Town officials are concerned about an expected increase in traffic that may affect already congested driving lanes to Fort Myers Beach if one of the largest retailer corporations in the world moves into the abandoned Summerlin Square property at the corner of San Carlos Boulevard and Summerlin Road.
Last Friday, at a rezoning hearing at the Lee County Hearing Examiner's office, applicants from Wal-Mart and County staff placed all evidence on record about the proposed project not too far off island. The hearing examiner will provide a recommendation to the County commissioners in the near future.
At the request of the Beach Council, Town Manager Terry Stewart and Planning Coordinator Josh Overmyer attended the hearing to listen and participate during public comment about the impending traffic impact that could be caused by the discount superstore.
Now that a proposed Wal-Mart store may move into Summerlin Square with an expected approval in rezoning, traffic issues concerning the Beach are beginning to surface.
"We do have concerns about the traffic issue related to the site," said Stewart, who added the Town does not oppose the project.
Stewart explained the concern centers on the traffic analysis standards that focused on the Town's permanent population (6,262) instead of the number of people who are part-time residents or daily visitors to the Beach at the height of tourism season (up to 60,000).
"When that occurs, traffic can back up north of Summerlin and all the way down past Target," he said. "Those of us that work on the Beach know that during season, if you have a meeting outside the office after 9:30 a.m. in the morning, you are not going to get back on unless you sit there for an hour."
Ron Talone of David Plummer & Associates, which did the study, stated that the analysis estimates only six extra trips to Wal-Mart from the Beach during peak traffic hours.
"The six trips doesn't seem practical to us," said Stewart. "We need to take a different look at what's been done traffic-wise and, perhaps, try to find some ways to mitigate the impact coming onto the island."
Before the hearing, Beach Mayor Alan Mandel voiced his concern about the same traffic study at a recent Council meeting. He was not happy that the traffic study was completed in December 2011 and 2012, instead of higher impact times such as the spring months. At the hearing, Talone explained that the company added an increased 25 percent adjustment factor to the concurrency report based on the traffic model.
"I am not for or against whether they do that project or not. I am sure it would be an economic boom for that region," Mandel said. "My concerns deal with traffic. Wal-Mart is a lot stronger draw than what was in that shopping center before. I still question their study."
Mandel eluded to a recently completed analysis document by Overmyer that was done for the project. Overmyer, who has been tendered as an expert witness in zoning and land use planning from his 4- years of work for Lee County Department of Community Development in both the planning and zoning divisions, verified compliances in rezoning entitlement and Lee Plan densities and intensities at the hearing.
The LeeTran transfer station within the parking lot at Summerlin Square will also be affected. If it is not accommodated within the proposed development lot, it will no longer be viable on the subject site and will have to be relocated, according to County records. LeeTran is not licensed to use that property and is seeking 200 or more parking spots to accommodate its bus and trolley transfers. That request may be denied, though the hearing examiner asked both parties to work together to find a solution.
"Most of the time, that parking lot is not used to its fullest potential. It would be nice if LeeTran could use some of that for their Beach park-n-ride," said Overmyer. "That's not professional testimony. It's just an observation."
Facts and the process for a Wal-Mart rezoning
Wal-Mart, a noted American retail corporation, could conceivably begin breaking ground at the site of the former Winn-Dixie Supermarket next summer. If approved, owners and developers intend to rezone 21.85 acres to commercial planned development to allow a free-standing discount superstore with an intensity of up to 154,749 square feet of floor area and 3,086 square feet of additional outdoor garden center. The proposed maximum building height is 45 feet at the Summerlin Square Drive location.
"The master concept plan shows a single building with a Wal-Mart being built there," said Lee County Zoning Division Principal Planner Chip Block. "They plan on taking up the area where the old Winn-Dixie center was as well as another portion of the L-shaped center and the old golf driving range behind it for their total area for rezoning the property."
In May 2013, it was reported that the time range for a planned development project of this size could involve six to 12 months or longer for the zoning process and concurrent applications for site development activity under a local development order and building permits before the existing buildings on the intended four parcels would be razed and a new building and center built, according to Block.
"The zoning case has to be finished first so we know what conditions of approval may be associated to it if approved," he said. "Then, the development order looks at those conditions to make sure they are incorporated as part of the development activity. Finally, the building permit has to take a look at the development order to see what conditions are associated to that. We can review them concurrently, but we have to stop at a certain point before we can issue the building permits to find out what previous action had taken."
The closest Wal-Mart store to Fort Myers Beach is currently a supercenter at 14821 Six-Mile Cypress (at the corner of U.S. 41).
Wal-Mart is the biggest private employer in the world with more than two million employees, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2012, Walmart employed 2.2 million associates worldwide, good for third highest employer overall in the world behind U.S. Department of Defense (3.2 million) and People's Liberation Army (2.3 million)
More than 200 million customers and members visit 10,700 Wal-Mart stores under 69 banners in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 10 countries. Its fiscal year 2013 sales reached roughly $466 billion.