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Friday, 03 July 2015 16:53

The Estero Bay Agency on Bay Management and Florida Gulf Coast University are forever linked.

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Without the ABM there may have never been an FGCU. The agency is a product of a settlement agreement that set aside a lawsuit filed over the location of the university, built in what was then a remote part of Lee County.

Virtually every professional planner involved in the siting process agreed the current campus location was among the worst proposed. It had the advantage of being owned and offered by Ben Hill Griffin III himself, however, a political mover and shaker and huge contributor to the university system.

The politics of the situation landed Florida's 10th state university on the land Griffin offered in the middle of a huge expanse he owned.

That surrounding land was initially pledged to be developed with university-friendly uses like research and development. Instead the campus is surrounded by shopping malls and gated golf course communities – with more on the way.

The controversial site selection sparked a lawsuit by growth management advocates. A settlement agreement cleared the way for the campus and also created the Agency on Bay Management as an advisory board on issues in the watershed.

There are a handful of FGCU professors on the ABM. Some of them have real issues with how the university has grown.

"We're here through a settlement agreement that allowed the university outside any developed area," said Nora Demers, an associate professor of biological science who represents the Responsible Growth Management Coalition. "I joined the faculty without knowing any of that history. I'm coming from doing penance."

The huge population growth that has followed the university, with more development proposed, with the university formally supporting the building of controversial roads like the 951 extension east of campus, Demers said she thinks much of the FGCU plan violates ABM principles.

"I'll probably fight with everything I have to get my institution to meet those principles," she said.

The stated support for 951 drew other attention, including from Bonita Springs Councilman Peter Simmons. Years ago the 951 route was planned to hook to Collier Boulevard in North Naples and extend clear to the FGCU campus and to Southwest Florida International Airport. The city of Bonita and others are adamantly opposed to the road, which would impact huge tracts of wetlands east and north of the city.

"There has been substantial discussion," Simmons said. "And resistance."

Tom Mayo, facilities director for the university, told the ABM the plan recommends adjusting its growth projections based on the rapid growth already experienced and a financial crunch that has left the campus short on space.

FGCU has a total of 72 assignable square feet of space for every student, well below the Florida average of 115 feet and the state recommendation of 122 feet. The plan sets a goal of 92 feet.

The plan also envisions a student growth rate of 2.5 percent, well under the 5 to 8 percent the school has historically seen.

"Having lived through the 10 to 15 percent growth 2.5 percent sounds good," said Win Everham, a professor of ecological studies. "But it's still not sustainable. Is the target 25,000? 30,000?"

That, said Mayo, is the $64,000 question. It and others will be answered when the FGCU Board of Trustees meets in December.

Read 2319 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 January 2016 12:39

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