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Horizon Council says Develop Lehigh initiative finally getting its legs

September 20, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Of the three Develop Lee Initiatives that the Horizon Council has started, two of the programs have worked very well.

It has been the third - the largest of the three - that has created consternation and frustration, with factions arguing over things that have little to do with jumpstarting business, which is what the initiative is supposed to do.

The Commercial Revitalization Task Force was formed by the Lee County Economic Development Office and the Horizon Council with the task of finding creative ways to revitalize areas of Lee County that have lagged the ongoing economic recovery.

Those areas were North Fort Myers, Dunbar and Lehigh Acres, and Develop Lee was created to help the areas, and it has done so in North Fort Myers and Dunbar.

At last month's North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Horizon Council member John Gardner said the Lehigh initiative was "floundering."

Gardner now says the initiative has finally gained some traction in the past few weeks as Rachel Busch, strategic projects manager for the task force, has gotten some people together to get the ball rolling, albeit very slowly.

He said despite that, there are a lot of rough waters the area will have to navigate.

"Lehigh is not an incorporated city and can't be because it has the same problem as North Fort Myers. It doesn't have the tax base to support itself," Gardner said. "There are some differing opinions on how things should go over there. There's a lot of infighting."

The issues that have caused the fighting include some people who want to incorporate or change the name of Lehigh, issues Gardner said have been going on for years. As a result, nobody wanted to come together and compromise.

It took the factions to realize it was about improving the business climate of Lehigh.

"The Commercial Revitalization Task Force is about developing more jobs and higher paying jobs," he said. "We're not involved in incorporation or name change. That's not what we're about."

Busch got the groups on common ground to talk about what the area has to do to bring in business.

Gardner said the area has some unique issues. It is a bedroom community and is a pre-platted community, like Cape Coral, except it is more difficult to cobble together commercial property as everything is platted for single-family homes.

"Cape Coral is incorporated and can change the zoning. For Lehigh to do anything, they would have to change statute in the state law," he said. "A lot of people live in Lehigh, but they don't work there. That's what the task force is about, though. To get through the muddy waters."



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