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Fort Myers eyes possible review board for new and renovated buildings in some areas

Mike Walcher
Downtown Fort Myers draws praise from many for its small-town feel and older appearance. Now, the area's look could provide a template for new and renovated buildings in both downtown and midtown.

Fort Myers is taking the first steps to provide guidelines for new and renovated buildings in the downtown area, and in the midtown zone just south of downtown.

City council expressed interest in possibly creating an architecture review board that would recommend or mandate a certain look for buildings. The goal is to enhance and complement the look of downtown Fort Myers, keeping a consistent look or brand for the appearance of both downtown and midtown.

Council member Fred Burson brought up the topic at a recent meeting, receiving a good reception from others.

"Midtown is a blank slate. I think this is a great opportunity to guide the look of midtown overall," Mayor Kevin Anderson said.

Some Lee County communities, Estero for example, have had design review rules for years.

"They'd like to retain that small-town character without letting in ultra-modern buildings," Mary Gibbs, Estero's community development director, said.

Gibbs said the Estero design review group allows a lot of latitude in the looks of buildings, adding that the review board does not want to quash creativity.

Fort Myers councilperson Liston Bochette spoke in favor of the concept.

"You know in Europe, the Italians and the French are the best with 500-year-old buildings. They add to them in a very complementary fashion," Bochette said.

However, Ralph Evans of Fort Myers, who operates a barbershop in rented space, expressed displeasure with talk of a new board. Evans said he wants to buy a building, possibly in midtown and said he'd refurbish the place for his shop and for rental income.

"For the small business owner, that'd be almost a tragedy," Evans said, adding that Fort Myers does not need more rules and regulations. "I say, you know, keep it simple."

Estero's Gibbs said the reviews may add a little to the design phase but should not present a huge obstacle or burden to developers and building owners.

Council member Bochette said the board could offer tax incentives if developers stuck to an approved look or design. Burson suggested an older, brick look might best complement downtown Fort Myers.

Burson and other council members said they'd continue to talk about the idea.

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.