TO: Local Planning Agency
FROM: Carol Cunningham
DATE: November 26, 1996
SUBJECT: "Work in Progress" Vision Statement
The following provides a "work in progress" statement of a vision for the future of the Town of Fort Myers Beach. The components of this "work in progress" vision have been drawn from discussion of the LPA and Town Council during the initial phase of the comprehensive planning process conducted from July through September of 1996. These sessions included the review of previously adopted plans such as the Lee Plan, the Estero Island CRA Plan, and the Core Area Master Plan as well as the University of Florida Study. In addition, two sessions conducted by Victor Dover focused on urban design and illustrated the importance of linking the words we use to describe our future with actual images of how those ideas can be translated into the reality of the built environment.
In your meeting of December 3, 1996, LPA members will be asked to comment and provide further input on the content of the vision statement. For your meeting of December 17, 1996, preliminary draft goals for the comprehensive plan, which are being derived both from the "work in progress" vision statement and from your previously adopted plans, will be provided for your review and initial comment.
The "work in progress" vision statement has been written as an "Island-wide" vision. As noted in the discussions of both height limits and hotel-motel densities, it is important to look at the unique characteristics of various areas of the Town and tailor policy more specifically by areas. Therefore, in our December 3rd discussion, we will talk about what logical area groupings might be and begin to define a vision for each area that captures its uniqueness.
The intention is that the "work in progress" vision statement and the preliminary draft goals will frame and initiate discussion of a range of specific issues in the community-wide Community Design Workshop tentatively scheduled for January 31 and February 1, 1997. As one outcome of the workshop, both the Island-wide and area-specific vision statements will be further refined based on community input and will be enhanced and preliminarily "reality tested" with visual images. The vision statement and images will provide purpose and direction to the refinement of preliminary goals, and for the development of realistic and achievable objectives and policies. In its final form, the vision statement will serve as the introduction to the Town's comprehensive plan.
"WORK IN PROGRESS" VISION
The people of the Town of Fort Myers Beach have a tradition of active civic involvement and of planning for the revitalization and long term stability of the Town. Benchmarks in these efforts of "hands on" shaping of the future of the Town include the 1989 convening of the Fort Myers Beach Land Use Plan Committee which resulted in the adoption of Goal 18 of the Lee County Comprehensive Plan; the formation and active implementation of the Estero Island CRA (a component area of the Lee County Community Redevelopment Agency); and ultimately the incorporation of the Town as of January 1, 1996.
The boundaries of Town of Fort Myers Beach encompass Estero Island which has a rich early history as well. Recent historical research supports the possibility that Estero Island was the location of the capital of the Calusa Empire and of the site of a meeting between King Carlos and Juan Ponce DeLeon. The recently rediscovered Freducci Map (1514-1515) supports the possibility that Estero Island was the earliest point of contact between the Spanish Explorers and native inhabitants. In the late 1800's the Koreshan Unity homesteaded Estero Island.
Estero Island's colorful entertainment and recreation history reaches back to the dance halls, gambling casinos and beach recreation of the early 1900's.
There is a strong sense of community and friendly spirit present in Fort Myers Beach, a place where neighbors know and look after each other and an ideal place to raise a family.
The weather, the magic of nature, boating opportunities with commercial and recreational destinations in every direction, easily accessible beaches and both active and passive recreation areas, all provide a rich diversity of experiences available to residents and visitors.
Community facilities such as the Beach Elementary School, Bay Oaks Recreation Center, the Beach Library, and active churches serve as community gathering places and provide a sense of continuity in the life of the Town. The townspeople are actively involved in the civic life of the Town through numerous organizations and in cooperative partnerships with government. As a result, many ambitious efforts are underway in the newly incorporated town.
A variety of types of residential areas exist, including single-family areas, multi-family and high rise condominium areas, and older residential areas in the downtown area. All are laced with canals and are within easy walking distance of the Bay or beaches.
The Times Square District, the lively commercial area which spans the Island from the Gulf to the Bay, is an attraction for tourists and day visitors. Revitalization efforts are underway to promote the ambiance and vitality for sustaining tourism and long term economic growth, and for creating a manageable system for addressing congestion.
In developing a comprehensive plan for the future of the Town of Fort Myers Beach, we are guided by the following principles:
Reinforce and Enhance Small Town Livability
This means that community design and public actions should foster friendliness, face to face interactions; positive family and intergenerational environment; sense of community safety and stability in both residential and commercial areas; availability and accessibility of civic, social, cultural, recreational, commercial, and housing opportunities; and should encourage participation in civic activity and decisionmaking by all aspects of the community
This means that community design and public actions should strive to find the appropriate balance between social and commercial needs and interactions; between the need to move cars and the objectives for pedestrian activity; between both on- and off-island transportation needs and parking objectives; and among objectives for economic vitality, tourist development, and neighborhood scale needs.
Promote Restoration, Preservation, and Enhancement
This means that community design and public actions should encourage public and private sector activity to build upon and rejuvenate the existing fabric and assets of the community: revitalize deteriorated residential areas; revitalize the Core Area; enhance the use and functioning of existing community assets such as the library/school/preserve/park complex, streetscapes, entrance images, views of the bay and gulf, historic resources; other natural and environmental features; and plan for appropriate reconstruction of buildings after disasters.
Maintain Environmental Harmony and Sustainability
This means that limited resources are used wisely so that the needs of today can be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow; that personal mobility is enhanced while reducing reliance on the automobile; that natural resource and recreation opportunities are accessible and used safely; that beach and dune systems are well maintained; that bays, canals, streets, and air are cleaner; that stormwater run-off is well managed; that there are well-maintained and adequate systems for wastewater collection, potable water delivery, re-claimed water, recycling programs; that utilities are placed underground; that investment in infrastructure systems and public facilities and services is made strategically to ensure the sustainability of a healthy local economy, and to maintain environmental quality and community livability.
Promote Economic Vitality
This means that public resources are invested in ways that encourage private investment and re-investment in the business life, physical form, natural amenities, and social aspects of the Town, as a means to implement the Vision -- investments in enhanced natural resources and cultural opportunities, revitalized Core Area, enhanced beach recreation attractions, developed water transportation, slips, and dockage facilities; in ways that strengthen and diversify local businesses to serve both residents and visitors; in ways that improve neighborhood livability; and as a foundation for attracting tourism.
In order to expand economic opportunity and protect the character of residential neighborhoods, it is necessary to establish clear and consistent rules governing both public and private sector development, rules which provide predictability to anyone who develops property, including small businesses and individual homeowners. Certainty and predictability is reinforced by the community's on-going participatory process of planning, implementing, and monitoring effectiveness of the comprehensive plan.
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 and Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, both with long histories of providing quality education and recreational program activities for the community, the area now includes an olympic- size 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.
The downtown 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.
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.
Opportunities for folks to both live and work in the downtown area are available through apartments above the commercial uses and from new infill apartments and townhouses designed in the historic cottage character
The Town offers may choices of ambiance and character in its residential areas ranging from single-family neighborhoods, areas of predominately higher rise condominiums and apartments, and "in-town" neighborhoods where residential and commercial uses intermingle. 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.
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.