While the temperature of the room was sweltering, as it filled to capacity with hundreds of people throughout the evening, the people’s reaction to said plans got even hotter at points. When Tina Matte, a spokesperson for Torgerson’s group, revealed concept drawings of multiple hotels and buildings towering over Estero Boulevard on both sides, the crowd erupted in jeers.
“Did you hear a lot of boos?” Bobbie Walters said. “The project is beautiful, but why not have it down by Lover’s Key, where that’s supposed to be the top spot for people to go to? This is a great little family island, and I’ve been here forever. I like change, but this isn’t very nice. If I have to look out my front door on Crescent Street and see a big wall of a parking structure, it would break my heart.”
“They also don’t tell you what will happen to Times Square,” Walters continued. “How is this project going to affect those people who have been there for years and years?”
Bobbie Walters making her opinion obvious.
“My reaction to this is so mixed, that I think the only thing that would be reasonable would be to have an initiative on the ballot and let the people here make the decision,” Georgia Shakti-Hill, a resident of Fort Myers Beach since 1982, said. “I am enthralled with the small town aspect of Fort Myers Beach. I wouldn’t want to live here if I drove down Estero Boulevard and ended up at a miniature Coconut Point.”
There were those that held optimism for what the project could bring to the beach, including former Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy.
“I’m of a mind that if things can be accomplished to help the traffic flow, parking, and public safety, I’m all for moving it forward,” Murphy said. “That being said, you don’t just give them everything under the sun. All that will be worked out in the details. In concept, it’s worth looking at moving it forward.”
Concept drawings weren’t the only take away from the open house, though. While Torgerson informed both the public and town and county officials of several acquisitions he had made at a previous meeting held on November 30th at Florida Southwestern State College, he revealed two more properties had been purchased at the open house: the parking lot between the Sunset Beach Tropical Grill and Crescent Street Family Park at Times Square, and the Ocean Jewels building that sit near the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge.
The open house was not the only time this past week where the development was discussed publicly. The following Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners had an item on their agenda that would have allowed County Staff to gather information regarding the Developers’ requests for the County to participate in a land exchange, as well as permit the County Manager to allow them to apply for a permit for a seawall and boardwalk as well as FEMA modifications.
The item was ultimately deferred at the request of Commissioner Larry Kiker, who had intitially put it on the agenda. He explained it would be best to communicate with the Town Government of Fort Myers Beach more before they make any moves on the project.
“We’d do ourselves a disservice if we can’t identify where we are on this, and where we’re going,” Kiker said during the meetings, pointing out that every concept drawing we’ve seen will be obsolete if certain aspects of the project ultimately aren’t improved.
One such aspect is the proposed seawall that the developers want to build alongside a boardwalk on the gulf side of their properties. However, that proposal is controversial due to several negative effects seawalls can have on beaches, and was a key topic of discussion by residents of Fort Myers Beach who showed up at the Commission meeting.
“With this seawall being against our code, and all that entails, I would like to have somebody from FEMA come in and talk to us about this, so that we really understand the effects,” Judy Haataja, from Fort Myers Beach, said during public comment. “We really don’t know the engineering of this seawall, and really don’t understand the effects of it. There’s a reason it’s against our code to put in a seawall. We really need to understand this.”
“It’s kind of being pushed down our throats,” Haataja said. “You’ve seen the rebellion on Fort Myers Beach. It’s only seven miles long and a quarter-mile wide. You just can’t have an immense project like this on Fort Myers Beach.”
After the presentation, developers addressed questions and concerns from the crowd.
The Sun Bay contacted some outside sources to get their take on how a seawall could impact the beach, and their concerns mirrored the citizens.
“I would be very concerned about the installation of such long seawall,” Gary Appelson, policy coordinator of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, said in an interview. And while he explained that he was not as well-versed as a coastal engineer on the nuts and bolts of seawall construction, he did offer a perspective on how they can impact the natural flow of a beach. “Seawalls inhibit recovery of a beach after storm events, and increase erosion during storm events. They lock up upland sand that would be available to the beach, and decrease shoreline resiliency.”
Dr. Jennifer Jurado, the Director of the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, could not say exactly what would happen to FMB specifically should a seawall be put in, but gave some insight on similar developments along the east coast.
“Waterward placement of hard infrastructure is vulnerable, even with a seawall,” Jurado said. “There’s also a question of whether the seawall will drive the nourishment projects. Ultimately, that development is going to want a beach.
“(Seawalls) are not the desirable model,” Jurado concluded. She also raised the question that will have to be asked if this project goes forward as is: Who pays for these nourishment projects, the developers or the taxpayers?
By Trent Townsend