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Hamman talks North Fort Myers revitalization

By Staff | Dec 27, 2017

Commissioner Brian Hamman believes he has come up with a long-term plan to revitalize North Fort Myers, an area that has not seen the economic boom under way in much of Lee County.

Hamman explained the vision on last week at the monthly North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at the Smoke N Pit.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners held a workshop on Dec. 19 to discuss how they could redevelop the area, which featured a presentation of the proposed incentives Lee County hopes to make to make this revitalization a reality.

In early 2016, a study was ordered by the county commission; it took about a year. The study gave recommendations to the county on what it can do, which led to the workshop.

Hamman said the first thing that has to happen was to make it easier to develop so people can think bigger than storage facilities, gas stations and dollar stores.

“You have to make it less expensive, easier to develop. We changed the regulatory environment and created the mixed-use overlay,” Hamman said.

Mixed-use overlay mixes targeted locations, development incentives and regulatory frame work to give developers a reason to invest.

The county budgeted $2 million in September for an incentive program to spur business owners and developers to come in and help existing businesses spruce things up.

While many business leaders seemed to like the plan, others were skeptical. Clark Richards said as a Libertarian, he thought the government shouldn’t incentivize development.

“An area becomes attractive by being attractive. I’m not an advocate for spending money. The incentives are a little disturbing. What are we going to get for it?” Richards said. “Transactions on commercial real estate is almost nil.”

Hamman said the locations targeted have the infrastructure in place, which are close to transit, schools and recreation. Allow developers to create dense development and more efficient land use where appropriate, with predictable and supportive regulation.

“My goal was to level the playing field and make us competitive to private investors and developers to bring North Fort Myers their business,” Hamman said.

By changing the rules, Hamman said you could go from large setbacks and buffers with buildings limited in size and height, to developments with setbacks near the road, limited parking and maximum use of space for buildings.

This would result in 50 percent less open space requirement, 33 to 50 percent development time savings, and 40 to 60 percent reduction in parking requirements.

Much of the mixed-use development would occur on both sides of Cleveland Avenue from the river to Littleton Road, as well as downtown on Old 41 and on the intersection of Pine Island Road and Old 41.

The county would provide financial incentives for fees, demolition, infrastructure such as sewer lines and faade improvements, flood proofing and keystone projects.

The BOCC instructed staff to come up with a plan to put on the agenda for next month. If it passes, the county will take applications immediately.

“I’m very excited. It’s very technical, but it’s what I was hoping to get for North Fort Myers. It helps us create the right environment to help private investment and development,” Hamman said.