Bonita wants private development, water access, more on riverfront land

A two-hour Bonita Springs City Council workshop on Wednesday ended with a 17-item design guide

A two-hour Bonita Springs City Council workshop on Wednesday ended with a 17-item design guide for developers interested in 5 acres along the Imperial River.

A facilitator took control of the meeting and went around the dais, asking councilors what should be built on Imperial Crossing, or Bamboo Village.

The property sits on Old 41 Road and straddles the Imperial River, and councilors regard it as the most important piece of undeveloped land downtown.

They were left with a list of 17 features they would like to see on the property. All developer applications will be tested against the guidelines. Councilors want to see all unsolicited design bids during a July 21 meeting when they could approve a plan.

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The list tells developers what City Council does and does not want on the property. Unsolicited property applications made to the city did not have a concrete guideline to follow.

A previous workshop last month had tangents and varying opinions. Some councilors wanted to leave details in the hands of developers. Others wanted to be specific. Mayor Rick Steinmeyer wanted to keep the land as a city-owned park.

A facilitator, Ken Tinkler, guided councilors through the process and kept discussion on track. He began the workshop by reminding councilors how long the property has sat undeveloped under city ownership.

“You’ve been at this for 6,683 days,” Tinkler said. “A child born that day just graduated high school or maybe finished their first year of college.”

The ideas were all high level, allowing developers leeway to design around the features. All councilors agreed on some core ideas, first and foremost being public park space.

“We need public access along the (Imperial River),” Councilor Mike Gibson said.

Other public features, including parking, commercial space and “destination” businesses, topped the list.

Residential units should be integrated in proposed designs, but only for people that will live in the buildings permanently, City Council stated.

“People that are going to be there most of the year, that are going to take advantage of everything that’s downtown, that will frequent the businesses and make it more attractive for businesses to be downtown,” Gibson said.

Councilors added that residential buildings should not take up a majority of the property and that amenities, such as tennis courts, be open to the public.

Before the workshop, four presentations were made to City Council. Design plans by three developers showcased commercial spaces, parks and about 100 residential units. They proposed public-private partnerships, mostly by letting the city own and operate any public park space. One plan called for a long-term lease of the land.

Charlie Strader, former president of the Bonita Springs Historical Society, gave a presentation against major development and presented ideas for a public park and event space.

Public speakers asked councilors to vote against any plans with residential units.

“I would implore that you guys consider a museum, attraction, a Seminole village, an assortment of other options for the Bonita property other than residential housing and a mall,” said John Paeno, owner of CGT Kayaks.

Thaddeus Mast is a south Lee County reporter for the Naples Daily News and The Banner. Support his work by subscribing to our local news organization. Find him on Twitter as @thaddeusmast.

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