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Guest commentary: ‘Centers’ taking shape in community plan

May 7, 2012
By TONY PALERMO , Lehigh Acres Citizen

We are starting to see some progress. Thanks in most part to the people of Lehigh Acres.

Lee County staff and Ensite - a local planning consultant - have been working diligently the past two years with the Lehigh Acres community to implement the Lehigh Community Plan.

Part one was the passage of Land Development Code regulations for the Lehigh Community - including greater public participation, dealing with duplexes and model homes, and regulating mobile vendors. The Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved these code changes unanimously January 10, 2012 - after a series of Saturday meetings, drafts, rewrites, peer reviews, advisory committee meetings, and public hearings.

Article Photos

Tony Palermo

Part two are plans for the development of "Activity Centers." These locations - selected with the assistance of the Lehigh Acres community - are where we are encouraging mixed use, pedestrian friendly, and compact development.

With one victory under our belt - it's time to look ahead to the next challenge for the Lehigh community.

Lehigh Acres residents have been coming to countless meetings - at night, Saturdays, even an impromptu venture to the newly-named "Leeland Lake" on Joel Boulevard. The citizens have been encouraging us, making suggestions, and pointing us in the right direction - at least we hope.

Normally when we do community planning meetings, there is interest in the beginning, and then things start to lull - after a few months of meetings, hearings, and workshops. People stop attending meetings, stop sending e-mails, and stop making phone calls. It's only natural.

But not in Lehigh Acres.

Those of us working in planning as a profession - we haven't seen the lull. But this time, more people are getting involved. More people are participating. And more people - especially Lehigh people - are taking ownership of the Lehigh Plan and of the hard work it will take to implement that plan and make Lehigh's vision - of a safer, more diverse, and economically-prosperous community of choice - a little closer to reality.

After much work with the consultants, the community, and property owners - two of three of Lehigh's future activity centers are getting ready to start their way through the process of adoption into the Lee County Land Development Code.

This process is likely to last through the summer and be complete by the fall - if not sooner. These plans represent an optional development scenario property owners or a developer could have approved through a relatively short, inexpensive, and predictable administrative approval process with staff - rather than a long, expensive, and unpredictable public hearing process to rezone property.

There is a Downtown Plan located on Homestead Road. And there is a Neighborhood Plan on Joel Boulevard (the one with the big round lake on it).

As you will see, these plans will require changes in street layout, investments in drainage, and other improvements. These plans could allow more intense development than can be achieved using conventional zoning with its large setbacks, separation of uses, and big chunks of land devoted to parking lots and retention ponds. We've been showing drafts of these plans to our fellow Lee County staff - and other stakeholders such as the school board, fire district, sheriff's office, Florida Governmental Utility Authority and the East County Water Control District.

We've met with individual property owners within these activity centers - who have asked good questions and given us solid and specific suggestions for improvements.

The latest updates on these plans will be discussed one more time Saturday May 12 at 9:30 a.m. at the East County Library at 881 Gunnery Road. We will also give you an update on the efforts to preserve Leeland Lake using our county's Conservation 20/20 program.

We continue to make tweaks to the plans - even as I am writing this - because we want to get this right. If we don't get this right, then this is nothing but an academic exercise - and it won't make a difference in the quality of life in Lehigh, or a better future for generations to come.

Keep in mind that when these plans are passed, our work is not over. No doubt the market and the economy will have to catch up with us for anyone to take real action - spend money and dive into the details necessary to make these activity centers take shape in the real world.

We will have to continue to work with the community and find additional partners - private-sector developers, governments, lenders - who will identify what we can and should do next.

Please spend some time examining what we are doing - in concert with the Lehigh community - and we sincerely welcome your input, your encouragement, and your interest.

Thank you again for what you've done so far. And we look forward to seeing you again on Saturday at the usual place at the usual time.

To learn more go to Lee County's Planning Division's website and the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Efforts: www.leegov.com/gov/dept/dcd/Planning/CommunityPlanning/Pages/LehighAcres.aspx.

If you would like additional information please contact: Kathie Ebaugh, principal planner, Planning Division at Kebaugh@leegov.com, or phone (239) 533-8313.

You can also contact me, Tony Palermo, senior planner, Zoning Division and online at Apalermo@leegov.com or by phone at (239) 533-8325.

Tony Palermo is a Lee County Senior Planner Lee County Community Development Department.

 
 

 

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