Come July of this year, Goodwill Industries consultants say they hope to have a large new store built in Lehigh Acres, almost as large as the others in Lee County, with new jobs for 35 employees, who Goodwill officials say will come from Lehigh.
The good news was received in a positive way by the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Council (LACPP) but members spent a lot of time going over the site plan that was held up on an easel showing members Goodwill of Southwest Florida's plans for Lehigh.
Architects and Planners are Gora McGahey of Fort Myers and two of their representatives were on hand to answer questions and to listen to what LACPP members had to say. While the local planning agency's suggestions are not yet legally mandatory, they are often welcomed by the county's hearing examiner and the Lee County Commission. The LACPP is not an official county agency, but staff with more than a dozen of volunteers from the community.
A copy provided to Lehigh Acres planners showing a site plan for a new Goodwill store.
It has been instrumental over the past several years in helping to develop the Lehigh Plan, which is expected to gain approval soon from the Board of County Commissioners.
Michelle Salbert from the architectural firm answered most of the questions from LACPP members. While the site plan meets county requirements, many in the Lehigh group wanted to see some minor changes that were "more in line" in what has been planned for Lehigh's future development.
Robert Randall, vice president of retail and operations of the architectural firm, noted that the existing small store in Lehigh had outgrown its space.
It is located in a plaza just off Lee Blvd. and Homestead Rd.
According to the site plan, the new Goodwill store will be on the corner lot of Lee Blvd. and Ida Avenue North and before construction, demolition of model homes on the site will have to take place. The site is close to three acres.
After much discussion, it was noted that there would be a covered drop-off point for residents to bring donations, a loading zone and a trash container at the back of the building.
It was suggested that the building, which will be constructed on Lee Blvd. at the corner of Ida Ave. North and butting up to 4th St. West.
Members of the LACPP suggested that the building be brought up to the boulevard in an effort to make the area more shopping friendly. Architects appeared amazed at the suggestion because the building is set back like many other in strips along Lee Blvd. and they noted it met county plans.
Edd Weiner, chairman of the Lehigh Acres Planning Commission, said Lehigh's plans were different than Lee County, but the county planning examiner can allow the site plan to remain as it is. The new Goodwill building will be much like the others in both Fort Myers and Lee County.
On the site, at least three or four houses, which were some of the first model homes ever built in Lehigh, would have to be demolished. These model homes did not sit close to Lee Blvd., as was the case in the early 2000s when model homes dotted Lee Blvd., something local Lehigh planners didn't like. These homes sat back with an entrance to them off of Ida Avenue North.
They have been vacant for several years.
Early on during the meeting, Ed Pinto, an LACPP member, said he liked the idea and offered any help he could provide to help "enhance the presence of Goodwill" in Lehigh Acres.
"We on this board represent the people and I can tell you that Goodwill Industries will be accepted very favorable here," Pinto said.
LACPP member Linda Carter said she thought the empty houses on the lot might be used by the Lehigh Acres fire and Control District for some type of training before they are demolished. Carter is a member of the board of commissioners of the fire board.
But there were a few concerns about the proposed building and site. More sidewalks were suggested. It was noted that there was not a bus stop nearby by and there should be and that a sidewalk along Lee Blvd. should be provided to make the building more accessible by the walking shopper.
Planning chairman Weiner said there should be a "decel lane."
Goodwill is a not for profit organization and depends on the public to donate items that are in good condition. They are resold by Goodwill, which uses the money to aid the community.
A motion was made by Linda Carter with some modifications, including a "decel lane," sidewalks, better lighting, a park bench and additional landscaping. It gained the approval of the complete LACPP.
Weiner noted that Lehigh's soon-to-be codes "are stronger" than the Lee County requirements. Weiner often voices disdain for the way the county allows plans for development.
The motion and a letter goes to the hearing examiner asking that it be approved with a deceleration lane, more sidewalks and parking and benches to allow those who visit to store to have a place to sit outside.