The tenor of this gathering was far more cordial this time around, with one of the major points of the meeting being an attempt to come to a compromise between the Village and developers for zoning that will allow for a walkable village center that will allow for mixed uses. One possible avenue for this would be asking for incentives from developers who want to build at higher densities. These incentives could include amenities such as landscape and streetscape enhancements, trails, riverwalk easements, civic buildings, gathering places, and more.
“There were a lot of discussions about what regulatory programs would meet the Village’s goals, while also not being burdensome on the developers,” Spikowski said after the meeting. “It’s a difficult balancing act, but that’s what I do for a living.”
“It’s particularly difficult here in Estero, because the market is so hot right now,” Spikowski continued. “It’s really been about working with developers to find a common ground.”
The presentation opened up with Estero’s Vice Mayor Howard Levitan reminding the gathered crowd that these plans were as old as the newly incorporated Village.
“This process has been going on since 2013,” Levitan said. “The first phase focused on guiding the development as the Village grew in order to incorporate. That leads us to Estero 2.0. Now that we’re incorporated, it’s time to create a community.”
As the vice mayor, Spikowski, and urban design consultant Seth Harry explained throughout the evening, making a successful community will greatly aided by diversity to the Village’s core.
“We need to move on beyond our 37 gated communities.” Levitan said. “In order for this plan to work, we need to allow for more residential development in these areas.”
The areas where the Village and the planners currently envision this core lies in three districts along U.S. 41: Two districts immediately north and south of Corkscrew Road, and one more down around Coconut Point.
“What we’re talking about is a linear corridor,” Harry said. “We want to meet growing demand for diversity in housing without diluting the Estero brand of quality housing.”
“When we’re talking about compact, walkable Village Centers, we’re really talking about neighborhoods,” Harry continued. “You’re able to accommodate a broad range of uses in a compact format. Smaller unit types, right in the middle of an amenity-rich area.”
Some of the goals are to make this area more attractive to a younger workforce, use connected streets in lieu of cul-de-sacs, and making sure that the layout anticipates change and not prevent Estero from developing in the longer term.
“We want to build for where we anticipate the market is heading, not for where it was during the downturn,” Harry said.
In conclusion, Levitan pointed out that for all the Village’s efforts, the key is to bring in as many residents and developers as possible in support of this plan.
“This is not an academic exercise,” Levitan said. “We have a vision for these areas, but we can’t impose it on the owners.”
“We cannot just tell owners what they can and cannot do, they have vested legal rights,” Levitan stated. “Our goal is to collaborate with them.”
Katie Sproul, President of Barron Collier Companies and one of the many voices that were critical of the initial plan in October, seemed encouraged by the direction the Village was now taking with the plans.
“We’ve been working with the Council and with Bill (Spikowski) and Seth (Harry), and we appreciate that very much,” Sproul said. “The incentive-based approach is a workable solution. As the details get worked out, it will be important to understand what will be palatable from a developer’s standpoint.”
Don Eslick, chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders, encouraged those involved in this process to keep a clear goal in mind.
“Vision is key to this whole thing,” Eslick said. “If you don’t have vision and you don’t have planning, you don’t have cohesion.”
By Trent Townsend