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Council returns for marathon session

By Staff | Jul 23, 2019

After a month-long hiatus, the Cape Coral City Council got back to business Monday for its first regular meeting, and if it seemed as if the council members were trying to make up for lost time, it’s because they were.

The meeting took just under six hours, with many of the agenda items having already been brought up and tabled or in need of further discussion.

Public input started a few minutes after the meeting commenced, during comment for the consent agenda, numerous residents who live near the Cape Coral Yacht Club protested the possible removal of the tennis courts.

“We do not understand why the council would allow properties to be devaluated by removing one of the most utilized amenities to build a marina building with restrooms that takes up less space than one court,” said Steve Averbach, who represented a group of tennis club members, which he said numbered 378.

“If ever the phrase ‘They paved paradise to put up a parking lot’ applied, it does here,” said Sandra Thorn.

City Manager John Szerlag said that the people voted for the $60 million GO Bond referendum in November, and that they would have a say in what goes on site as well as at other parks and park locations throughout the city.

“Nothing is set in stone. There are no done deals. We didn’t say it will be $60 million and we promise it will be a nice park,” Szerlag said. “We said we had initial concept plans and, once we hired the consultants, we said an important part was getting together with the neighborhood and take their input and adjust and calibrate the plan.”

Michael Ilczyszyn, project manager for the city of Cape Coral’s Parks Master Plan, provided a timeline, saying public engagement would begin Aug. 7 and last until Sept. 17. From there, the master plan would be drafted and completed by early December for council consideration and possible approval before the end of the year.

In other business:

Also concerning a consent agenda item, Councilmember John Gunter took issue with a resolution regarding tree replacement in city medians post-Hurricane Irma, saying the city could be paying much less for royal palms and other plantings.

Gunter said he did research and found that the lowest bidder to plant 114 trees bid $84,820, including $3,600 each for four royal palms. Buying wholesale from the farm, the average would be $13,090. He also researched past bids approved by council and said he saw the same results.

While the bidder’s price comes with warranties and professional installation, there is substantial savings to be had, he said.

“I looked at three projects, we could have saved $215,000. We have to ask ourselves if we can plant and warranty those trees for that, I think yes,” said Gunter, who brought his findings to Szerlag. “I want to see us get a bigger bang for our buck.”

Mayor Joe Coviello said the problem may be the procurement process, where the city sends a project out to bid, and is then stuck with the lowest bid, even if it’s substantially higher than the DIY method.

“When you get the lowest bid, you have to go along with that. I don’t know if we’re given the opportunity to shop the price,” Coviello said. “We need to look at the process and see if there’s a better way and reassure our taxpayers we’re utilizing their monies the best way possible.”

Gunter made a motion to deny the purchase resolution and suggested the city look more carefully at how it can improve the bidding process.

The denial passed 7-0, with the procurement process the city uses to be discussed further at a future council workshop meeting.

City Council approved the numerous “resolutions of necessities” to purchase, by eminent domain, the land needed to complete the Crystal Lake, Lake Meade and Festival parks.

The resolutions were voted for in blocks according to what park they were meant for, with the vast majority needed to complete to Festival Park, more than 15 years in the making.

No specific parcels were brought up for discussion.

The land will be bought with the voter-approved Parks Master Plan GO Bond money, with $5 million set aside for the purchase. Land appraisers are looking at the properties to ascertain their values. Szerlag has been directed to offer the owner no more than 20 percent above the appraised value of the property.

City Council held the first of two public hearings on the much-discussed land use and development and zoning changes planned for the city.

The land use changes include replacing Planned Development Projects (PDP) with Planned Unit Developments (PUD), fewer special exemptions, more flexibility with changes and refined parking regulations.

It would also consolidate, rename or eliminate zoning districts. Three single-family residential districts would become R-1, for example, while seldom-used ones like C-3 or P-2 would be eliminated.

The second public hearing is set for Aug. 5, when a vote is expected.

Council did pass a measure to change policy in the Future Land Use plan by removing affordable housing density doubling language and reducing Commercial Activity Center residential densities from 25 to 16 units/acre and increasing Downtown Mixed residential densities from 75 to 125 units/ acre.

City Council put off its decision to hire a new legislative clerk.

Council named Tom Hayden it fill a vacancy on the Budget Review Committee.