As highlighted in our Sept. 20th blog post, the 2013 budget approved by the BoCC includes $2 million for the Lehigh Community's package of complete streets projects, supported by BikeWalkLee. Today's News-Press reports on this news. Kudos to the BoCC and Lehigh community for making this happen.
by Cristela Guerra and Thomas Himes
Big changes anticipated in Lehigh -- Lee County commits more than $2 million for studies
Big changes are ahead for Lehigh Acres, and residents are excited about the prospects.The Lee County commission, in approving the county budget last week, set aside a little more than $2 million for three studies along two of Lehigh Acres’ main routes.
The budget provides monies to go toward several projects that include design studies for Homestead Road and Joel Boulevard, which will look into infrastructure, drainage and other details, as well as an engineering study to look at putting in a median on Homestead Road.
Both Homestead and Joel are hubs in the county’s comprehensive plan to bring mixed-use zoning to the community in order to provide for more businesses, walkability and a more modern aesthetic.
Edd Weiner, CEO of the Lehigh Acres Economic Development Board and chairman of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Panel, said he expects people won’t recognize the area in five years, though he sees this process taking about two years.
“I’m not disappointed,” Weiner said. “This is the beginning. I’m excited.”
The county’s $597.5 million operating budget in fiscal year 2012-13 calls for the county to spend another $30 million from its reserves.
“I’m still very disappointed that staff has been unable to present us with a budget that projects us to a point where there is no longer a reliance on the reserves,” said Commissioner Frank Mann.
Still, he said: “I think this is perhaps the best document we can get.”
Spending will decrease by less than 1 percent from the $601.8 million that was approved for this year.
The Lehigh planning panel is seeing interest in more than one area. One man is looking at putting in a lounge near the Winn-Dixie, where the Eagles club used to be. Weiner said he also has interest in the same property from two people, each wishing to put in a restaurant. There are also potential renovations coming to Publix and Sweetbay stores.
“This is a shoe in the door and a step forward,” said Jere Carrick, managing member of Majestic Golf Club LLC. “We’re really grateful. It was worth all the work we put into it.”
Kathie Ebaugh, principal planner at Lee County Department of Community Development, said plans to kick-start development in the community can only be helped by partnerships between residents, business owners and the county.