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Develop Lehigh making progress

August 29, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Strides are already taking place with the Develop Lehigh campaign.

A few years ago the Lee County EDO started the campaign Develop Lehigh. Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce Presi-dent Ed Moore said their goal was to find business owners and people in each area, MLK, North Fort Myers and Lehigh, that have been long standing community members to work with to help develop those areas further.

"I went to a couple of meetings probably about a year ago only because I have been in the Chamber for a while and I heard about it," Moore said. "When I became the chairman in January I started going to them every month because that is part of our goal as a Chamber, not only have a good networking group for Lehigh, but to help develop business."

With Moore's entire philosophy "to help Lehigh grow," getting involved in Develop Lehigh was a logical move.

Moore, who lives in Gateway and is a Fort Myers business owner, wanted to become the president of the Chamber because his grandfather always told him, "You are supposed to help your neighbors."

"Lehigh is my neighbor. That is why I am here," he said.

When Moore began attending the Develop Lehigh meetings, he did so to learn about the community.

"I have learned that Lehigh has very little commercial property available. When the developers laid all of this stuff out, they only allotted 3 percent of this area as zoned commercial," he said. "We have 91,000 lots that are still uninhabited."

Moore said they have taken maps and dotted everybody who is pass due 10 years on their taxes.

"While there is not a ton of properties, there are a significant amount," he said.

Discussions are being had with the county of what they should do with the delinquent accounts.

"Do we take that land and put it into a land bank? If I have two acres there and need to add three more acres on it, can we pull from that land bank and swap those parcels," Moore asked.

He said there is not enough land in the same spot available to put in a store such as Home Depot, which requires a minimum of 10 acres.

"With 91,000 lots sold to individuals and some investors, we don't have 10 acres all together to be able to do that," Moore said.

If a land bank was feasible, he said they could swap acres to bring in more commercial businesses.

Part of the conversation for Develop Lehigh stemmed around figuring out how to rezone property, which has been accomplished. Lee County, Moore said, has implemented a mix-use overlay, which promotes a blend of commercial and residential uses in certain areas of Lehigh Acres.

There has been a noticeable change in Lehigh Acres as a result of the overlay. Moore said Lee Health is putting up a new building on the east side of Lee Boulevard, as well as filling a strip center near Publix and State Road 82.

"They have taken over the majority of the strip center putting in diagnostic labs. It's making a big difference," Moore said.

Committees have been created to help decide what types of businesses should be brought to Lehigh Acres with the limited amount of land and resources. That type of business is retail.

"There is a team that went to Orlando to a tradeshow last week to invite retail businesses to open their stores here," Moore said.

Another committee is focusing on water, having discussions with FGUA. Moore said the current water company is a holding company and not a full fledged water company. He said they need to find someone to develop waterlines because the majority of water in Lehigh is well based.

With Moore having a background in technology, his focus and passion is bringing better broadband to the area.

"I have been told and experienced that the Comcast and CenturyLink broadband is really unreliable. Part of the reason is because of the fiber that is piped into it," he said. "I am working with the county. Lee, Collier and Hendry County have formed a coalition of bringing better broadband to the area."

Another focal point of Develop Lehigh is roads. Moore said the county has increased its $1 million budget of resurfacing existing roads to $5 million.

"Lehigh is really being watched because it is growing so fast," he said. "There are so many people here. The politicians and people at the county level realize that Lehigh is a very viable place to live. People want to live there."

As far as roads, Moore said some projects are already in place, such as the widening of Homestead Road, and the State Road 82 continuous flow project.

He said another road that people may not be aware of is where Alico Road connects with I-75 by Gulf Coast Town Center.

"That road takes you all the way to 82. We are going to have another four-lane road taking us out of Lehigh," he said.

Another plan, which is supposed to begin in three years, will take place on the west side of Luckett Road and I-75. He explained that road to be another entry and exit point to I-75.

"The more businesses that come into Lehigh, the more people will stay in Lehigh and not have to travel to 82. It will help relieve the traffic flow," he said.

Moore said they are looking to grow the Chamber's membership base, so they can hire a full-time director.

"I made it my mission because education is so important to me. Education has to be geared towards the business owners and what they need coming out of high school. We have to gear our education towards the businesses that are hiring," Moore said.

This past summer the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce paired up with the Lee County School District for the SOS program, a program that matches students with employers. Moore explained the program to be similiar to an internship.

"We find out what the employers need and find out what the students are wanting and marry those two up for six weeks," he said. "We are looking forward to doing it next year on a larger scale."



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