January 27, 2017
Fort Myers' plan to lure millennials downtown questioned
By Levi Ismail
FORT MYERS -
You've seen the high-rise towers along the Fort Myers riverfront. Now, imagine them in the heart of the downtown River District. That thought has some people questioning the city's plan to lure more millennials to live in the area.
During a Community Redevelopment Agency meeting Wednesday, Gene Gibson of the Calusa Waterkeepers chose to speak out. He presented the city with a list of questions and comments concerning the downtown and midtown density study and proposed amendments to the Fort Myers comprehensive plan.
Issues such as environmental concerns were at the top of the list, but closely followed were his concerns over a lack of height limits for new development.
"Sixty stories, ninety stories? We need some specificity on what's being talked about here," said Gibson.
City council members developed the density plan after consulting with experts who determined they weren't using the full potential of the River District lots.
It begins with easing restrictions on how many units are allowed to be built per acre. As it stands, developments are typically limited to 35 units per acre, but those offering public amenities like parking and green space get as many as 70 units.
More units mean developers can afford to charge less per unit therefore giving affordable housing options.
"The devil is always in the details," said Dexter Meyer, vice president of the Downtown Fort Myers Neighborhood Association.
Meyer heard the new plan to attract millennials downtown and believes it was only meant to sound good on paper.
He wants a more vibrant, diverse city with people of all ages, but understands that the city will have to make some sacrifices.
"We're fearful that in the details of all of this thinking about density and talk about density, we're going to lose some of the flavor of this downtown district," said Meyer.
Most high-rise condos take advantage of the riverside views and build where the water is within close range.
Building in the middle of downtown offers its advantages with walkability, but if developers want the best of both worlds, they build taller.
Meyer is confident it will do more than hurt the decor of the historic River District, like block the view of those already living downtown.
"You only need one really tall big building to totally ruin the character of a neighborhood," said Gibson.
Courtney Johnson grew up in Fort Myers and sees this as more of an opportunity than a loss.
"I think this area definitely needs some infusion of culture. A fresh new face for the city is always a good thing," said Johnson.
The sky's the limit for a new developer in search of incentives. Up to 90 percent property tax rebates help developers get on their feet. Those are taxes collected each year and go toward construction loans over 10-20 years, funded by taxpayers.
Some argue it's a trend that needs to find an end.
"If a developer cannot come in and afford to build a development without having the necessary financing to do that, the city should not bend over backwards," said Meyer.