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Sunday, 06 March 2016 08:51

Guest Opinion: Grand Resorts Developer Defends Project

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Guest Opinion: Grand Resorts Developer Defends Project

“The Town of Fort Myers is faced with an important election involving several big issues. After listening to a recent candidates’ debate forum, I felt compelled to write this letter. It is information I felt was very important for you to have and consider when evaluating and making your upcoming decisions pertaining to the downtown redevelopment topic. Grand Resorts is very close to being ready to make its Application to the Town; however, that may or may not occur before the election,” TPI Hospitality CEO Tom Torgerson wrote as a forward to this Guest Opinion.

GRFMB Commercial Planned Development Application will be consistent with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan only requesting four minor deviations that are allowed by the Land Development Code, due to the uniqueness of this CPD and the provisions of the Comprehensive Plan. The requested CPD does not request any Comprehensive Plan Amendments or Variances.
The GRFMB proposed redevelopment project covers approximately 10.4 +/- acres at the base of the Matanzas Bridge to the Gulf of Mexico. The location of the property is unique and creates a one-of-a-kind redevelopment opportunity as compared to the balance of the island/Town. It is within the Pedestrian Commercial Future Land Use, Times Square / Downtown Core Redevelopment Area and Old San Carlos Boulevard Master Plan. The property is zoned Commercial Planned Development and Downtown and is located immediately adjacent to the Times Square Pedestrian Corridor. Each of these elements encourages redevelopment of commercial uses in a manner that promotes pedestrian walkability, connectivity between uses, and clustering of commercial intensity to provide open spaces and view corridors.
GRFMB is specifically requesting a Commercial Planned Development (CPD) to bring the property under a unified Master Plan that is consistent and compatible with the regulations of the Town’s Future Land Use and Downtown Zoning District. The purpose of the CPD zoning district, according to the Town’s Land Development Code, is to provide flexibility enabling property owners to promote development that addresses the unique conditions of their property and location within the Town. The Commercial Planned Development is the “key” that ensures the redevelopment proposed by GRFMB is site-specific.
The Pedestrian Commercial Future Land Use is a “primarily commercial district” for the intense activity centers of Times Square (which includes Old San Carlos Boulevard and portions of Estero Boulevard). Within this Future Land Use Category, the Town’s Comprehensive Plan suggests that Floor Area Ratios (FAR) may be as high as 2.5 FAR as a means of encouraging more intensity than could occur elsewhere in the Town and on the island. The Town’s Comprehensive Plan considers Hotels to be a commercial use and suggests that commercial intensity be measured by Floor Area Ratio. One of the pronounced benefits of the hotel commercial use is that it generates less traffic than other commercial zoning uses authorized in the redevelopment area of the downtown. The Land Development Code states that properties within the Downtown have a different FAR depending upon the property’s location; specifically, a FAR of 1.4 is permitted for properties fronting Estero Boulevard and 1.8 is permitted for properties within the Times Square Area. The requested CPD and proposed development plan for GRFMB will demonstrate consistency with this provision of the Land Development Code utilizing the 1.4 and 1.8 FAR. The Land Development Code provides the ability for a Planned Development Application to file a deviation request for usage of Commercial Floor Area Ratio.
The Town’s Comprehensive Plan encourages more intensity in the Pedestrian Commercial Future Land Use area as the commercial activity center for the Town. Typically, commercial Floor Area Ratio is related to height. Clustering the available FAR into a multi-story building enables more of the property to be reserved for open space, pedestrian plazas and malls, etc. The requested CPD Site Plan and use of FAR allows for better use of subject property, clustering the resort and mixed use facilities in a general location, accommodating setbacks and features unique to these Gulf-front properties protecting view corridors, establishing public and open spaces, promoting vistas and open spaces within and surrounding the development, improving setbacks from the dune systems and eliminating impacts on recreation areas. Furthermore, the height of the proposed structures is consistent and compatible with nearby resort facilities, including the Lani Kai, Bitiki West, Edison House, Marina Village at Snug Harbor, etc. Flexibility for building height will be a requested deviation from the Land Development Code as related to the resort uses. The exact height requests are currently being calculated but are approximately 3’ for the Holiday Inn Resort and 13’ for both the Hilton and AC Marriott Resorts. The mixed use parking facility, the largest footprint within the GRFMB proposal, is approximately 9’ below the height threshold. The roof line of the mixed use parking facility has purposely been lowered to eliminate encroachments into the view corridor from Matanzas Bridge. Not that the formula works this way, but for sake of illustrating flexibility to achieve better outcomes, if one netted the square footage of the entire GRFMB buildings being proposed, there would exist no height deviation.
The proposed Coastal Protection System (CPS) is one of the significant benefits the requested Commercial Planned Development advances to the public. The CPS ensures that the existing commercial uses within the Times Square Pedestrian Corridor can remain at grade level into the future. The CPS includes an expanded dune system, a coastal armoring structure, a pedestrian boardwalk connecting beach front uses and finally a beach re-nourishment plan. Portions of the CPD have been blighted by the inability to protect its structures, infrastructure and/or rebuild those structures at grade level due to coastal building requirements of State and Federal jurisdictions. Additionally, the Comprehensive Plan desires for the Pedestrian Commercial Future Land Use to have a grade-level pedestrian interface, which cannot be accomplished along both sides of Estero Boulevard due to the VE Velocity Zone. The proposed CPS will result in the changing of the FEMA VE Zone to a VA Zone, which will allow for the area to maintain pedestrian commercial uses as intended. The Comprehensive Plan does not want sea walls along the Gulf for valid reasons and the CPS does not include one. The CPS is the last resort we can determine to protect existing structures in a responsible manner. Most of the lineal Gulf front where the CPS is proposed has existing hardened structures forward of the 1978 Coastal Construction Line. In an effort to be consistent with the location of the existing structures, a deviation will be requested to place the coastal armoring structure in alignment with existing structures, immediately forward of them.
The mixed-use parking facility incorporates multiple uses for purposes of providing commercial retail, office, public use for emergency services, parking spaces for the proposed resorts and additional parking spaces for the public. The mixed-use facility includes liner buildings that will accommodate the commercial retail, office and public use for emergency services. Liner buildings are proposed along available facades up to approximately 18 feet in height. Above that height architectural elements and streetscaping are utilized to shield the parking spaces and create an appealing architectural statement while maximizing the proposed parking space. A deviation will be included in the Commercial Planned Development to address the location of the liner buildings up to a height of 18 feet. The location of the mixed-use facility and incorporation of additional public parking spaces is consistent with the Old San Carlos Master Plan and Land Development Code.
The requested Commercial Planned Development is consistent with the numerous Goals, Objectives and Policies in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and utilizes appropriate processes to request flexibility in the proposed site design consistent with the Land Development Code. In doing so, the GRFMB proposal provides tremendous public benefit and not only meets all of the Comprehensive Plan Goals, but exceeds many of them. This will all be addressed in our detailed Application that is forthcoming.

Tom Torgerson

Read 1064 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 March 2016 08:59

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