BONITA SPRINGS — Old 41 Road revitalization — it’s one of Bonita Springs’ top priorities and one of the biggest jobs left undone by Assistant City Manager Barbara Barnes-Buchanan’s departure.
Barnes-Buchanan, who was asked to resign or be fired, had been staff liaison to the city’s Local Planning Agency and oversaw projects including updating guidelines for downtown development.
She resigned as of Tuesday. Now, officials are hopeful the city will quickly move on its top issues.
“It’s caused our city manager and other staff members to really step it up and target (planning projects) because that was what Barb was solely working on,” Mayor Ben Nelson said. “People see what the consequences are. You have to produce.”
In May, City Council met with the planning board and set its priorities — first Old 41 Road, then environmentally sensitive lands known as the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource.
Design and development standards for the downtown area are still on the table as are plans to expand it.
But little, if anything, had been accomplished more than three months later, Councilman John Spear said.
“We should have been wrapping things up this month rather than just starting things,” he said.
No plans to hire a full-time replacement or a consultant have been announced.
City Manager Gary Price said he’s taking the situation a step at a time.
“I’m trying to bring it back on track,” he said. He asked City Council for their patience and thanked his staff for picking up the extra work.
A new liaison to the Local Planning Agency hasn’t been assigned, either, but the agency’s chairman said whoever takes the task on would have a lot of catching up to do.
“Barbara has a wealth of knowledge about the local areas and businesses and properties ... all the little things that count when you really start doing something,” said Rex Sims.
Barnes-Buchanan’s performance issues weren’t the only problem for Old 41 redevelopment, he said.
The city has grown, boundaries changed and goals for the road, such as affordable housing, have faded.
“It’s not something you can write it up and put it in the folder and snap it shut and say it’s done,” Sims said. “City Council has seen fit to change it a couple of times and that has changed some of our rules.”
Nelson echoed the sentiment. As City Council heads into a workshop with its planning and zoning advisory boards and a representative from the Florida Redevelopment Association next week, Nelson said council members should remain broad in their recommendations and avoid nitpicking.
“We need to go ahead and lay that foundation and back off,” Nelson said. “This has gobbled up too much of our time.”
Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/