Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Should Estero become a city?
Should Estero become a city?: An Estero group supports incorporation because it would give the community elected leaders and the ability to preserve its identity. The group is hoping Lee County brings the matter up for vote in November 2014. Video by Chris Umpierre

Steps to cityhood

There are several steps for a community to be a city in the state of Florida. Here are several that must be completed, according to state law:

» Set your boundaries.
» Conduct a feasibility study, which will give a financial picture of how much revenue and costs would be involved in the new municipality.
» Write a charter.
» File feasibility study and charter with local delegation. There’s a file deadline of Sept. 2 and the incorporation will be reviewed by the Legislature in the following spring.
» A special incorporation act will be created to allow for a local incorporation referendum, and the bill has to go through the House and Senate and approved by the governor.
» A majority of residents in the community would have to vote for cityhood
Source: Florida League of Cities

More

Estero’s 22,000 residents could vote on incorporating their wealthy Lee County community in November 2014.

A powerful grassroots group called the Estero Council of Community Leaders is working to get the long-debated issue of Estero cityhood on the ballot. The ECCL announced its intentions to support cityhood for the first time Friday, changing the group’s long-held belief because of recent Estero annexation attempts by the City of Bonita Springs.

If approved by more than 50 percent of Estero registered voters in November 2014, Estero would need a Southwest Florida politician to file and pass an Estero cityhood bill that must be signed by Gov. Rick Scott. If those requirements are met, Estero could become a city in 2015. It would be Lee County’s sixth municipality, and the first since Bonita in 1999.

“This is a monumental time in the history of Estero,” ECCL chairman Nick Batos said. “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 comment Friday. Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, whose district includes Estero, was out of town Friday and didn’t return a phone message.

About 250 Estero residents attended Friday’s meeting, filling an Estero Community Park room so tightly the Estero fire chief was concerned about occupancy fire codes. After 90 minutes of discussion, the residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of starting the process.

Bonita’s attempts to hold a referendum next spring to ask 842 Estero Pelican Landing residents to join Bonita is a compelling reason for incorporation, 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 prized jewel, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, adjacent to the Bonita boundary. The Hyatt has 454 guest rooms and an 18-hole golf course, and Estero residents are afraid Bonita will gobble up the Hyatt next.

(Page 2 of 3)

“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 attempted annexing 44 square miles of Estero south of Williams Road. The area included The Colony at Pelican Landing, the Hyatt Regency, The Brooks and Coconut Point Mall.

Bonita Springs Councilman Steve McIntosh said the city has no plans to actively annex the Hyatt or other Estero properties. McIntosh, who lives in the Bonita portion of Pelican Landing, said he just wanted his community to have a say in which community they preferred to live.

“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.”

Turning Estero into a city won’t be easy, experts said. Florida League of Cities spokeswoman Lynn Tipton, whose group advises communities on incorporation, said communities have to accomplish myriad steps. The first is setting boundaries and filing a feasibility study with the state by Sept. 2 that outlines the potential expenses and revenue of the planned municipality.

Vote Estero, a grassroots group that has had its incorporation referendum attempts squelched by county commissioners at least three times in the past seven years, has a feasibility study that’s being vetted by an undisclosed university. Vote Estero hasn’t released its study.

County commissioners voted against Vote Estero in the past because it didn’t have the support of the ECCL, which represents 30 gated communities.

Now, the ECCL wants to take charge of the incorporation movement and create its own feasibility study. ECCL founder Don Eslick said the group plans to spend the next few months talking about the pros and cons of incorporation with Estero’s gated communities.

(Page 3 of 3)

Community support is critical. Marco Island attempted incorporation several times before getting enough votes in 1997. Lehigh Acres tried to get incorporation on the ballot several years ago, but failed.

The ECCL hopes to present signed petitions and letters to Southwest Florida’s six state representatives in late November. If Southwest Florida’s legislative delegation is in favor of an Estero city, they would also have to waive a 2-mile buffer rule the state requires between cities.

Bonita Springs doesn’t want a potential city of Estero getting that 2-mile section, which includes tax-base rich Coconut Point mall and the Brooks residential communities. About 7,000 residences and 4,500 registered Florida voters are in the section.

Legislators have waived the 2-mile buffer before. About half of the last 22 municipalities incorporated in the past 22 years have received a waiver, according to the Florida League of Cities.

“I’ve never been one who really liked a few people being in charge,” said Estero native Zelma “Sis” Newberry, 68. “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.”

More In News

Top Stories

Local Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers on Marco Island

GET DEALS NOW

Marco beach cam

RESTAURANTS

Find local restaurants, read
and submit reviews

Celebrating the best of South Lee and North Naples

READ MORE

Reader Photos

Get the Hurricane Hub app

DealChicken.com

Sign up to save 50-90% off SWFL dining, shopping, spas, activities and more. Every day.