Guest column: Call to Action: Nine Years of Study is Enough: Let's Make a Plan.

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By Christine Ross

President & CEO

Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce

Executive Director

Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council

The Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council (BSEEDC) are working very hard to educate the community about planning for the future development of northeast Bonita Springs — the land located east of Interstate 75 on the north side of Bonita Beach Road. We are advocating that this area, known as DR/GR or Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource, should allow future development with the entire community’s needs in mind.

It is the chamber and BSEEDC’s position that the city has an opportunity to define a cohesive and sustainable plan for the DR/GR rather than having it built up piece by piece by individual projects.

Fact: The city has spent more than 400,000 taxpayer dollars over the past nine years to conduct multiple studies on this land, using experts including but not limited to hydrologists, geologists, surveyors, planners and assorted engineers, who all recommend comprehensive planning and design. We believe it is time to move forward and vote to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan and adopt a new future land use category and sustainable policies for the eastern part of the city.

Fact: The land is already significantly impacted by a hodgepodge of uses including mining, mobile home parks, scattered single-family residences, agriculture, public facilities and, unfortunately, significant illegal dumping. Current regulations severely impede new development and strategic reinvestment in the area.

The chamber believes that if City Council fails to be proactive and adopt new policies and regulations for the area, development will still occur, but it will do so in an ad hoc and incremental manner. Unfortunately, this means that the city will miss an opportunity to work cooperatively with the development community to ensure smart, responsible growth with infrastructure expansion and water management support built in.

Fact: The latest study by Barraco and Associates notes that from an urban/natural systems perspective the DR/GR land use designation contributes little to the sustainability, resiliency and functionality of that area and the rest of the city. As documented by previous studies, the area does not contribute to the city’s potable water aquifers. The area lacks contemporary regulatory standards and improvements required to address upstream pollutants draining untreated into the Imperial River and Estero Bay. The area does not generate any tax revenues to speak of for environmental improvement projects, roads, watershed, parks and trails infrastructure projects and maintenance. Bonita Spring’s DR/GR land use artificially constrains land inventories, which in the long run will drive up housing prices. The report points out the economic development of the study area will support incentives and funding for numerous environmental acquisition, restoration and recreation projects in addition to road infrastructure, landscaping and streetscaping projects.

Once again, our goal is a cohesive approach to growth, in which policies clearly articulate the desired type of development with a long-range plan in mind, embracing sustainable economic development practices and balancing social, environmental and economic needs.

At the Nov. 6 City Council meeting we seek council acceptance of the land use study and adoption of a zoning category for sustainable and responsible development of the DR/GR.

We also advocate establishing a task force made up of businesspeople, other area stakeholders and residents from Bonita Springs to provide input and feedback on the new future land use category as it develops.

Contact the chamber at Info@BonitaSpringsChamber.com or 239-992-2943.

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