The redesign of Lee Boulevard from Beth Stacey Boulevard to past Alabama Road in Lehigh Acres will be the subject of a public meeting by Lee County planning officials on Saturday, Dec. 7 and according to planner Kathy Ebaugh, this is one of the more important planning sessions for them to listen to Lehigh residents concerning changes in the downtown area.
Ebaugh said everyone should be reminded that the meeting will be held in the conference room of the Lee County Sheriff's Bravo substation office on Homestead Road from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Other Saturday planning session meetings have been held at the East County Regional Library and she wanted to get the message out that for the next meeting, the location has been changed.
She made this announcement last week when she appeared before the Lehigh Community Council and gave a presentation of where county planners are in coming up with ideas for a future Lehigh with land use development plans.
She said Lee County commissioners have assigned $1.5 million to re-do Homestead Road and while she offered at least six options with a PowerPoint presentation, she said planners want to hear other options that the residents of Lehigh may have.
The re-design of downtown Lehigh, one of three so-called centers, is the first to be zeroed in on with specific plans bringing attention to the width of the highway and sidewalks, landscaping, doing away with left hand center lanes and making the area a visitor friendly downtown street. She said plans are to re-do the Homestead downtown area in such a way that people can walk to local businesses, use bicycles on new bike paths. Developers would be invited in to build close to the street with parking provided in many areas behind the buildings.
Some in the Community Council group asked where the money came from to do the work and Ebaugh said "from you, the taxpayers. It is your money."
Ebaugh has been making several presentations throughout Lehigh Acres to other groups concerning the Lehigh Plan which hopefully will be completed by early next year and given to the county commissioners for approval. Ebaugh is a chief planner in the county's planning department and has taken Lehigh Acres under her wings for the past three or so years for extensive future planning.
She noted the background of Lehigh in its early years when it was run by the Lehigh Corp., which built the streets and laid out platted lots. That was back in 1959 when the population was small. By 1980, the population had grown to 10,000, and according to the last census in 2010, the official numbers were given as 86,784. She noted that there may be as many as 100,000 people now living in Lehigh.
One issue in Lehigh is that most of the area is platted for one-quarter and half acre lots and those lots, planned by the former Lehigh Corporation are owned by people who have vested rights in them.
"That means that under Florida law, you cannot do anything with their lots. They have a right forever to build on that lot," she said.
That has limited commercial development, except along Lee Blvd. and Homestead Rd. On Lee Blvd., she noted that the lots that have commercial development on them are small and not large enough for large industry or larger retail businesses to build on them.
"There are 125,000 platted lots in Lehigh and 123,000 are residential. Another 2,000 lots are devoted to churches and other development, all except homes," she said.
Some 68 percent of the homes in Lehigh are owned or being purchased by Lehigh residents. She said that the average commute time to work in Lehigh is 35 minutes, twice the state average. That means it takes Lehigh residents twice as long to go to work in Fort Myers or Cape Coral or other areas of the county because there aren't enough jobs in Lehigh to keep workers here.
One of the goals of county planners is to turn three areas of Lehigh into mixed used centers where residents can live and hopefully find work so they don't have to drive out of the town for a job.
She also noted that the planning group sees possible future commercial development in areas such as Gunnery Rd., and land across from the Majestic Golf Course Club well out on Homestead Rd.
After the Saturday meeting, Ebaugh said the group may take an hour or a 90-minute walk down the Homestead Rd. area "to get a feel for the area as a walker." The corridor being planned is about a mile and a half long and follows the same route of the Lehigh Spring Festival Parade.
When asked where future funding will come from, she told the Community Council that the county would seek grants in the future.
Community Council member Mohamad Yasin spoke up and said he understood how important the meeting on Dec. 7 would be and encouraged everyone to turn out. Jere Carrick, who conducted the meeting told the group while some may be against the plans to re-do certain areas of Lehigh, he noted it was progress and "welcome to the new world."
The public is urged to attend these meetings as the Community Council represents Lehigh residents and their concerns. The council meets on the third Monday night of each month at the sheriff's station.
For those who attend the meetings, they should enter the rear door. There is ample parking with extended parking near the Senior Center.