Development plans begin at former Bamboo Village spot in downtown Bonita Springs
The six-acre lot has been owned by the city for 18 years, and the city has chosen Barron Collier Companies to be the developer. The development plans for the land, empty for almost 20 years, has spurred much debate between businesses owners and residents.
Sophie Leroux owns Survey Café in Downtown Bonita Springs, directly south of where Imperial Crossing is located.
“I’m concerned by the fact that they’re not trying to integrate the existing structure," said Leroux. "I’ve been trying to explain to them that Downtown Bonita exists already. It has to be complimented, not imposed.”
During the meeting, Barron Collier showed the public its initial design plan which includes both long-term and short-term dwelling units, commercial units, and public river access.
Trish Leonard, President of the Bonita Springs Downtown Alliance, thinks that this type of development would greatly benefit the community.
“We need a younger generation down here, we need a more walkable area," said Leonard. "Having residential and commercial is a win-win. If you go to any town, like Fort Myers or Naples, they have walkable areas. I don’t want to wait another 20 years - it’s been 18 already.”
The city told the developer that the design must include waterfront access to the public, plenty of open green space, and public spaces for community events, such as live music or outdoor markets. The city also said the space cannot be mostly residential.
All the attendees of the meeting were able to fill out a live Menti survey with 12 questions, including level of satisfaction on the initial design concept, preference of active or passive recreational activities on site, and amount of green space desired.
“I think the feedback we received was outstanding,” said Nick Casalanguida, Senior Vice President of Development at Barron Collier Companies. “The voting through the Menti program was neat. People got to express their opinions without having to yell it out and have someone else shut them down.”
The comments from the public helped the Barron Collier team to confirm their thoughts on what was ideal to the community.
“I think the gravitation towards green and less concrete is something we understood, and we thought that’s what we’d get, but tonight kind of reaffirmed that,” said Casalanguida. “They want to see more green and open space.”
Local residents like Leroux are not convinced that what’s being planned will be fitting for the downtown area.
“People love the charm and personalities of the business here," said Leroux. "They are showing us something that doesn’t belong. I’d like to see something like Key West, something with a lot of different structures and just having something totally different and much more personable and interesting. This is boring.”
Some members of the Bonita Springs City Council are eager to see the space used within the community.
“They can’t build this soon enough; I’d be over there digging right now if they needed me to,” said Councilman Mike Gibson, whose district covers the south side of the former mobile park home. “I want to get people back on the property.”
The second public meeting regarding this project will be held in the spring and is currently planned to be held on-site of the development.
This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.