If the Board of Lee County Commissioners acted this week to suspend all impact fees on development for two years, it could delay the ongoing work and activation of the Lehigh Acres Plan, which has been underway for at least five years.
Those who attended a Saturday presentation at the East County Regional Library on Gunnery Road heard Edd Weiner, who is the chairman of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp. bring up the possibility. Commissioners were to meet Tuesday, a day after The Lehigh Acres Citizen's deadline.
However, a news email alert was sent to community leaders in Lehigh last week noting the possibility of the suspension.
View of downtown activities center during a Powerpoint presentation is silhouetted by Lehigh Acres businessman Rick Anglickis.
In the email, it was noted that it is important that the Lehigh community understand that if the board did suspend impact fees, there are both "long-term and immediate potential impacts" for Lehigh.
First, on long-term, without new fees coming in, the Homestead Rd. widening project slated to begin in a couple of years, could be in jeopardy. And in the short-term, there is an immediate consequence that could put the hard-fought $1.5 million Lehigh Complete Streets project in jeopardy.
The email alert was passed on by Darla Leutourneau of the Bike Walk Lee steering group, a coalition working to complete the streets in Lee County.
However, Kathie Ebaugh, a principal planner in the county's Dept. of Planning and the person who is overseeing the development of the Lehigh Plan, which includes wide ranging changes in downtown Lehigh and at least two other areas, all being called Lehigh Acres Activities Centers, said was not at the meeting to comment on what county commissioners would or would not do. She assured the group that the work will continue to move along.
The purpose of the Saturday meeting which drew about 30 people to the library's main meeting room was to introduce the next phase of the planning project, which includes looking into the requirements of infrastructure changes, which could include utilities, new transportation projects such as new streets, and utilizing existing canals and waterways.
Johnson, who is assigned to the project by Ensite Engineering, made the presentation along with comments from Any Getch, a planning manager in the county's Department of Transportation. Also on hand was Tony Palermo, a senior planner, who works with Ebaugh in the Lehigh revitalization project.
Linda Carter, another member of the LACPP, said she wondered what would happen to the Lehigh project if under a new board of county commissioners, a vote of 3-2 was made to suspend the project. Carter was told by Ebaugh that she would be surprised if the project was not supported. The next phase of the Lehigh Plan, the planning and design aspect, could take from seven to nine months to complete, Johnson told the group. She also noted that in a final phase scenario, the project may take up to 15 years before completion.
"It is the next logical step with surveys and the study areas, infrastructure analysis must be made along with existing infrastructure, density and an intensive analysis. It would include a team of consultants to look into various studies, she said.
LACPP Chairman Edd Weiner said he was concerned that there were no representatives from other agencies that would be involved, such as the fire board and the East County Water Control District. At least five members of the LACPP were at the meeting, and Carter, a LACPP member, is also a member of the board of fire commissioners of the Lehigh Fire District.
The remainder of the 90-minute meeting was given to a slide show of the three activity centers under study. Mohamed Yasin, another member of the LACPP who attended the meeting, said he was concerned that people were not coming to the Saturday meetings to ask questions, noting too the absence of local agency officials. And again, Ebaugh assured him that the planning group is meeting with local agencies.
Although community activity center boundaries have been designated, Ebaugh said there is constant communication with developers and landowners in the adjacent areas to the centers.
The Powerpoint presentation showed what future areas would look like once completed. New development would be near the sidewalks with plenty of open green space and walkways. Powerpoint slides showed what a future Homestead Rd. would look like once that activity center came to fruition. It included buildings up to four stories with walkways and residential units.
Palm trees and other plantings are planned for Homestead Rd. and Ebaugh said traffic patterns would be considered to get people in and around the community in a better way while shoppers could enjoy a more friendly-like atmosphere in a downtown area. Parking would take place behind future development and there could be parking garages.