City: Bonita begins cityhood celebration with afternoon party

Bonita Springs is a city today. Residents hope incoporation will be better the second time around.

Hank Hochstetler, a member of the Bonita Springs Incorporation Committee, opened a Thursday afternoon cityhood celebration with a remembrance of those who were part of the first city of Bonita Springs. The city incorporated in the late 1920s, but gave up its charter when Depression woes made paying the utility bills impossible.

"I think if the people of that city who couldn't pay their light bill were here today, they would be pleased," he said.

The celebration at the bandshell park on Old 41 commemorated the birth at 12:01 a.m. today of the new city of Bonita Springs. More than 100 people attended the event, which included inspirational words from several members of local county and city governments. Those in attendance munched on eight cakes made by local bakers and posed for a group aerial photo with the key to the new city.

Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah praised citizens for the way they went about creating the new city with "ballots, not bullets."

Fort Myers Beach Councilwoman Anita Cereceda said she was more excited about Bonita's November vote than she was about the Fort Myers Beach vote. Though many may have a "terrifying feeling" about the future, she said, if they kept hope, trust and faith close to their hearts, they wouldn't have a problem.

It was better advice, she said, than what her brother-in-law told her to say to the audience.

"He told me to quote Bette Davis and tell you, 'Hang on and fasten your seatbelt, because it's going to be a bumpy ride,'" she said.

Although Bonita officially became a city in the wee hours of this morning, things will stay relatively quiet for the first few months of the city's life. Major changes won't be made until the first city council takes office April 15.

An umbrella ordinance passed by the Lee County Commission earlier this month will keep all laws affecting unincorporated Lee County intact in the new city until at least the first city council meeting. The ordinance covers items such as open container laws and noise regulations.

Some aspects of planning and zoning will be postponed until council members take their seats. Other aspects such as permit granting and code enforcement will remain unchanged, although the future city council could vote to have the city take over those duties.

Though the city will seem quiet on the outside, there will be plenty of activity behind the scenes. The Bonita Springs Transition Team has been doing research in several sub-committees, studying land regulations, code enforcement, banking and finance among other topics, as well as advertising and collecting resumes for the first city manager and city attorney. The team will hand that information over to the city council the day after the election.

Hal Brenner, former incorporation committee president, said the future of the city is bright because of the work of volunteers like the transition team and others.

"The heritage of Bonita Springs is one of volunteerism," he said. "When you look at the candidates that were just announced and see the people who have come forward, it speaks volumes for Bonita Springs."

Those volunteers will have their work cut out for them, Imperial Bonita Estates resident Joe Bluni said as he munched on a piece of cake with his wife, Sandy.

"They're going to have a challenge with this new city, but they're doing it because they want to do it, not for any money," he said.

Citrus Park resident Bob Mills said the entire event was a testament to how the people of Bonita can come together.

"It went swell," he said. "It has been very upbeat. I haven't heard anyone say anything negative at all. There is a real feeling of community."

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