Estero: The Present, Past and Potential Future
For all the contemplating on candidates confronting those who’ll cast a vote in the November 4 General Election, the residents of one Southwest Florida area will be especially deliberative in determining the response to a question that some suggest portends consequences more significant than any singular candidate. That stands to reason, after all, the voting results may fundamentally affect the fate and future of a community recognized as one of the fastest growing unincorporated areas of Florida. The community is Estero and the relevant question is whether residents will vote in favor of it becoming an actual incorporated municipality with all the inherent rights of self-governance, or will they simply opt to maintain the status quo? Estero is geographically located in an unincorporated section of Lee County, between the larger Metropolitan Statistical Areas of Fort Myers (to the North) and Collier County City of Naples (to the South). The community is home to some 23,000 full-time residents, yet those numbers swell by the thousands each season with the migrational proclivities of snowbirds. Over the ten year duration between the 2000 and 2010 census, Estero’s population blossomed by more than 137 percent and it continues to grow. That growth isn’t simply measured by new homeowners, but new business too. Earlier this year, the Hertz Corporation began construction of their new global headquarters in Estero. With so much working in favor of the community, one may wonder whether it is necessary to fix something that doesn’t seem broken. In this case, the break is reflected in terms of trust. After a longstanding agreement with the neighboring community of Bonita Springs, Estero residents balked when Bonita began annexing properties that, until that point, had been considered as part of Estero.
As Nick Batos of the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) explains, Bonita’s encroachment prompted immediate concern because development requirements in Estero are more stringent than that of the county or other communities. Estero standards put greater restrictions on density, requirements on landscaping, respect for ecological sensitivity, and interconnectivity with the community, all of which, as Batos affirms, contributes to the aesthetic allure and quality of life enjoyed by residents. “There was a time that some developers didn’t appreciate our development codes. They thought our environmental concerns made developing here more complicated and costly. Today, I think they realize that the requirement allow them to actually build a better product,” says Batos. A great example exists in Batos neighborhood known as The Brooks. Developed by the Bonita Bay Group, The Brooks is comprised of four gated neighborhoods situated among 2,492 acres. The land management practices and water conservation protocols that overarched creation of The Brooks went on to serve as a national model of responsible, sustainable development. This Estero-based community continues to earn distinction as one of America’s most masterful of master planned developments. So, the very suggestion that standards of Bonita Springs could increasingly be foisted upon a community that takes pride in having a differentiated quality, one could anticipate the reaction to annexation. The ECCL rallied residents to sign petitions enabling the ballot measure on Estero’s incorporation. Over the last few months, Batos and other members of the ECCL have conducted several dozen public forums on the initiative, outlining plans for the future, explaining advantages and responding to criticism too. Thus far, Batos says the proposal has had only a few detractors. “There has been some complaint that this will create an additional layer of government that nobody wants,” says Batos. “We feel that it doesn’t add more government, but more effective governance and greater ability for us to control our destiny by representing the interests of the people that live here.” Participants of the ECCL’s public forum seem to feel the same for the most part, and so too does the business community. “I see this as something very positive for the community,” says Estero Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Gene Montenieri. “We’re not concerned that this is going to increase taxes … The Estero Council of Community Leaders has done an excellent job explaining their objectives and plans for the future… the Chamber supports the Council as well as the right for people to vote.” Voters will not only be deciding on Estero’s incorporation. Should the measure pass, it would ultimately allow various districts of the new formed Village of Estero to be represented by an cadre of elected officials. Beyond representing the interests of their respective districts, this body would have authority to advance other projects in which Estero is currently stymied. One such project involves the creation of Estero Crossing, a new commercial planned development that could be potentially situated on an empty 42-acre site adjacent to Corkscrew Road. “We presently don’t have the capacity to act on certain projects the way we could as elected representatives of an incorporated community,” says Batos. His hope, along with that of other ECCL Members, is that voters will simply turn-out and let their will be known. “Obviously, we think incorporation is a good idea, but good or bad, we simply want people to get out and vote … that’s the only way we’ll know what people really want,” says Batos.
Members of the Estero Council of Community Leaders Jim Boesch, Phil Douglas, Marilyn Edwards,
Roger Strelow and Nick Batos. Photo by Bill Schiller