Estero’s 22,000 citizens may cast a vote on incorporating their thriving Lee County community in November 2014.
A powerful grassroots organisation called the Estero Council of Community Leaders is working on getting the long-contested issue of Estero cityhood on the ballot. The ECCL revealed its aim to encourage cityhood for the first time Friday, shifting the group’s long-held opinion due to the recent Estero annexation efforts of the City of Bonita Springs.
If approved by more than one half of Estero registered voters in November 2014, Estero would require a Southwest Florida politician to file and pass an Estero cityhood bill that will need to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott. If those criteria are met, Estero could develop into a city in 2015. It would be Lee County’s 6th city, and the 1st after Bonita in 1999.
“This is a monumental time in the history of Estero,” ECCL chairman Nick Batos stated. “The situation is right for incorporation. For the residents who want this to occur, we together will take on this challenge and hopefully prevail.”
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, couldn’t be reached for feedback Friday. Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, whose district covers Estero, was away Friday and didn’t return a telephone message.
Around 250 Estero inhabitants came to Friday’s gathering, filling an Estero Community Park room so snugly the Estero fire chief was worried about occupancy fire codes. Following 90 minutes of dialogue, the citizens voted overwhelmingly in support of beginning the plan.
Bonita’s attempts to hold a referendum next spring to ask 842 Estero Pelican Landing homeowners to join Bonita is a powerful motive for incorporation, Estero residents said. Bonita will voluntarily annex 123 Estero acres that belong to WCI Communities and a 12.6-acre Coconut Point Marina that belongs to the Pelican Landing Community Association in August.
The voluntary annexations would put Estero’s treasure, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, abutting the Bonita boundary. The Hyatt has 454 guest suites plus an 18-hole golf course, and Estero citizens are frightened Bonita will gobble up the Hyatt next.
“This isn’t new,” Estero resident Janet Kennedy said. “Bonita has been trying to annex us since they became a city. The first thing they tried to do is take Coconut Point. If we don’t do something, it will happen. We have to become independent, and God willing, we will get that vote in November.”
In 2005, Bonita tried annexing forty-four square miles of Estero to the south of Williams Road. The area included The Colony at Pelican Landing, the Hyatt Regency, The Brooks and Coconut Point Shopping Mall.
Bonita Springs Councilman Steve McIntosh claimed the city has no goals of annexing the Hyatt or other Estero property. McIntosh, who resides within the Bonita section of Pelican Landing, said he just desired his neighborhood to get a say in which community they desired to reside.
“It’s a matter of self-determination,” McIntosh said. “If the small piece I’ve been talking to the ECCL for months in Pelican Landing brought incorporation to a head, then so be it. It’s too small for the city to be painted as the bad people.”
Transforming Estero into a city won’t be simple, experts said. Florida League of Cities spokeswoman Lynn Tipton, whose organisation advises communities on incorporation, said communities have to achieve numerous steps. The very first is establishing boundaries and submitting a feasibility study with the state by Sept. 2 that describes the potential costs and revenues of the intended city.
Vote Estero, a grassroots group which has had its incorporation referendum efforts blocked by county commissioners at least 3 times in the past 7 years, has a feasibility study that’s being vetted by an undisclosed college. Vote Estero hasn’t made available its study.
County commissioners voted against Vote Estero in the past due to the fact that it didn’t possess the support of the ECCL, which represents thirty gated neighborhoods.
Right now, the ECCL would like to take charge of the incorporation campaign and formulate its individual feasibility study. ECCL founder Don Eslick said the organization intends to spend the next few months debating the pros and cons of incorporation with Estero’s gated residential areas.
Community assistance is vital. Marco Island tried incorporation on a number of occasions prior to getting sufficient votes in 1997. Lehigh Acres attempted incorporation several years ago, but was unsuccessful.
The ECCL hopes to give signed petitions and letters to Southwest Florida’s six state representatives in late November. If Southwest Florida’s assembly is in favor of an Estero municipality, they’d also need to waive a 2-mile buffer rule the state calls for between cities.
Bonita Springs doesn’t want a prospective city of Estero obtaining that 2-mile section, which contains tax-base rich Coconut Point shopping center as well as the Brooks residential neighborhoods. About 7,000 homes and 4,500 registered Florida voters are located in the area.
Lawmakers have waived the two mile buffer before. About 1 / 2 of the last 22 cities incorporated in the past 22 years have obtained a waiver, per the Florida League of Cities.
“I’ve never been one who really liked a few people being in charge,” said Estero local Zelma “Sis” Newberry. “But there are no other options. If we become a city, we have to have a small government. We have to leap on faith and hope the right people stand up.”