Brookside developers will have their day before Bonita Springs council this month

Though one Bonita Springs City Council member proposed tabling a controversial development plan, its property owners will be heard.

James and Karysia Demarest’s approximately 1-acre plot on Bonita Beach Road west of Interstate 75 is zoned agricultural, but they are petitioning for a change that would allow for a commercial and retail development.

Residents in the adjacent neighborhood, Brookside Estates, have united against the project, and Councilman Bill Lonkart — whose district encompasses the project — agreed.

He proposed Wednesday night that the petition not be moved to the second hearing where property owners would present their case and the public could express its opinions.

“If we allow spot zoning like this to occur ... we are doing (an injustice) to these people and it’s wrong,” Lonkart said.

Mayor Ben Nelson said Lonkart’s proposal to kill the project without a hearing was injustice.

“This is tantamount to denying someone their day in court,” Nelson said. “It’s a rough analogy but that’s why we have this process.”

Councilman Richard Ferreira said he understood Lonkart’s feelings on the matter but a second hearing was necessary.

“Everybody is entitled to a hearing even if we strongly disagree,” he said.

Lonkart withdrew the motion to hold back the hearing and the council set a date and time 5:30 p.m. Sept. 21.

While no public comment was allowed at this meeting, dozens of residents attended the meeting.

Sandra Lockey, who lives on Oak Lane, said she came anyway just to see what happened.

“I oppose commercial development in a residential neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a degradation of a very fine community.”

Lockey said the 5:30 p.m. meeting time will allow more people the opportunity to come.

While the meeting is actually set for the morning, council agreed to address the Demarest project later, taking into consideration community members who work during the day.

In other matters:

■ Taxpayer Bill of Rights — A means to control government spending and can be found in governments throughout the country, including Marco Island.

The idea came before Bonita Springs years ago but City Council and a circuit court found the language confusing, according to City Attorney Audrey Vance. The idea is back again as the city prepares for January elections where charter amendments will come before the voters.

There will be a hearing and a chance for public comment on the issue at the next council meeting, Sept. 16. Councilman John Spear researched and prepared a draft taxpayer bill of rights although he said he was still not sure whether he would support it because it needs a more thorough discussion.

“You folks continue to spend and increase instead of follow the curve downward that property owners have,” said Ron Pure of the Taxpayer Action Group. “I hope it will pass and I hope you’ll put in front of the voters.”

Council members Lonkart, Pat McCourt and Ferreira said they supported putting the issue before the voters.

“One of the most important things (for) people I talk to on a daily basis is they feel they have a fundamental right to control their government and the (means to do this) is to control the purse-strings,” McCourt said.

Councilwoman Martha Simons said the bill of rights would bind the city’s hands.

“We would be limiting ourselves in actually being able to accomplish one of those things that’s very important to the city,” Simons said.

Councilwoman Janet Martin said staff was already doing a good job with the budget.

“They’re taking our direction to squeeze every nickel,” she said.

Finance director Lisa Roberson calculated the city’s finances compared with what they would have looked like under a taxpayer bill of rights spending limit. Overall, the city has spent $12 million less than it would have under the spending limits. Some years were more, some less, she said.

“We’ve done way better using our heads, such as they are,” Nelson said.

Others oppose such tax amendments.

“If you lock us into a charter amendment it’s going to complicate the issue, it’s going to take away my elected officials’ voice,” said Ed Fitzgerald, a fire commissioner for the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District. Fitzgerald said he was worried pressure from the Taxpayer Action Group would outweigh what is best for the community.

■ Bonita Springs will own another 20 acres of green space off of Kent Road next to the city’s Nature Place. It was a gift from the South Florida Water Management District and must be used for educational purposes or passive recreational uses.

City Council agreed unanimously to accept ownership Wednesday night.

Cullum Hasty, who lives on Kent Road and is active in environmental issues, said the property, in the early 1990s had been sought for development.

“It’s safe forever now,” Hasty said.

■ The presentations section of City Council meetings will be reserved for people sponsored by council members. A citizen who wishes to speak but is not sponsored can still speak in the three, four-minute public comment periods throughout the meeting.

The clarification was triggered by Alberto Bailleres, a Bonita Springs resident, who requested to make five, 10-minute presentations to the council. He gave two of the presentations but Bailleres did not attend Wednesday.

Council members agreed the presentations section had been intended for use by individuals or professional groups providing guidance to the council, such as when the Florida Department of Transportation presented criteria by which it approved sound abatement walls along the highway in Bonita Springs.

Follow Bonita Springs reporter Tara E. McLaughlin at Facebook.com/tara.dailynews and Twitter.com/ndn_tmclaughlin.

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