Draft -- December 10, 1996 -- For consideration by the Local Planning Agency
As our plan for the future of the Town of Fort Myers Beach unfolds over time as a result of our daily efforts, we envision the Town of Fort Myer's Beach as comfortable, friendly, inviting, and energetic. Its pristine areas, developed recreation amenities, lively and entertaining downtown, vital and diverse local businesses, numerous cultural activities, and walkable streets make it a place where the children of today's residents and visitors would like to return to live, work, or visit as adults.
Approaching Estero Island coming over the bridge, we have a spectacular view of Estero Bay, Times Square and the Gulf beyond, a view uncluttered by overhead wires and excessive signage, and enhanced by the landscaped design feature announcing our entry into the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
The natural features surrounding and throughout the Island are the primary yet most sensitive assets. The degradation of water quality in Estero Bay has been reversed. A clean, well-managed mooring area and Marine Research/Education facility (a cooperative project of the Town, the County, San Carlos Island, and other public and private entities) provide a focal point for the study and protection of the waters surrounding the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Clear and well-maintained channels, passes, and private canals facilitate the movement of a wide range of type and size of recreational and commercial vessels, operating safely in relation to one another and respecting the fragile nature of the surrounding environment and marine life.
Water taxis shuttle both visitors and residents among a variety of destinations on Estero Island and to and from remote locations in downtown Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and others. By water taxi, children from a North Fort Myers classroom visit the Marine Research facility and Matanzas Pass Preserve; tourists spend the day touring the Island's many natural, historic, and cultural attractions including the newly acquired and refurbished Long Estate; residents ride to restaurants and shopping, all without adding a car to the street or needing a parking place.
Beaches are clean and replenished with sand and natural vegetation, as a result of forward thinking programs which have established long-term mechanisms for funding and maintenance. Turtles and other sensitive species use the beach areas for nesting, protected from extinction by appropriate fishing restrictions and by the volunteer caretaking of an educated public.
Mangroves and wetlands are healthy and undisturbed. Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area and the Matanzas Pass Preserve, through careful management and planning, contribute to the ecological integrity of the area and provide a rich experience for the visitor. Little Estero Critical Wildlife area, accessible only by water or foot, provides a pristine wildlife observation area. Matanzas Pass Preserve is easily available to children, residents, and visitors, walking from their classrooms or neighborhoods, by bicycle through the island wide continuous network of bicycle paths, or by canoe or kayak.
From its main entrance, the historic San Castle Cottage which serves as both a museum of Estero Island and an interpretive center. Guided interpretive walks and classroom and research experiences are offered along the foot trails and elevated boardwalk to the fishing pier/observation deck. Guided canoe/kayak "ecotours" are popular activities for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
Ongoing volunteer maintenance and management of the preserve is overseen by the Community Support Organization, made up of interested persons from the community working with the responsible jurisdiction in the spirit of the Town's "hands-on" responsibility for its valued resources and amenities.
In addition to the successful restoration and management of the Matanzas Pass Preserve, the "hands on" volunteer spirit and broad participation in their own government's activities of the people of Fort Myers Beach, working with various agencies and jurisdictions, has resulted in a number of new cultural and recreational facilities and enhancement of existing assets and resources.
Through such efforts, the Town has acquired the Long Estate, a three-acre property on the Island which represents one of the first homesteads on Estero Island (1906) and is also the site of a significant Calusa Midden and burial site. Visits here create a link between the recent historical past with the prehistoric past of the Calusa Empire.
Mound Key, located in Estero Bay, known as the spiritual home of the Calusa Empire, is an incredibly rich resource for archaeological research. In partnership with other entities, the Town has promoted the initiation of archaeological work necessary to reveal the Island of Mound Key to the international archaeological community as a learning destination.
The facilities in the Bay Oaks area (bounded by Gulf Beach Road, Estero Boulevard, and Bay Road) have been linked together in a park-like setting which has become a community focal point for social, cultural, recreational, and educational activities for persons of all ages. In addition to the Bay Oaks recreation center, the elementary school, and the outstanding Playworks playground, all with long histories of providing quality education and recreational program activities for the community, the area now includes a large community swimming pool offering a comprehensive swim program for persons of all ages and active and passive tree-shaded play areas for children where parents and grandparents comfortably supervise and socialize. Neighbors gather for friendly competition at the expanded handball/racquetball courts and baseball diamonds. The expanded Library and cultural center, collection of historic buildings on "Historic Estero Island (pedestrian) Street" and museum/interpretive center are not only enjoyed by tourists and visitors but also provide for "hands-on" educational opportunities offered by the Beach School. The entire area is well-lighted at night, easily accessible from the continuous network of sidewalks and bikepaths which reach all points of the Island, and has trolley service deliberately coordinated with activity hours.
Visitors, residents, and business persons have numerous choices for getting around the Town. Estero Boulevard, now providing an attractive visual corridor the length of the Island, is designed to serve the unique needs of the Town's circulation. The roadway design allows the trolleys to move freely without obstructing traffic and to load and unload safely. Using trolleys has become a way of life in the Town, with frequent dependable service to residential, commercial, and recreation areas, links to parking areas, trams, and water taxis, and with hours designed to fit activity patterns. Extensive trolley use provides neighbors and visitors of all ages the opportunity to visit face to face and substantially reduces automobile trips and parking congestion.
Traffic throughout the Town moves freely most of the time, but is "calmed" strategically to facilitate pedestrian activity. Pedestrians cross safely in specially designed and signed crosswalks and enjoy several "pedestrian" streets in special places in the Town.
The continuous bike path and walkway system along Estero Boulevard is buffered from traffic and well shaded, with places to rest in addition to trolley stop shelters. The system extends from Estero Boulevard to points of interest throughout the Island, making it possible to bicycle from Bowditch Point to Carl Johnson Park. Safety enforcement is handled at the "pedestrian scale" through foot and bicycle patrols, reinforcing the spirit of person to person interactions and cooperative spirit.
Frequent trolley and water taxi service with electric tram connections to consolidated parking areas and express bus shuttles to remote parking areas such as Summerlin Square provide transportation easy for beachgoers to use from Bowditch Point to Carl Johnson Park and Black Island/Lovers Key, providing a range of choices of beach experience.
Beach and Bay access points, identified with festive banner signs and improved with landscaping, pedestrian paths and in wider areas, parking, are linked to the Island-wide continuous network of sidewalks, bicycle paths, and selected trolley or water taxi stops. Bike racks and bike rental facilities are located in connection with major water taxi stops. Tourists and business people use the water taxi to connect to a land taxi/shuttle serving the airport.
Visitors and residents alike enjoy new music venues and both film and live theater located in the lively downtown area, broadening opportunities for evening activities, and making dual use of parking areas and shuttles used during the day for beachgoers and shoppers.
The Town's system for evacuation is efficient. Folks are able to evacuate safely through both ends of the Island, and safe havens on Island have been created. The problem of early flooding of portions of the evacuation routes has been addressed through aggressive stormwater management measures. The problem of potential congestion of evacuation routes off-island has been addressed through energetic cooperative efforts with neighboring jurisdictions and oversight agencies.
New and infill development and renovation projects consistent with the Town's comprehensive plan and community design plans for specific areas is encouraged by a streamlined and rational permit system based on clear and consistent rules. The combination of community code enforcement with a coordinated program of both public and private assistance is available to encourage maintenance and renovation of private property.
Residents, business persons, and Town government work together to address problems and to implement the specifics of their common vision. The Town works diligently with other jurisdictions and agencies to ensure timely implementation of the Town's plan. Strategic investment of public funds, consistent with the Town's comprehensive plan priorities, ensures continued progress toward the realization of the Town's vision.
PLANNING COMMUNITIES WITHIN OUR TOWN
The DOWNTOWN CORE AREA boasts a revitalized entertainment area with tree-shaded outdoor cafes, pedestrian streets, and an "old Estero Island" character to the buildings. A Gulf-front boardwalk system connects beach front uses. The expanded Lynn Hall Park can now accommodate beach volleyball tournaments as well as a host of beach visitors. The shopping areas are served by convenient on-street parking and large reservoirs of shared off-street parking, screened from view. A broad array of shopping opportunities serves the needs of both residents and visitors. On the Bay side, tree-shaded plazas and an expanded marina host all manner of vessels from excursion boats, to water taxis, to commercial fishermen offering fresh shrimp and seafood at scattered kiosks.
The CIVIC COMPLEX centered around the public library has expanded and serves as the "other end" of the revitalized portion of Estero Boulevard, with its rows of coconut palms, wide colorful sidewalks, and lively street scene. Opportunities for folks to both live and work here and in the downtown area are available through apartments above commercial uses and from new infill apartments and townhouses designed in the historic cottage character.
The Town of Fort Myers Beach offers many choices of ambiance and character in its residential areas, ranging from single-family neighborhoods, areas of predominately higher-rise condominiums and apartments, and "near-town" neighborhoods where residential and commercial uses intermingle. All neighborhoods are safe and well-lighted. Streets are well-maintained with paving and frequent street sweeping. Bike paths and walkways connect neighborhoods with the Island-wide continuous system. Yet the various residential communities possess unique characters:
The BOWDITCH/NORTH END retains its residential and resort identity. Its motel rooms, older cottages, and high-rise buildings all benefit from their proximity to Bowditch Point and the downtown core area, yet are comfortably removed from seasonal traffic congestion and outdoor entertainment activities that many residents find intrusive.
The older NEAR-TOWN NEIGHBORHOODS across from San Carlos Island have shed their blighted characteristics of the 1980s and 1990s. Their pleasant variety of housing types are just steps away from lively Estero Boulevard. Apartments for tourists and local employees mix congenially with new homes, many of which contain quiet home-offices within. The new urban code has ensured that renovations and new homes mix gracefully with the old in these now highly desirable neighborhoods.
The QUIET CENTER of Estero Island remains peacefully between the bustling portions of Estero Boulevard and the high-rises further down the beach. Some condominiums and smaller resorts co-exist with the predominately single-family neighborhoods. This portion of the island is designated to remain low-rise and residential except for a few existing towers and the big mid-island marina.
The HIGH-RISE/RESORT district is distinctly different in character. Panoramic views of Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are widely available, along with distinct recreational amenities such as golf, tennis, and private swimming pools. The Villa Santini site has been fully redeveloped and has become the entertainment, community, and commercial center of this end of Estero Island, instead of its former life as a conventional shopping center. It also serves the needs of visitors to the vast beaches at Lovers' Key. The abundant wildlife on Little Estero Island have become a focal point for local residents and visitors alike.
Estero Island's SOUTH POINT faces the active boating along Big Carlos Pass and the popular state park on Black Island and Lovers' Key. Despite pressures of commercialization to serve park visitors, it retains its strictly residential character and its mostly low-rise housing style.