By Sean Hartman, Cape Coral Watchdog
Many of you have already read the Cape Coral Daily Breeze reporting from Chuck Ballaro about the North 1 UEP assessment increase. I am not covering that portion of the meeting in this Council Watch because Chuck did a fantastic job spelling it out in great detail and, quite frankly, I am stretched thin with numerous professional responsibilities (and need I remind my readers that I do this pro bono as a public service.)
However, I do want to make sure the public is aware that this will be on the agenda at the February 2nd meeting, which will be at 4:30 P.M. at City Hall. If you are a resident of North 1 and want to voice your opinions on this assessment increase, that would be the time to do it.
Thank you to my fellow journalists at the Daily Breeze for their extraordinary work. – Sean Hartman, The Cape Coral Watchdog
Citizens’ Input Time
(We apologize in advance for any misspellings of names.)
Bruce Marvin, a resident of District 3, spoke about affordable housing, noting a particularly overpriced house that was sold in his neighborhood, along with four others, that were purchased by a private corporation.
“In last Sunday’s paper, I noticed a home in District 3, about blocks north of my home, selling for $2,230,227. That sort of got my interest,” said Bruce.
He continued to describe the average nature of the house, before adding its assessed value, is about $280,000 according to the Lee County Property Appraiser
“While selling one’s home for ten times the assessed value is good for the seller and the realtor that brokered it, I’m not sure this is good for affordable housing,” said Bruce, before expressing concern for money laundering for such purchases.
City Manager Rob Hernandez responded that the LLC in question, Lamco Asset Company 1, purchased numerous homes for the $2.2 million price, which included multiple properties.
There has been a national trend where both domestic and foreign investors purchase homes to turn into rentals. Some of these foreign investors come from the People’s Republic of China, which has led some states, including Florida, to restrict such purchases.
Lamco Asset Company 1 is registered as a “foreign limited-liability company” in North Carolina, with an address in Texas. It was registered in December of last year, making the company barely a month old, yet somehow able to make multimillion-dollar real estate purchases.
Nothing to see here, though. Move along.
New EBDO Director, Who’s This?
Cape Coral’s Economic and Business Development Office (EBDO) has a new Director, Sharon Woodberry, who gave her first Economic Report with a stellar welcome from District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings.
Director Woodberry let the Council know that Cape Coral continues to have an absurdly low unemployment rate (with the most recent numbers at 3.5%,) a 2% vacancy in commercial and office space, and less than 1% vacancy in industrial space, which the City Manager praised.
It should be noted there are limited areas where industry can occur in Cape Coral, and even then it is only light industry. In this case, new industrial development is occurring exclusively in the Pine Island Corridor (there is an existing industrial zone on Viscaya near Cape Coral Hospital).
Retail construction is also centered in the Pine Island Corridor, but retail construction is occurring in every City Council district except District 2 (Dan Sheppard). These include retail growth off of Santa Barbara, Veterans Parkway, and Downtown Cape Coral.
Woodberry detailed the ‘Open for Business‘ campaign that started after Hurricane Ian to reassure regular visitors that Cape Coral is, well, open for business.
Mayor John Gunter wants to see comparative data between Cape Coral and the Southwest Florida region, particularly on retail, industrial, and office space. Both Mayor Gunter and District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden inquired about Lee Health’s projects. City Manager Rob Hernandez said they “have a meeting scheduled” to discuss the developments.
“I’ve always stated that the Economic Development Department here in our city is probably one of the most important departments because it’s the future of our city,” said Mayor Gunter. He asked what the city will be doing this year to promote Cape Coral.
“We’re on the same page with you,” said Director Woodberry. “We actually talked about a marketing strategic plan for some of our efforts to get the word out and talk about Cape Coral.”
District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke, who sits on the Tourism Development Council on behalf of Cape Coral, recommended that EBDO and the Parks and Recreation Department make a presentation to the TDC, which they can use as they market Lee County across the country.
But it was District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings who put Director Woodberry through the fires of tribulation. Prior to being elected to the City Council, Patty founded and ran Astro-Durance Bungee Fitness, a fitness enterprise with global reach.
Councilwoman Cummings first asked how much of Cape Coral’s city space should be industrial. Cape Coral is famously pre-platted, meaning only 8% of the city can be used commercially. Industrial and commercial zoning are far different categories (would you want to go shopping next to a steel mill?) Director Woodberry did not know, estimating 3%-5% vacancy as the standard depending on the region.
“But we’ve also seen that industrial [development] has really taken off in the last few years,” Director Woodberry added. “There’s going to be a lot of onshoring that is happening, so those spaces are being snapped up. It is a demand that’s there that we’re working to try to meet.”
City Manager Rob Hernandez noted additional hindrances to industrial development in Cape Coral: our lack of close proximity to an airport, railways, or interstate.
“You’ll never see us get to the point where we are comparable with other jurisdictions because we just don’t have the transportation infrastructure,” said the City Manager.
Councilwoman Cummings then asked about where EBDO is marketing and if they are utilizing current businesses and industries in marketing. Director Woodberry mentioned they spoke to industrial businesses about supply chains and emphasized the Midwest as the target market.
“Based on some of the information we have, I think it makes sense to really hit the Midwest area hard,” said Director Woodberry. “We see a lot of individuals who are relocating from the Chicago area here.”
When Councilwoman Cummings asked how marketing is done, City Manager Rob Hernandez answered instead of Director Woodberry. The City Manager detailed a number of marketing strategies, including a number of conventions that the city has attended in the past. They also market regionally in newspapers and partner with Lee County, “piggy-backing” off of their marketing strategy.
The City Manager also mentioned an advertising strategy at both RSW and Punta Gorda Airports. “I want the Punta Gorda airport to be known as the Cape Coral airport,” said the CIty Manager.
Councilwoman Cummings asked for more details on their marketing strategy. City Manager Rob Hernandez responded that normally they don’t provide such detail, just summaries during their reports. Mayor John Gunter backed up Councilwoman Cummings, asking for a more detailed report on marketing strategies.
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard asked if EBDO seeks out manufacturers like Norco, noting that the canals in Cape Coral could attract water-based manufacturers, e.g. boats, fishing supplies. He mentioned marine industries use Cape Coral to advertise their products but do not stay.
The City Manager responded that attracting those industries is “80% advertising,” but they spoke with Nortec and Eco-Labs, the two biggest industrial companies in Cape Coral, about their difficulties, which are primarily supply chain issues.
But the City Manager wants to focus on small businesses, not attracting “big fish.”
“Our strength is not in going after the big fish,” said the City Manager. “Because of the challenges we have, we’re not going to land the big fish. But it’s going after the small ones.”
Council Says NO to Moving Citizens’ Input Time
District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh brought up his proposal to move Citizens’ Input Time to the end of the meeting. Councilman Welsh believes this will allow for more citizens to have input because many 9-to-5 workers can’t make it to the 4:30 P.M. meeting.
Current policy dictates that the Mayor sets the agenda and could theoretically move Citizens Input Time at will. Mayor John Gunter, who had voiced his opposition to the proposal at a prior meeting, and reiterated that opposition again, wanted to discuss it with the Council as a whole to find “consensus.”
“I think what we need to do is have a consensus moving forward,” said Mayor Gunter. “If that’s the will of the Council, I’m okay with it. For me personally, I don’t agree with it. I think we keep it where it is because…there’s some items that we really don’t even discuss, like the consent agenda. So if we put the Citizens’ Input to the rear of the meeting, those residents that may want to have a discussion on consent agenda items, we’ve already passed [those items].”
Mayor Gunter is right, of course. Everyone knows that citizens are extremely vocal about such consent agenda items as an agreement with Superior Landscaping to mow the medians off of Nicholas Parkway or approving a space needs study for Cape Coral’s facilities. And who can forget back in October the dozens of people who spoke out against consent agenda item four, which authorized the purchase and delivery of polyacrylic acid anti-salient?
District 3 Councilman Bobby Welsh rebutted by noting the Lee County Commission, who he’s using as the template (as they have their Citizens’ Input Time at the end) has a separate comment time for the consent agenda, similar to how there’s separate public input for different agenda item during a normal City Council meeting.
Most Councilmembers agreed with Mayor Gunter. Councilman Hayden believes that the later time frame will discourage attendance due to the late time, rather than encourage it. Councilmembers Jessica Cosden and Dan Sheppard recommended an additional Citizens’ Input Time at the end as a compromise.
District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings also agreed not to change the time, but agreed with her one-time political rival that residents who work and have families can’t always attend the meetings at 4:30.
“There is an e-comment link on our website,” said City Manager Rob Hernandez. “Once we resumed normal operations following COVID, the Council discontinued reading the e-comments into the record. However, the e-comments are shared with all members of Council, staff, and they are made part of the official records.”
Cummings Stonewalled on Facebook Live
District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings has asked the City Manager and city staff about streaming City Council meetings on Facebook Live, and after months of being stonewalled in private, she has decided to bring it up in public.
Currently, City Council meetings are streamed live via YouTube. It used to be that the livestream was public and easy to access, but it has since gone private and can only be accessed via a link. That link can be found on the capecoral.gov website, if you look hard enough, because it is not easy to find.
“I know I brought this to you in November and I brought it to you again in December,” said Councilwoman Cummings. “I know I brought it to you several times so it’s not once or twice, it’s been several times.”
That’s right, Councilwoman Cummings asked in November. Councilwoman Cummings asked in December. Councilwoman Cummings asked in a box. Councilwoman asked with a fox. Councilwoman Cummings asked in a house. Councilwoman Cummings asked with a mouse. And she was stonewalled each time.
“We are on social media as it is now, YouTube Live” Councilwoman Cummings continued, confident her criticisms will correct the communications crisis. “So it’s the same format except it is Facebook and we’re not asking to interact with the citizens. It’s just so they can see us. It’s easier for them, at their fingertips. If they want to make comments, they can make comments, and we as a dais can kind of see how they’re feeling about certain ideas that we have up here as a whole or individually.”
City Manager Rob Hernandez stonewalled again, saying that they were waiting for a review from the City Attorney’s Office, a review that presumably started back in November when Councilwoman Cummings first asked. Unfortunately, City Attorney Dolores Menendez (whose tenure in office began back in the George W. Bush Administration) did not take too kindly to being thrown under the bus. According to the City Attorney, there was a clear “miscommunication” between city staff and her office.
“I was under the impression that it was going to be staff memos and we were going to combine with that,” said the City Attorney. “The concern of the City Attorney’s Office is not putting the meetings on Facebook Live or to put the meetings on FB live. The concern has become when people are commenting in real-time during hearings, for example, and they are making comments, especially during quasi-judicial hearings, are you all taking those comments into consideration even though they’re not under oath? Also, are any of you, in real-time, communicating with members of the public, and are more than one of you communicating?”
If the City Manager hoped for backup from the City Attorney, however, he would not get it. In her legal opinion, there is no restriction on putting City Council meetings on Facebook Live. The legal questions arise with the comments themselves. In theory, if comments are disabled, the Livestream can continue without any legal problems arising.
“You’re free to put the meeting on Facebook Live,” said Menendez, her words unambiguous and not open to interpretation. “Great caution should be exercised in terms of the commenting.”
Councilwoman Cummings then asked if the same video posted on YouTube recapping the meetings can be put on Facebook. Communications Director Melissa Mickey confirmed that they could do that, but she also differed to the City Attorney, who again provided her professional legal opinion that the City can post on Facebook.
There was consensus that the video could be shared on both Facebook and YouTube as long as City Council does not comment directly to those commenting on the livestream to keep with legal constraints.
The Collaboratory Wants to Partner with Cape Coral for Big Goals
The Collaboratory wants to solve all major social problems with Southwest Florida in 18 years and wants to partner with the City Government to achieve this Sisyphian goal. The nonprofit organization has been around since the 1970s as a community foundation, but has decided to rebrand and become a problem-solving think tank instead of a charity.
According to the Collaboratory, they intend to solve every problem through “a highly inclusive approach to connect and coordinate innovators and problem-solvers.” Sarah Owen, CEO of the Collaboratory, noted that most charities try to solve one particular issue, but most issues are interconnected.
“All of these problems are connected to each other,” said the spokeswoman. “Let’s take a look at economic opportunity. A number of years ago, our foundation said we could just tackle economic opportunity and things would be much better. But what we found quickly is it was really connected to the strength of the public schools. But the strength of public schools is connected to early childhood learning, that’s connected to maternal health. So if you just pick one of these out and try to solve it and don’t look at all of them, nothing is going to change.”
“There are not a hundred different problems. There’s one large entanglement with a hundred entangled symptoms,” she concluded. “It’s all connected.”
Sarah explained that a lot of the issue with social services is there is a lack of coordination between the various stakeholders, e.g. nonprofits, businesses, religious and community organizations, and governments. She believes a unifying regional goal (in this case, solving every problem in 18 years) and an improved chain of command will resolve this.
The Collaboratory is not asking anything from the City Council, but rather inviting the City Government to be involved in their mission.
District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden invited the Collaboratory to speak. “Obviously, it turns your head a bit when you hear ‘solving everything in 18 years.’ But you gotta start somewhere.”
“I think we spend a lot of time discussing new ordinances, a budget, land use changes, zoning changes,” Councilman Hayden continued. “But all of what she just talked about is all interconnected to where we’re at and finding ways to make a difference is important.”
Parks GO Bond Update
City staff presented its regular update of the Parks GO Bond progress, with three parks completed: Cultural Park, Gator Trail, and Giuffrida Park, all three of which are under budget. However additional costs will be accrued to replace trees damaged by Hurricane Ian and add shaded structures at Cultural Park and Gator Trail.
The Del Prado Linear Park and Sands Park are 95% complete and Joe Coviello PArk is 60% complete. All three parks are experiencing supply chain delays, specifically for the restrooms that would be installed.
Yellow Fever Creek is set to be completed in August. Lake Kennedy Racquet Center will begin construction in March. Festival Park will begin bidding next month, followed by Lake Mead and Crystal Lake in March.
Mayor John Gunter pulled a 2018 ordinance that appropriated $2.4 million for both Cultural Park and Gator Trail and asked why the current budget for both parks was more than double that amount ($5.3 million). Specifically, Mayor Gunter was inquiring when City Council approved the increase. He asked the City Manager to follow up with Council on those and other discrepancies.
“I’m well aware our cost overruns are going to be higher than anticipated,” said Mayor Gunter. “That’s a given. I’m just trying to see where we are with these inflated costs for each one of these parks.”
Financial Services Director Mark Mason did not have an answer, but noted that the costs were still below the $60 million bond rate, implying that Cultural Park and Gator Trail were more important than the dozen other parks receiving GO Bond funding. City Manager Rob Hernandez noted that there was $12.5 million in reserves that can also offset costs, approved by the previous Council.
District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke pointed out that the GO Bond was for $60.15 million to be used for 31 parks including the Yacht Club, but costs are now $73.8 million WITHOUT the Yacht Club. Paul Clinghan, Director of Capital Improvements, said that the Yacht Club has spun off into his own fund, which did not sit well with Councilman Steinke, whose district includes the historic Cape Coral club.
“So the money that was initially allocated from the GO Bond that would be contributory to the Yacht Club was moved to the other initiatives inside of the GO Bond,” said Councilman Steinke, “and on top of that we’re $13 million over the GO Bond.”
District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked about a new eagle’s nest at the site of Tropicana Park which may hinder building the park, but Paul Clinghan explained that when the eagles are gone they will destroy the nest in a process known as “taking.”
By Sean Hartman, Cape Coral Watchdog
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Del Prado & De Navarra Have Too Many of De Crashes
At the request of District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden, discussions on a traffic light at Del Prado Boulevard and De Navarra Parkway were moved before Citizens’ Input Time to allow city staff to make the necessary excuses before the Gator Circle residents chastised them.
City Manager Rob Hernandez wanted to “put everything into context” for citizens coming to speak about the intersection and had Mark Mason and Mike Ilczyczyn explain why the City Government responsible for roads can’t do anything about their roads.
“There’s a lot published on social media that makes it seem like the City is either unaware of the issue or just not interested in resolving the issue and I can tell you that is pure fiction,” said Rob Hernandez.
Mark Mason explained that the chaos began on January 31, 2005 with a planned development called “Entrada.” The Entrada was to be responsible for financing the traffic signal, which at the time was deemed unnecessary. In a textbook example of government genius, the City was prohibited from adding traffic lights, thereby preventing them from solving the problem, or possibly just allowing them to place the blame elsewhere.
Fast-forward. It’s 2023. A lot has changed. Cell phones have become smartphones, we are out of Afghanistan, we’ve had both a black AND an orange President. Most importantly, the intersection of Del Prado & De Navarra now needs a traffic light.
So naturally, the Entrada Community Association, responsible for the light, is ready to go with a traffic light. They have the design. They have a contractor. What they don’t have is the $120,275.85 to pay for it.
So they are asking the City Council to loan them the money to build the traffic light, which will take a year or more to be installed, as it has to be constructed and customized to the specifications of Del Prado & De Navarra, which itself could take 6-9 months.
Gator Circle residents are tired of the delays, as the City Council is keenly aware from the angry emails. A temporary traffic light has been discussed, similar to those used after Hurricane Ian was approved, but they are not without their problems: temporary lights don’t have options for turns and there are no backup operations like regular lights, so if there’s a glitch, the whole traffic light will be down.
The City Council unanimously agreed that a loan was appropriate and necessary to expedite the traffic light and directed city staff to move forward with drafting the appropriate ordinance. An additional intersection, Del Prado and Averill, had a traffic light approved in December. That intersection is not under a ridiculous agreement with a developer, so the city can actually act on it.
Citizens Input Time
Several North Cape residents spoke about the dangerous Del Prado/De Navarra intersection. The intersection, close to Island Coast High School, has become one of the most dangerous intersections in the county. District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden, who represents Northwest Cape Coral, requested an explanation from city staff prior to Citizens Input Time.
But the staff’s explanations did not placate the well-organized Gator Circle residents. About a dozen came with horror stories from accidents, including one where someone was amputated in front of a driver.
But the most succinct and passionate speech came from Sarah Kyle, an admin of the Facebook Group Gator Circle – In The Loop.
“We are asking today for the City of Cape Coral to put in the lights,” Sarah began.
“Cape Coral citizens of Northeast Cape have been promised stoplights at Del Prado and De Navarra and Averill intersections by the City of Cape Coral for years. Our area continues to grow exponentially and both of these intersections continue to become more and more dangerous to the residents in these neighborhoods…to the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, the students driving to Island Coast High School, employees of area businesses, and those just driving through on their daily commute.”
She continued with details of recent car accidents in just the last month.
“We just had another accident this morning,” said Sarah. “In December, we had an accident on 12/7, 12/15, two at the exact same time at De Navarra AND Averill, December 23rd, and we finished out the month on 12/29. We are tired of the years-long promises, we are tired of the blame game, pushing accountability onto others. We are tired of continual accidents.”
Sarah ended strongly, making it clear the Cape Coral City Government is responsible for the vehicular carnage that has plagued those intersections.
“City of Cape Coral Government…YOU are responsible for each and every ignored plea, each and every injury,” Sarah said forcibly. “It is time to do your job and put in the lights. Hold the developers accountable and send the bill, but we need you to put in the lights. How many people need to get hurt? How many people are we waiting to die? How big does the lawsuit have to be to get attention, that we citizens will have to pay for when the inevitable happens?”
Councilwoman Cosden, who represents Gator Circle, was very defensive about what the city perceives as misinformation on Facebook (because the government is always good at labeling misinformation on social media, just ask Hunter Biden.)
“First of all, I don’t lie about traffic lights or anything else to my constituents,” said Councilwoman Cosden, responding to a comment made by Sarah about her saying the lights would come two years ago. “When it comes to passing along information, Council doesn’t construct traffic lights, Council doesn’t even approve them as far as I’m aware.”
A shocking revelation that the City Council does not have the power to construct traffic lights on their own roads! Councilwoman Cosden continued by throwing staff under the bus, though making it absolutely clear that’s not what she’s doing.
“I’m not throwing staff under the bus,” said Councilwoman Cosden, “but the information I shared with you is the information I’m getting from staff, and I trust them. Obviously, we were delayed on these lights for many reasons. I wish we could have come to an answer sooner but I do think this new solution will help a lot in bringing accidents down to zero.”
District 6 Councilman Keith Long would like it to be a matter of policy in the future that the City could loan developers funds to make immediately-needed improvements. Mayor John Gunter added to that, suggesting a “performance bond” that the City could tap into if a developer or responsible party is unable or unwilling to pay for improvements.
Mayor Gunter also dismissed the speed limit request because it requires a traffic study to move forward and apparently the City Council is powerless to pass a resolution bypassing the traffic study to move forward with the speed limit change.
Michael Batali spoke for Cape Coral’s forgotten vagabond community, opposing a recently passed ordinance that prohibits solicitation and peddling on public streets and private property. The ordinance, similar to the Lee County ordinance, was primarily to protect the safety of residents, as many vagabonds would place themselves in dangerous positions where they could be hit. However, Michael argues the ordinance is unconstitutional.
“Solicitation has time and time again been ruled a constitutionally protected activity,” said Michael. “This ordinance criminalizes a constitutionally protected activity. Every section of this ordinance itself weaponizes the police to cite someone and arrest somebody for just hearsay statements. I really think the Council should revisit this considering the neighboring Fort Myers ordinance was deemed unconstitutional and pretty much any ordinance that restricts speech in Florida has been shut down.”
Gabriel Denny, a new resident of Cape Coral and early frontrunner for the position of “Cape Coral’s resident libertarian” was “not stoked” about hearing the $35,000 bill for the Utilities Expansion Project. “I don’t want to get a bill for $35,000, inflation-adjusted,” said Gabe. “That’s not okay.” He noted that city water has had 220 boil water notices last year, though in different areas.
Gabe had just spoken after some Gator Circle residents and “If we can’t handle a traffic light, you’re going to ask me to pay $35,000 for a water system.”
Councilwoman Cosden asked Gabe to reach out to her office so she can explain the Utilities Expansion Project and why he’s S.O.L.
Lake Kennedy Improvements Move Forward…Pickleballers Rejoice!
A $10.7 million bid from Charles Perry Partners to improve the Lake Kennedy Center, which will include 32 more pickleball courts, 12 tennis courts, restrooms, a concession stand, a pro shop, as well as future plans for a massage parlor, hibachi restaurant, a casino, and a cross-dimensional transportation hub.
The main takeaway is the doubling of pickleball courts for Cape Coral’s pickleball enthusiasts, of which there are many.
District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked if they could reduce the tennis court to make room for a stadium, as well as suggesting a second-floor restaurant above the pro shop. Expansion is possible according to city staff, either by eliminating parking or tennis courts.
But District 6 Councilman Keith Long stole the show (as much as a five-hour City Council meeting could be called a “show” to be stolen) with his inquiries. Utilizing the skills he’s obtained as an alcohol attorney, he grilled the City Manager and staff about cost overruns, additional funds, and even catching them in the middle of a blatant lie.
During his questioning, he asked city staff which projects using the GO Bond Parks have been 100% completed. After much shuffling, one city staffer tried to claim Cultural Park was completed, which Councilman Long immediately called out.
“Cultural [Park]’s not finished,” said Councilman Long. “Not 100%. The answer is Cultural is not completed.”
The staffer later corrected himself, stating the original improvements are complete but additional improvements are being added…which means, by definition, it is NOT complete.
Councilman Long also asked a very specific question that will come into play later. He noted additional parking in the site plan.
“Those parking spaces meet the required parking calculations that we would require for that park? In its totality?” he asked.
The response from city staff: “Correct.”
The improvements were approved with Councilman Long serving as the lone NO vote.
No Wave Pool for Sun Splash
The City Council shot down an amendment to the Sun Splash lease with Pro Parks which would have resulted in a new wave pool, finding the cost not worth the benefit.
The proposal would have had Pro Parks build the wave pool at about a $3 million investment, which would become city property. Pro Parks estimated the wave pool would generate $22.5 million over 30 years, which comes out to $750,000 each year.
In return, the lease would be updated to reduce the city’s revenue from 15% to 7% once $4 million of revenue is reached. In addition, the city would have to invest $3-$4 million to expand the parking lot, which City Manager Rob Hernandez would say could also be used for Lake Kennedy. Unfortunately, this set off Keith Long’s BS alarm.
“I anticipated that staff would make that spin,” said Councilman Long, “which is why I directly asked the gentleman in the previous presentation (involving the Lake Kennedy expansion) if, on the site plans, they determined if we had adequate parking in Phase 2…and the gentleman’s answer was yes. So stop telling me that we technically do have that but we’re going to have these in the future, we’re going to have these tournaments and we’re going to do this overflow parking lot for the tournaments. To the tune of $3.5 million, that doesn’t make sense.”
Councilman Long approached it as a free market conservative saying that there was a reason the city government got out of the water park business and challenged Pro Parks to invest in their business without government help. He figured that, even with the competition, there would still be revenue gains, as opposed to consistent deficits from the park.
“Here we are saying let’s basically issue debt so we can help a private enterprise spend $3.5 million on the parking lot,” said Councilman Long. “To me, it makes no sense how we even got this far.”
The city manager brought up the Great Wolf Lodge water park that will be coming to Naples. The well-known water park brand will, according to the City Manager, be major competitor to Sun Splash, which he chastised as a “tired facility.”
“Why would a parent take their children to Sun Splash which, although this company has done a good job reinvigorating the facility and injecting new life into the facility, it’s basically a tired facility that hasn’t changed much in over 15 years,” said City Manager Rob Hernandez, who is supposed to represent Cape Coral. “Given the choice of loading up the minivan or station wagon…do you want to go to Sun Splash or do you want to go to the Great Wolf Lodge.”
But District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard does not feel the city should be saving Pro Parks from free market competition.
“That’s the whole reason we signed the lease,” he said. “So we don’t have to worry about things like that anymore. We have other businesses in the city that have to change their game all the time. As things change, they have to make investments to their business and I don’t see the city bending over backwards to help all those businesses who have to make major alterations to stay afloat. ”
Councilman Bobby Welsh was concerned that they would be reducing the city’s revenue to pay for the wave pool, but Hernandez countered by saying that though the percentage was less, the revenue generated would be more.
District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke voiced his support for the wave pool, taking a different angle on the issue.
“I see us put millions of dollars into our parks. We get zero return,” said Councilman Steinke. “It’s an amenity for our citizens. In this case, we have a park that we can invest money in that our citizens will gain benefit from and that we have the opportunity to make money in the venture. We’re not Orlando. We’re not the amusement parks in Orlando, but every one of them knows they need to remain relevant.”
Pro Parks made it clear this was not a make-or-break issue, noting that profit was still coming in and that they will reassess with different plans for growth moving forward.
Permitting Fees to Return
If you enjoyed fee-less permits from the city after Hurricane Ian, that has now ended. The City Council approved an ordinance restoring fees for certain permits which were waived by the emergency.
City Manager Ron Hernandez explained that they were matching Lee County’s direction because we can’t make our own decisions here in Cape Coral. He also explained the city has incurred a financial burden for the fee-less permits, particularly with overtime from city employees.
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard and District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings opposed the ordinance, stating that residents are still waiting to find contractors to work on their homes. They believe the dates should be extended.
District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh disagrees, noting that a roofing permit is $80 and because inflation was so bad and prices were so high, the $80 doesn’t make much of a dent.
“I don’t believe that $80, with the costs of a new roof going up, is really going to make or break me or another resident.”
Because what’s another 80 dollars in this economy?
Rather than focus on costs to residents, Councilman Welsh thinks that he is looking to be a good steward of our tax dollars. “We need to look into what we are spending. For the city to put out all this extra money for all these employees here, and not be able to collect any money for it because we’re saving a resident a $60 roof permit, I think we’re doing the city a disservice for it.”
Councilman Welsh is right to note the additional costs which would eventually come back to the taxpayer (possibly with a property tax increase), though perhaps it could have been done with less condescension.
His words seemed to change Councilman Sheppard’s mind, who voted aye on the ordinance. Councilwoman Cummings was the only no.
A second ordinance was passed which would allow trailers on residential properties until March 24th, 2024, to allow for FEMA trailers to come to Cape Coral. Residents will still need to get a permit from the city to have the trailers on their property.
Mobile Food Trucks Regulations Gain Opponents
Elections have consequences and the recent election may lead to a different direction regarding mobile food truck regulations. The once well-received ordinance being proposed found itself without support from new council members who ran on pro-business agendas. Council may put it back to the drawing board if not scrap it altogether.
Three members of the public spoke on the ordinance. Two former political candidates, Cathy Stout (who ran for School Board) and Gary Aubuchon (a former State Representative who ran for Congress), spoke in favor of the ordinance. Stout emphasized the help food truck vendors provided after Hurricane Ian as a reason to support.
But Gabriel Denny spoke out against new regulations, questioning whether the government should be involved in market decisions, calling the regulations “absurd.” He talked about the bratwursts he gets from the Lowe’s food trucks, marking the first product placement ever in a City Council meeting.
“Why is it of the interest of the city or the government whether or not commerce works?” said Gabriel. “If somebody has a mobile food truck…and they’re able to sell, that’s the public voting.”
It should be of note that much of the ordinance involves rezoning to allow for it, with most of the regulations dealing with safety concerns regarding mobility, a fact reiterated by District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh, who saw a false comparison between mobile food trucks in the ordinance and the food trucks at Lowe’s and Home Depot,
“The first word of this is mobile,” said Councilman Welsh. “To say you’re going to go to Home Depot and miss getting your brat…I can tell you when I go to Sam’s (Club) and that $1.99 hot dog at the end, they put that commissary inside of the building. So if the point of going to Home Depot is for a brat, then I believe they will find a way to put that commissary on the inside of the building and regulate it.”
“We have some bad actors in the city that have turned what’s supposed to be movable into something that’s permanent,” said Councilman Welsh. “We saw that when the hurricane came, they didn’t even move their trailers. They just took everything out of it and left. I’m in support of this now and I’m in support of it on the 25th.”
District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings, a small business owner herself, spoke in favor of the mobile food trucks and against regulations. She spoke about how many restaurants went mobile during the pandemic to better cater to customers in “unprecedented times,” and echoed Cathy Stout when she brought up mobile food trucks’ help during Hurricane Ian.
“We had a massive hurricane and it was historic,” said Councilwoman Cummings. “The next day, those food trucks were out there for each and every one of us residents, giving us free food. They did that for quite some time and I don’t feel like the way we thank them is by telling them ‘now we’re going to put restrictions on you.’ I feel like right now we have other things we need to focus on versus mobile food trucks.”
These regulations have been discussed since last year with a final hearing set on January 25th.
Councilman Welsh Wants to Move Citizens Input Time
District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh wants to have a discussion about having Citizens Input Time at the end of the meeting, which has been put up for an upcoming Committee of the Whole Meeting.
The agendas are generally approved by the Mayor, and Mayor John Gunter, though open to discussing it, signaled his opposition to the idea, citing consent agenda items that residents would not be able to comment on.