Es­tero: The Present, Past and Po­ten­tial Fu­ture

Focus of SWFL - - Thwart That Throat Tickle - By Bill Schiller

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.

Beau­ti­ful beach sun­sets await mere min­utes from Es­tero, photo by Bill Schiller

Mem­bers of the Es­tero Coun­cil of Com­mu­nity Lead­ers Jim Boesch, Phil Dou­glas, Mar­i­lyn Ed­wards,

Roger Strelow and Nick Batos. Photo by Bill Schiller

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