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TPI is the pitcher, Town Council is the umpire
February 7, 2018

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TPI is the pitcher, Town Council is the umpire

To the Editor:

There's a well-known story about a veteran major league baseball umpire who was asked by a young interviewer: "Aren't you concerned that there might be a pitch that was a strike that you called a ball, or one that was a ball that you called a strike?" The ump replied condescendingly, "Son, there's some of them are strikes and some of them are balls, but ain't none of them nothin' 'til I say what they are."

This story provides a perfect metaphor for where we stand with Tom Torgerson's proposed TPI-FMB Resort application and the Town Council. The Council is the umpire and its job is to say whether his latest pitch is a ball or a strike.

More than two years ago, Torgerson pitched a proposal that was so far out of the ballpark, it wasn't even in the parking lot of the ball park. Somebody, somewhere, convinced him he could get it past the need for a land-swap with the County and a pretty substantial re-write of the Town's Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. It included several buildings that far exceeded the height limits, a re-routing of Estero Boulevard through a tunnel created by one of his proposed hotels and a seawall in front of his property and all of Times Square and Lynn Hall Park. It would have turned downtown into a mini-Miami-South-Beach.

The blowback from town residents was deafening and two seats in a Council election were won by the two candidates who voiced the most inflexible opposition to the proposal. (It turned out to be one of the few times Dennis Boback and I ever agreed on anything.)

Torgerson went back to the drawing board. He invited several of the project's most vocal critics, myself included, to meet regularly to discuss what we thought would be acceptable to the residents. There was no compensation. He didn't even supply water at the meetings in order to be clear that no one in the focus group was being "bought" in any way. Each of us in our own way urged him to get the proposal in line with the existing rules. He took the advice seriously, scaled the whole project way down, eliminated all of the most objectionable features and, after several versions, came up with the current proposal.

Not one word of the Comp Plan or Code needs to be changed for this proposal to be acceptable. The hotel is within than the 40-foot height limit. It is all on the bay side of the Boulevard and won't obstruct the view corridor to the beach. There's ground-level parking to accommodate all the hotel guests and surfside venue patrons. Bicycles will be available to guests to encourage them to leave their cars parked and not add to the traffic clutter. The Town will get 24-26 metered parking spaces which will produce revenue and also provides an improved beach access. The project lies squarely within the Pedestrian-Commercial zoning area (essentially downtown-Times Square) and could not be used as precedent-setting for any other project. The aquatic venue on the beach will be open to the public and a proposed discount for local residents is being considered.

Back to the baseball metaphor: Torgerson has thrown a pitch that isn't right down the middle of home plate, but there's no question that it's within the boundaries of the strike zone. This proposal does reflect the character of the town and will benefit all of us. It's time for the LPA and the Council to call it that way, knock off the BS and get something built down there.

Jay Light

Fort Myers Beach

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