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Council should be concerned for a lawsuit
April 11, 2018

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Council should be concerned for a lawsuit

To the Editor:

The debate over the TPI-FMB development project has deteriorated into a game of "dueling spin campaigns," with both sides taking out full-page ads in the local press. The primary beneficiaries are the local press, since most minds are probably made up by now.

Since the LPA recommended approval a few weeks ago, more "stuff" has emanated from both sides. A few points deserve to be made.

The loudest opposition to the project is from a group calling itself the "Voice of Fort Myers Beach." For all their self-righteous, idealistic rhetoric about their "vision" for the good of the town and the need for strict adherence to the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, the one thing they neglect to point out is that the group is made up and funded primarily by the hotel owners for whom the project potentially represents very serious competition. A bit of a conflict, perhaps?

A seven-page manifesto titled "Citizen's Community Staff Report" is being circulated on social media which details all the same opposition as Voice and offers what it calls "reasonable" alternatives. The version I saw offered no attribution as to the source of the document. What group does it represent? Who wrote it? If the author of the piece doesn't have the coglioni to sign his/her name to it, it's worthless.

Months ago, the town hired Bill Spikowski, the planning expert who knows our Comp Plan and LDC better than anybody around since he was one of its principal authors, to study the feasibility of the TPI proposal. The reason given was that the time needed to study it would create a burden on the in-house community development staff. When it became known that Spikowski's report was going to say that the proposal was within the boundaries of the plan and could be done, a new outside contractor, Jason Green, suddenly appeared who issued a conflicting report. (Under the latest town manager, we no longer have an in-house staff.) I'd really like to know where the direction for this action came from. It sounds to me as if someone told him, "Go back and study this and come back with a report that says they can't do it." His first report (there has been yet another negative one) suggested that Spikowski had underestimated the parking need by more than six-hundred spaces. When it came out that Green had calculated it by saying that if a family stayed at the resort, that was one parking space; if they went to a restaurant, that was another one; it they went shopping, that was a third all for the same car. I don't care what recognized planning formula was used, that's the dirtiest kind of math anywhere. At that point, there was no longer a reason to believe anything Green said.

The bulk of the opposition deals with density the number of rooms the hotel should be permitted to have. Every opponent has spoken about the danger of "setting a precedent" that would allow other developers to come back and sue the town if they weren't granted the same deviations for a future project. Meanwhile, TPI has published a couple of graphs showing that, in the past, several other hotels in fact most of the same ones that are the loudest opposition have been granted deviations, both before and since incorporation, that far exceed those being requested by TPI. TPI's claim is that the "precedent" has already been set. My take on that is that the Council should be much more concerned about being sued by TPI right now than any worry about a hypothetical case that might arise in the future. To his credit, Tom Torgerson, TPI's CEO, has made it very clear that he doesn't want to go there. Let's hope he isn't forced into it.

Jay Light

Fort Myers Beach

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