managers, franchise owners and truck drivers make?” Williams said. “We want high-paying jobs and these are.”

The gas station measure passed 7-1, with Burch the lone dissenting vote.

In other business, Williams asked the council to reconsider the vote last week on the city entering the Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program. He said that although he supported the program, he wanted to take time to research further before committing to it.

The idea was that PACE could help provide contractors to build a seawall, as well as provide loans to pay off the project. It could be used by any resident or business owner for any purpose, from seawalls to install solar power.

Williams was concerned the program wouldn’t be used for seawalls, and that one third-party provider was already being investigated.

City Manager John Szerlag called the plan “another arrow in the quiver” of options for homeowners, something that can be used if insurance, cash, or a small business or bank loan is not an option.

This again gave the feeling that the program could be rife with predatory loans that those who entered the program would be unable to pay. Williams said this could be a setting for what happened nearly a decade ago.

“The world fell apart in 2009 because of this, people being given loans that they couldn’t pay. Let’s look at this and bring it back when we have more information,” Williams said.

Mayor Marni Sawicki, who was the lone council member to vote against the program last week, citing a fear of predatory lending, discounted the notion this time, saying potential customers have other options, and withdrew her second on the motion, which allowed the proposal to die.

Also, the city council voted to appoint Pam Austin to the audit committee, replacing Maureen Buice, who took a job with the city.