Summary of the 212th ECCL Membership Meeting
March 11, 2022
Lee County Commissioner Ray Sandelli was the featured speaker. He commented on several topics of importance to greater Estero residents.
Regarding COVID 19, Commissioner Sandelli stated that keeping a balance was hard. He stated that it was challenging to get shots distributed with the onset of the COVID pandemic but opening the large facility at the RSW airport worked well. He noted that facts and fear were the hardest to manage during the pandemic. “When we received money from the Federal Cares Act, we first wanted to stabilize families and help businesses.”
Water is essential to our area. The Gulf enticed the commissioner and others to Lee County. He said, “It’s the lifestyle we enjoy, and it is important to protect it.” He noted how expensive it would be to upgrade septic systems connecting them to sewer lines, especially in older communities with no hookups for existing houses. “It’s important to consider how we pay for it and prioritize our efforts.”
Sandelli commented on future growth and infrastructure needs. He noted Lee County has a diverse economy and population. When we look at southwest Florida, we plan for something like 2 million people. Housing, Commercial and public land usage are also important issues. He tells people that smart growth for roads takes time, money, and patience. The current projects he itemized were as follows: –
- Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach is nearly completed. It’s a very narrow strip of land, and lots had to be fitted in and on the road – bike lanes, drainage, sewers, etc.
- The Big Carlos Pass Bridge project is getting started (Now in the design stage to include a fixed span with boat navigation clearance of 60 feet. It will be built on the Gulf side of the existing bridge with a travel lane in each direction, bicycle lanes, a six-foot-wide sidewalk along the north side, and a 10-foot-wide shared-use path along the south side. Also, plans call for a parking area with access to Lovers Key State Park on the southeast side of the bridge.)
- Alico Road and the Alico by-pass is a nine-mile road that will connect Alico Road to State Highway 82. It will take some traffic off Interstate 75 and make it easier for Lehigh residents to access Alico Road and businesses further west.
- Corkscrew Road expansion to 6 lanes and further east to 4 lanes, includes a wildlife crossing. Lee county is purchasing land now for 4-lanes to serve future developments further east. He also noted that on the new housing projects, 50% of the land goes to conservation, and while Verdana is being built on farmland, which is why there were no areas or trees to protect, the builder is landscaping the area to improve its appearance.
Workforce Housing must also be addressed, he said. “Too many workers spend too much of their income on living space,” Sandelli reported 19,000 people in Lee County are spending more than 50% of income on housing. The increasing price of homes and rental properties is making this more problematic.
Sandelli said, “It’s a challenge. If we can’t solve this problem, we won’t attract people. More reasonable-priced housing is needed for continued growth in Lee County”. Sandelli suggested looking at density and zoning differently, adding, “this approach is currently a concept, not county policy.”
He suggested enhancing housing options closer to where people work. “This means they are closer to work and don’t have to travel long distances daily on Interstate 75. If an essential resource for businesses is people, businesses also need to address this issue. Jobs are essential to our growth, including jobs that don’t require a college education. He mentioned high school programs that encourage students to consider jobs in the trades. Today in Lee County, there are over 15,000 job openings.
Public Safety is a large part of the Lee County Budget. He complimented the Sheriff’s team for the great work they do. When people look to move to Lee County, they are interested in schools and a safe community.
The Conservation 20/20 program is adding land and protecting it from development. The initial phase of the hydraulic studies is now being completed on the Larry Kiker Preserve. (A nearly 4000-acre preserve purchased in 2017.)
The Airport Authority is expanding, adding 14 gates. The airport is exceeding all the metrics we expected. The new tower construction is complete, and now they are installing the internal components. Sandelli mentioned, “we will probably need a second runway soon!”
Sandelli is trying to connect veterans with better services. As a veteran, he believes there is much room for improving Veteran Services. We only have a clinic here in Southwest Florida. He also spoke about mental health issues which he felt was a challenge. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated this. The Salvation Army has been a great help, but more is needed. Lee County is working with a group creating a Center for Progress and Excellence.
Next, Lt. Frank Pisano from the Sheriff’s Office Community Response Unit (CRU) spoke. The Sheriff is committed to their work to make communities safe. He invests in improved technology, more cameras, and a central control technology center. Pisano emphasized the importance of community input. He encourages HOA communities to connect with the Sheriff’s office to help in enhancing emergency response time. Pisano encouraged everyone to invest in cameras for their homes because of its deterrent effect and its impact in helping to solve a crime. For more information, call 239-477-1000.
George Zalucki, the Chair-elect of the Estero Forever Foundation, briefly outlined the foundation’s mission, core values, and goals. He showed a short video. Details can be viewed at their website: www.esteroforeverfoundation.org
The foundation is a non-profit and has raised over $110,000 to work with governmental funding and the Village of Estero to sustain Estero as a great place to live, work, worship, play, and visit for people of all ages. Their priorities include Art and Cultural Centers, Environmental Preservation, Parks, Trails, Recreation Facilities, and Historical Heritage. They provided a $5000 grant to the Estero Historical Society towards maintaining the two existing buildings at Estero Park.
On March 31, 2022, the Estero Forever Foundation Gala will be held at The Club of Grandezza. The event aims to build awareness for the foundation and to celebrate Estero. There will be nine speakers, entertainment by Billy Dean and Dawn. Tickets are $85 per person, and more information is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or their website:
Ben Hayden from Lee Health Community and Business Relations reminded everyone about the Estero Health and Wellness Fair on Saturday, March 26, from 9 am to Noon at the Estero Park and Recreation Center. Free to the public with activities, demonstrations, screenings, and more. Call 239-533-1470 or visit the ECCL website calendar of events at www.EsteroToday.com
for more details. Ben is willing to send their handout via email for further distribution inside communities.
Jim Gilmartin, ECCL President, had a few brief closing remarks.
Greater Estero Virtual Information Center website (GEVIC) is moving forward. The GEVIC Task Force has developed a memorandum of understanding with the Village of Estero to clarify the details of this project. Also, several companies have collectively provided $80,000 to move the project forward.
ECCL is now a 501(C) 3 charitable organization and is establishing policies and procedures on how we will operate under this new classification.
ECCL will renew support for the Adopt-a-Highway program.
The Calusa Waterkeeper has received interest from other communities after the ECCL announced that the Club of Grandezza is considering a project to reduce nutrients that flow into Estero Bay. It is anticipated that even more communities will also adopt this initiative. This is an important issue as pollution into Estero Bay is a significant problem.
The ECCL appreciates the March “Spotlight” article by Jeff Lytle and the support expressed by many organizations for ECCL. The article helped to encourage residents to sign up on the ECCL website www.esterotoday.com to obtain regular communications from the ECCL.
The ECCL is recruiting for two Advocacy Council Advisors. See ECCL website Volunteer | Estero Today for more details.
The ECCL recognizes Howard Levitan for his many years of volunteer work in Estero and as an ECCL board member. He is stepping down from the Planning, Zoning, and Design Board of Estero Village and the ECCL is indebted to him for his service and wishes him well. He is returning to Maine.
Next ECCL Monthly Meeting: April 8 at 10 am at Estero Recreation Center.