Members of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp. and its Architectural Review Board are waiting today for an answer after complaining to County Code Enforcement about what both groups consider as an ongoing code violation on Lee Boulevard in Lehigh.
A letter was issued and sent to Paul Smith, senior code enforcement in the Public Works Administration on Monroe Street in Fort Myers, asking for assistance in solving what the boards see as violations of a car sales facility with proper development order approvals.
Edd Weiner, chairman of the LACCP and Gregory J. Diserio, chairman of the ARB, with the approval of the board of directors of the LACPP, issued the letter on Feb. 13.
"This letter is being written to convey our frustration with the continual and ongoing code violations at 5506 and 5510 Lee Blvd. It appears as though the most recent violation, in addition to operating a car sales facility without proper development order approvals, is for the installation of lighting to illuminate this non permitted activity. A review of the county's web site shows numerous violations have been occurring on these properties as well as on 801 Abrams Blvd., which is the apparent owner and operator of this car lot. The violations reach back numerous years and while most have been deemed to be closed, the disregard for the county's codes has been continuous and constant on these properties," reads the letter from Diserio and Weiner.
Weiner brought up the matter when he said he had noticed lighting on a car lot and cars on the grass.
"Cars sitting on the grass at car sales business can cause pervious conditions. If you don't know what that means, go out and look at a parking lot and see what comes from under a car," Weiner said, referring to oil and other fluids oftentimes leaking onto the surface of the ground or on asphalt.
Both men noted in their letter that many citizens of Lehigh Acres have been donating their time and expertise for several years in efforts to make Lehigh Acres a more viable and attractive community. The hours of the contingent of citizens in this effort is one "we all are quite prof of," according to the letter.
"Allowing this type of non-permitted business activity creates additional eye sores within the community and undermines the efforts of the Planning Panel and other organizations," the letter stated.
Weiner said it was the aim of the LACCP to have what he called the code violation remedied in a timely manner, either by enforcing the owner to immediately obtain the proper permits and subsequent construction of all site related features, (pavement, "berming," landscaping, etc.) or removal of all cars and lighting improvements.
"The existing cars sales should be stopped immediately until proper permits are obtained. It truly makes it impossible to attract new upscale businesses that endeavor to obtain development rights as provided for in the codes, while businesses such as this one, flaunts its noncompliance, said Diserio and Weiner, along with the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp.
Meanwhile at the meeting held on Feb. 13, Weiner also took aim at Lehigh Regional Medical Center, the community's only hospital in a town of around 90,000 people, according to the latest U.S. Census.
Weiner objected strongly to the hospital's recent announcement that it is applying for a certificate of need to relocate the hospital outside of Lehigh Acres.
"That's a slap in a face to us," Weiner said.
"We've got 90,000 plus residents in this community and there are people in Hendry County, Labelle and Immokalee who use LRMC as their hospital of choice because of its closeness to their communities.
"I see this as the administration and or/ its corporate offices dismantling this hospital. I have used the hospital and have found it to be a good facility. Others on the LACPP joined in and said they have had no problems when they used LRMC's facilities, too.
But last month, Jeanie Jeannette said the corporation, which is based in Naples and known as HMA, has decided to relocate the hospital in another area of southeastern Lee County and would be around 15 miles from Lehigh. But no site has been identified yet, not until the certificate of need is approved by the state.
Weiner said he would like to know of a location where a new hospital built by HMA could be "to say they would be within 15 miles of Lehigh."
"We know that people are not going to use and pay for two ambulances, one to be taken to what hospital officials say will be left, just an emergency room and a care center, and then take another ambulance to one of the hospitals in the county owned by Lee County Health Systems.
"That just isn't going to happen," Weiner said.
"What we're going to be left with is a vacant building," he said. As a private business, the owners of LRMC can shut down the hospital if they decide there is not enough profit to operate the hospital and Jeanette has said that many of the patients who have gone to LRMC have had no insurance and could not pay their bills.
Frank LaRosa, a member of the LACCP, who recently served for six years on Lee Memorial System's Board of Directors, told the board he had plans to speak personally with Jim Nathan, who heads Lee County Health Systems.
It was noted that perhaps the public hospital group in Lee County could consider the purchase of LRMC if it shuts down and moves from town.
Mohammad Yasin, another member of the LACCP, said he agreed that the board should ask LaRossa to speak to Lee County Health System officials.
At one point of the meeting, Chairman Weiner said he had concerns with the plans made in the Land Code inasmuch as making sure merchants and owners of businesses and buildings would agree to changes being planned for a downtown community center, which would involve a renovation of the area.
Cathy Ebaugh, Lee County's principal planner, who has been engaged in the Lehigh plan for nine years, tried to assure Weiner that the renovation and improvement of the downtown area would not take place over night.
She said it could take several years and that the planning group on the county level has talked to businesses in the area. And besides, she said, changes in the future can be made in the plan.
"We have reached out to property owners in the area and I understand your concerns," she told Weiner.
She said as the plan, which was expected to be approved this week by the Lee County Commission, is "a long term effort."
"When we started we said it was an optional overlay and we have reached out to property owners in meetings and in person. We believe they understand that with changes, business will be better for them and they are going to understand. There will be properties that will be taken and that is all some time off. For instance, where McDonald's restaurant is included in an area to become a park, so we have a way to go," she said.
"The best we all can do is to develop a trust and help them understand what a new community center means to them. If you know a property owner, make sure they know about what is going on and explain the benefits to them of a new friendly like atmosphere in the downtown area," Ebaugh said.
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann attended the meeting as he is apt to do from time to time. He applauded the efforts of the LACPP and Ebaugh and her planning department peoples' work.
"The county planning staff has been leading the effort and they have been very committed to this project. A finial hearing is for Feb. 26 at 9:30 a.m. at the county chamber in Fort Myers. It could be approved or continued. It has been a lot of hard working ears for this Lehigh Land Development Code and finally we have an opportunity for changing Lehigh for the future," Mann said.
"I think it is going to be a Red Letter Day for the people of Lehigh," he said.
Tonda Soisson, another member of the LACCP, said she has noted it is the passion of the community that is going to make it come together.
"We need to build relationships and get everyone to come together," she said. She was joined by LACC member Mohammad Yasid who said the plan is a vision for the people and he applauded the planning department for its help.
The LACPC meets on the second Wednesday night of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Bravo Station, Lee County Sheriff's Office, on Homestead Rd. The community room where meetings are held is behind the building. The public is urged to attend the meetings and speak up and become part of the plans for a future Lehigh.
The plans and proposed changes coming to Lehigh have been in the news nearly a decade now. For those who have not taken an interest in the future of Lehigh, they are encouraged to go online to the county's web site and look for the plans for Lehigh and other areas of the county.