However, several island residents attending that meetings felt that procedure silenced any constructive public input. While public comment was held at the start of the meeting, before Torgerson spoke, any reaction to his comments was withheld to the end of the evening, long after he had left following the conclusion of his presentation.
It was the next evening, January 14th, at the Bay Oaks Recreation Center on Fort Myers Beach, where the public would have a chance to have their questions and concerns addressed by Torgerson and his team of Ron Flick of the Compass Group, as well as marine engineers Hans Wilson and Dick Tomasello. The atmosphere of the Center was a far cry from the hot, crowded, standing-room only space at Chapel by Sea, where TPI held an open house back in December. With enough seating for everyone attending, in addition to air conditioning, tempers were more subdued this go-around. There were still issues that concerned the people in attendance, though.
Torgerson discussed two topics regarding the project that night: the seawall (or Coastal Protection System) and the architecture, which was another hot-button issue at the December open house.
“It’s too much to go through the entire project in one setting, and do justice to it,” Torgerson explained as to why the evening would be limited to just these aspects of the project.
“The formal process has not begun,” Torgerson said. “We think there was tremendous feedback that we received after the December 14th public outreach. We’ve made an awful lot of adjustments to the proposed concept. We’re trying to stay on a pace of offering these public outreaches on a monthly basis.”
“Every rendering we presented a month ago has changed significantly,” Torgerson said. “Next month, we don’t know what the topics will be yet, but I can envision traffic, parking, or zoning. There are other topics, and they deserve their just time.”
The evening was kicked off by Torgerson explaining how the Coastal Protection System was not a seawall. Flick said that it didn’t qualify for a seawall definition, as the structure, as it is now proposed, is not seaward of the mean high water-line.
“What you’re trying to do is protect erosion from destructive scouring from storm events,” Flicks said. “One of the things we also know we need to do as part of this coastal protection system is integrate accessible pedestrian circulation, because that’s part of your plan in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.”
The major purpose of building this structure, which would go from the northern edge of Lynn Hall Park all the way to the southern-most part of the Grand Resorts property, would be to alter the flood zone designations of the island on the FEMA maps. Their hopes are that it would turn any property landward of it into an AE zone - still within the 100-year floodplain, but not subject to the more restrictive codes present in areas designated as “velocity” zones (VE).
Flick went on to say that the system will have 4 components to the system: an expanded dune system, a rigid armoring wall, a boardwalk, and a beach nourishment program.
However, many in attendance were concerned over where the water that hit the wall would go, and who would pay for the nourishment program.
While the engineers present said the armoring will would reflect the water, some in the public still felt that it would shift the brunt of the waves to the properties directly north and south of the wall.
As for who pays? Torgerson stated that beach nourishment to counter the effects of the erosion caused by this system would be paid for by revenue generated by guests and commerce taking place at the Grand Resorts and by those who directly benefit from the wall.
Torgerson then went on to the second part of the meeting, where his team unveiled new renderings of the Grand Resorts, with numerous key changes to various parts of the project. Two of the most noticeable were an entire floor being taken off both the Hilton Resort and the parking garage. The purchase of the parking lot next to the Sunset Beach Tropical Grill also allowed for the Hilton to be moved 100 feet to the north, staggering it with the garage.
However, in spite of these changes, most of the proposed development will still exceed the height restrictions set forth in Fort Myers Beach’s Comprehensive Plan.
The style of the buildings was also adjusted. According to Torgerson and his team, they now feature more influence from Key West construction styles, rather than a South Beach style evident in the earlier concepts.
The roundabout was also made to be wider in diameter, and no longer features fountains in its center.
Torgerson stressed that the development would be a boon to the commercial district of the island. “There’s not a lot of economic vitality to the area that we’re proposing to redevelop.”
However, a number of beach residents in attendance expressed concerns of the scale of the project, feeling that it would be too big of a departure from the traditional feel that drew many to Fort Myers Beach in the first place.
“My father moved here years ago because it reminded him of old Florida,” One member of the public said during public comment. “I don’t really want to see this level of development on the island.”
By Trent Townsend