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Estero group may become city folk

Jul. 3, 2013


Estero’s most powerful volunteer grass-roots organization is contemplating supporting a push for cityhood.

The Estero Council of Community Leaders has long been against incorporation because it felt Lee County commissioners were doing a good job representing the unincorporated community. But those feelings might be on the verge of changing thanks to recent annexation attempts by Estero’s southern neighbor, Bonita Springs.

On Wednesday, the ECCL released a statement saying it will discuss incorporation at a special July 12 meeting. The announcement comes 14 days after the Bonita City Council voted to issue a referendum asking 842 registered voters in the Estero portion of a gated community along the Estero-Bonita border if they wanted to be Bonita residents. The council also voted to voluntarily annex 123 Estero acres that belong to WCI Communities and the 12.6-acre Coconut Point Marina that belongs to the Pelican Landing Community Association.

The ECCL said the July 12 meeting is being called as a result of actions taken by the Bonita Springs City Council. Board members have agreed not to talk to the media before the meeting, but ECCL founder Don Eslick hinted after Bonita’s vote that his group would look at incorporation.

“If we take on a leadership role in moving for incorporation, it will get done,” Eslick said after Bonita’s June 19 meeting.

The Estero group has been critical of incorporation for the past seven years. The group spoke against cityhood when a local group called Vote Estero tried getting Lee County commissioners to allow a non-binding incorporation vote two years ago. With the ECCL speaking against the proposal, county commissioners rejected the proposal.

“I will say we’ve been banging this drum for the past seven years and it’s taken the ECCL this long to see the light,” said Mike Maloney, director for Vote Estero. “Certainly we would invite them to join with us as we are well ahead of them in planning and developing a feasibility study that is required by law. I’m hoping to discuss that with them as equal partners.”

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A feasibility study gives a financial picture of how much revenue and costs would be involved in the new municipality. Maloney said his group has spent thousands of dollars on the study. He said an undisclosed accountant and university are reviewing the financials.

The study will be ready in the coming months, but Maloney has the feeling the ECCL wants to do its own study.

“They haven’t approached us in a manner that gives me hope they’re willing to work with us as equals,” Maloney said.

Vote Estero will try to convince county commissioners to place an Estero incorporation vote on the November 2014 ballot. If it passes, the Florida Legislature would have to pass a bill for Estero incorporation and the governor would have to sign the measure.

Bonita Springs Councilman Steve McIntosh, who is pushing to give Estero residents in Pelican Landing a choice to join the city, sent out a two-page response Wednesday.

“This isn’t a question of annexation,” McIntosh said. “This is a question of allowing people to work and live in a democracy. Do you want to be part of Bonita or not? For people to say I’m violating rights is wrong. In fact, we’re putting together a democracy.”

Estero residents like Joe Pavich plans to support the ECCL on the incorporation issue.

“There was a time when there was a group pushing for incorporation and nothing happened because they didn’t have the ECCL behind them,” Pavich said. “As a 24-year resident and businessman and past president of the chamber of commerce, I know whatever the ECCL decides is best for the community.”

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