Sunday, August 10, 2014

Recent developments in Bonita Springs signal support for complete streets and livable communities vision

In the past two weeks there are been several game-changing developments in Bonita Springs that are good news for complete streets advocates.   
Two significant votes were taken at the July 28th City Council meeting.  The first was to fund a study to develop a vision for Bonita Beach Rd., with a focus on livability - bike/ped/transit and aesthetics. They then voted to halt continued funding for the next phase of the widening (to 6 lanes) of Bonita Beach Rd. pending the development of this area-wide transportation network vision.  Subsequently, on Aug. 6th, FDOT announced that it would be formally recommending to the MPO Board on Aug. 22nd that its PD and E study currently underway for the US 41 and Bonita Beach Rd. intersection be halted until Bonita’s visioning study is completed so that the results of that study can inform the future of this important corridor. 

A third exciting action taken at the Council's August 6th meeting was a unanimous vote to direct staff to study the use of  mobility fees as a replacement for road impact fees so that these fees can be used for bike/ped/transit projects, not just roads. 

Both Bonita Springs and Estero are taking steps through the downtown redevelopment plan underway in Bonita and the town center plan underway in Estero, to attract younger residents by creating mixed-use developments where people can live, work and play in the area.  
If you live in Bonita Springs, now is the time to get involved in these exciting developments. 

Kudos to the Bonita City Council and its citizens!

 Report by Darla Letourneau

See excerpts to two articles in this week's News-Press highlighting some of these developments:

The City Council voted 7-0 to ask city staff to research mobility fees that can be used for bike lanes, sidewalks and mass transit versus road impact fees charged to developers that must be used for widening road projects.
The City Council allocated $100,000 in its 2014-2015 budget to hire a firm to develop a vision for Bonita Beach Road for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The City Council has also decided not to put money toward widening Bonita Beach Road from four to six lanes between Old 41 Road and U.S. 41. Councilman Steven Slachta said businesses along the corridor are opposed to widening the road.

As a Bonita Springs native, Mayor Ben Nelson is aware of his community's reputation for attracting retired residents.

With Hertz building a global headquarters a few miles away in Estero and Bonita Springs planning a multimillion-dollar downtown renovation, Nelson believes the time is right to make a push to start attracting younger employees and younger families.

 "The key to success for a community is diversity, including a diversity of age groups," Nelson said. "We have been very successful in attracting retired people but, you know what, I think we need more than that. Retired people are great. They volunteer and pay taxes, but part of a good workforce is having younger workers. If we're going to attract businesses and corporate headquarters here, the workers are also going to need a place to live and play. Not just work."

Bonita Springs recently held a workshop for area young professionals and asked them what they'd like to see in a new downtown. Several developers, including Naples' Paul Benson, spoke about their plans to build downtown mixed-use developments and how young professionals could live, work and play there. Bonita — whose median age is 55.2, higher than the Florida (40.7) and national average (37.3) — isn't alone in wanting to get younger.

Estero, whose median age is 62.2, recently added a stipulation in their new community plan that will allow standalone bars at the Coconut Point shopping center. Estero, which has always banned standalone bars at developments not serving food, hopes standalone bars can attract younger people, particularly those who graduate from FGCU.

"If we want to retain the students, the folks of Estero have to loosen up a little bit," said Estero resident Greg Toth, who sits on Estero's community planning panel.

The lack of late-night entertainment and many job sectors and the higher cost of real estate in south Lee County have always been stumbling blocks in attracting young families. A Bonita Springs downtown reshaped with the millennials in mind could change that.

The city, which owns several properties along Old 41 Road that it wants the private sector to develop, recently took out a $15 million loan to help pay for a centralized drainage system and on-street parking in downtown. The Bonita Springs Young Professionals group told city officials it would like to see a downtown with wine bars, breweries, entertainment, Imperial River opportunities and more mixed-use developments.....

Howard Levitan, the government director of the Estero Council of Community Leaders, said Estero's changes to its standalone bars prohibition was a baby step for the community. Estero residents have historically spoke out against loud entertainment at Coconut Point and airport traffic noise.
"If we're going to attract true mixed-use developments, where people can live, work and play in the same area, then we need to liberalize our prohibition of stand alone bars," Levitan said.

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