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Monday, 17 August 2015 10:04

Estero – How it Got Here and Where it’s Going

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The people who mid-wifed the birth of the Village of Estero will tell you that it was borne of a desire to protect its territory from being annexed into the neighboring city of Bonita Springs.

That’s true.


There was another reason though.

What they are less likely to describe is the sense of impending change in the community’s relationship with the Lee County government and the part it played.

For many years Estero residents, first through the Estero Civic Association, then through county-sponsored planning committees and then additionally with the volunteer community group the Estero Council of Community Leaders, had strong county backing for the strongest and strictest development and building standards in the county. The county bent over backward to keep the community – with its $5 billion tax base – happy. Tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure flowed into the community and commissioners routinely threw their weight behind the local planning committees and the ECCL on development issues.

ECCL members and others sensed cracks in that support when environmentalist Commissioner Ray Judah, whom ECCL founder and long-time chairman Don Eslick called Estero’s best friend, was shown the door in 2012 to be replaced in 2013 by what they saw as a decidedly more pro-development Commissioner Larry Kiker.

The cutting of impact fees, the debate over the fate of Conservation 2020 and some other unpopular talks also spawned the creation Estero-heavy Lee Public Voice as a commission watchdog that claims the county is more interested in developer profits than sound planning.

But it is Bonita Springs hunger for growth that many leaders point to.

When Bonita incorporated in 2004 it came with a 5-year prohibition on annexation to the north – in Estero. After five years, the city and the ECCL had a gentleman’s agreement – or so ECCL believed – that no annexation would take place. When the Bonita city council voted to pursue annexation in the summer of 2013 those bets were off.

John Goodrich joined ECCL in 2002, and from 2007 on headed the group’s incorporation committee.

“There was a change of direction on the Lee County commission,” Goodrich said. “Soon after the election we felt we were having much less influence on decisions affecting the Estero area.”

Goodrich said that Estero residents, who had felt they had some control of their community’s destiny, became convinced otherwise.

“We had some degree of influence, but we seemed to have lost it.”

With ECCL’s support, the long-debated incorporation leapt forward and an election bill slid easily through the Legislature to be approved by a huge majority – 86 percent - of Estero voters in November 2014.

There are village council members who were on both sides of the incorporation debate before 2014. Councilman Jim Boesch was the ECCL’s transportation director when that group opposed incorporation and also an officer in Save Estero, which pushed for incorporation. Mayor Nick Batos replaced Eslick as chairman of the ECCL and headed the group when it about-faced to support incorporation. It’s no coincidence he moved from ECCL chairman to the village’s first mayor.

Batos and Boesch were both vocal in the long debate on incorporation – often on opposite sides.

The aforementioned Eslick lead the ECCL through most of its existence, but stepped down a few years ago when he moved to Collier County. When the organization elected new officers after incorporation it seemed only natural that Eslick, who among his other professional successes was a lobbyist before retirement, would again be chairman.

The proposed services agreement hammered-out between Batos and Kiker over the past four months gives the new village government a place to start. Batos and Kiker, with their attorneys and top administrators, met several times to come up with agreement that will cost the village just under $3 million to pay for services ranging from major maintenance of waterways like the Estero River to road maintenance and animal services.

What is pointedly not covered is community development. Batos said the village is looking for a contractor to perform the service, and has already hired recently-retired county community development director Mary Gibbs to oversee.

“For years the people of Estero have had a vision of what they wanted the community to look like,” Batos said when the agreement was announced August 4th in county chambers.

Kiker said the agreement calls for the continuation of county services at existing levels, but if the village council wants to raise service levels the contract can be renegotiated.

The agreement will be reviewed by the Estero Village Council August 10 and by county commissioners after that.

Read 5843 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 January 2016 12:55

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