Some awesome, awful and amazing things happened in Gateway in 2017.
I’ve looked over every story and my notes from throughout the year and compiled (what I believe) are the top 5 news stories in our community.
Originally I was going to make this a list of the best and worst moments from the Gateway Services District, but when I got to the “Greatest Misses of 2017” part … I found myself seriously debating whether it was more idiotic that 1) Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty thought that having a “turn-key” water meter project meant that each water meter literally had a key you could turn, and she inquired as to whether the turn keys got installed properly … or 2) that District Engineer Danny Nelson from Tetra Tech made the serious statement that in his professional opinion it rained more in the Stoneybrook community than the rest of Gateway during the mammoth storm that occurred a few weeks before Hurricane Irma.
At that point, I shifted gears and I think you’ll like this “all things Gateway” format better.
Before we start naming the top stories I want to give a few honorable mentions, beginning with a big one: We finally got a traffic light at Griffin Drive and SR-82! Although every other issue in Gateway had supporters and detractors, this might be the ONE thing that happened in Gateway that everybody agreed was a good thing!
Other newsworthy stories that didn’t make the top 5 included: the Gateway Golf & Country Club being put up for sale, Fort Rock leaving jetBlue Park, Gartner being named to the S&P 500, Gateway resident Cecil Pendergrass becoming the Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, the Silverlakes HOA issuing fines for dirty and damaged roofs just weeks after Irma, SR-82 widening, Supervisor Flaherty violating the Sunshine Laws – which I’m told caused Gateway’s lawyer to speak to each board member individually to remind them of the importance of adhering to those rules and the potential consequences if they didn’t.
And, what could have been the biggest story of all, but for now remains a rumor: we discovered permit filings in the Lee County database that called the new Gartner building at RSW the company’s “new headquarters”. Gartner has denied they would be moving their HQ from Stamford, CT.
TOP STORY #5: Board of Supervisors raises soccer field rental rates to astronomical levels.
This was one of many stories that we broke which got the attention of the regular news media.
And if you think the increase hasn’t had an effect on the youth programs, the Gateway Soccer Association has already been forced to raise their rates for the Spring 2018 season by nearly 20% over Spring 2017 ($125 compared to $105). Our fear is that this will cause less sign-ups, and there will be a spiral effect that will harm the GSA over the next few years.
I cannot stress enough that this isn’t the GSA’s fault. The blame lies squarely with the three politicians who voted in favor of raising the rates to the highest in Lee County – despite not knowing or understanding how the cost formula was reached.
In my opinion, during the first GSCDD meeting of 2018 the Board of Supervisors should move to make the field rental rates match Lee County’s rates exactly.
This would both increase revenue for the district; and allow Gateway youth leagues to compete on a level playing field – no pun intended.
If the Gateway leagues cannot compete paying the same rates at the Sherman Soccer Complex as they would pay at county-owned fields, then that’s not the board’s fault.
But the Supervisors have to at least give the youth programs a chance to compete without sticking them with crazy field rental fees.
TOP STORY #4: Commercial development in Gateway
We got our own Publix! And the number of restaurant options in the community tripled in just one year!
Plus Creative World daycare is building a large new facility, and Sanibel Captiva Community Bank opened a branch in town.
Obviously a lot of the credit goes to the Sky Walk Plaza, but the number and size of commercial projects in and around Gateway has to be the most the town has seen in the past decade.
It will be interesting to see what happens in 2018, to say the least.
TOP STORY #3: Lake Bank Repair Project costs blast off
Remember when the GSCDD thought the cost to repair the pond banks would be between $3 and $4 million?
Those were the days.
Reality has set in that the costs will be closer to $30 million – ten times greater than initial estimates.
Two assessment increases related to the Lake Bank Repair Project have already been approved by the CDD board, and there are more increases to follow.
So far they’ve only tackled the seriously problematic lakes so there isn’t very much concern over wasteful spending. Every repair they’ve done to date has been needed.
But in the coming years when the lesser problem ponds get addressed, that’s when the residents of Gateway will have to be paying more attention and question the board if Lake ABC really needs $220,000 and Lake XYZ really needs $176,000 to be spent.
What the residents cannot do is allow the Supervisors to simply take Tetra Tech’s word for it. Tetra Tech are an engineering firm. They like building things and work being done. Tetra Tech will always side with more work being done than less.
Again, so far, not a problem while they’re handling the more egregious pond issues. In 2 or 3 years though it will be time to have our antennas up.
TOP STORY #2: Lee County School District awards Gateway a brand new high school
The Gateway and Alva communities both celebrated when the LCSD selected the site along Griffin Drive and SR-82 as the location for its next high school to be built. As you may recall, a small group of rude and unpopular Alva residents had been advocating for an alternate site at Joel & Tuckahoe.
Families in Gateway can now look forward to having our own public high school to send our kids to, and the residents of Alva won’t have their rural lives disrupted.
Property values will go up. We’ll have the Gateway Golden Eagles, Gateway Gladiators or Gateway Gators to root for as a community. And a brand new set of state-of-the-art amenities will be built right in Gateway, available for use by our residents (when school isn’t in session obviously) and at no specific expense to all Gateway residents, aside from state taxes that go to education of course.
We’ve had a lot of growth this year, but a new high school run by the School District of Lee County is the facility that will put a stamp on Gateway, signifying that we’ve arrived as a community!
The LCSD should be hiring its principal within the next few months, and then the process of naming the school gets underway. This publication will be pushing for the name “Gateway High School” but it’s important to know that the school district seems hesitant to use that name. Stay tuned in 2018, because we may need your help to convince them.
TOP STORY #1: Hurricane Irma
All in all, Gateway was lucky.
There was serious flooding in Stoneybrook, Bristol Park, Cypress Cay and other areas of Gateway, along with (in some cases) a week-long power outage.
Trees were damaged, sign poles bent over like a piece of licorice, a few lanais were wiped out.
But (to my knowledge) nobody in Gateway lost their lives, or was even seriously injured as a direct result of Hurricane Irma. There also wasn’t as much damage done to Gateway properties as past hurricanes have caused in Florida, despite the fact the eye of the storm traveled directly through Lehigh Acres – meaning Gateway got serious wind forces through much of the storm.
Working to Gateway’s advantage is that our community is at a very high elevation in comparison to other areas of Lee County.
One very serious low-light came just a few days before the storm when the GSCDD inexplicably decided to shut off people’s water for non-payment… and admitted they had no idea when they’d be able to re-connect service. That had to be the most boneheaded move in the district’s history.
But over-all, things went relatively smoothly in the aftermath.
Aside from the controversy over “Kendra’s pile”, some residents becoming impatient waiting for FEMA to clear the debris, and one or more Stoneybrook residents taking matters in to their own hands to clear the flooding in that community, the cleanup phase was relatively uneventful.
For all the crap we’ve given the GSCDD over the years, their public works staff and management really came through when they were needed most.
Hopefully we don’t have another storm like Irma for at least another decade. And certainly not the 1-2 punch of storms we had this year.
But again, it definitely could have been a lot worse.
Thank you for reading this “year in review” for the Gateway community.
Hyperlocal publications like the Gateway Sun traditionally haven’t been successful from a financial perspective, but I get brand new customers for my delivery service certainly every week and usually more than 1 per week. So from that point of view the Sun does make money and I have a ton of fun doing it.
At least I usually do, anyway.
The most frustrating moment of the year (for me) came during the Stoneybrook street parking sign situation.
The streets in Stoneybrook are publicly owned roads which have totally unenforceable “no parking” signs. Also, the gatehouse at the Stoneybrook entrance is probably illegal.
The no parking signs were placed without proper legal approval and are in complete violation of county standards. They were placed years ago at the behest some Stoneybrook HOA board members who prefer a policy of no street parking in that community.
Somehow, the HOA board persuaded Gateway’s attorney to quote an inapplicable law to provide cover and justification for a street parking ban in Stoneybrook. And since nobody challenged the lawyer, the street parking ban stood in Stoneybrook … until this year when the law that was quoted was totally debunked by the Sun.
The security operation stopped enforcing a street parking ban aside from meaningless (yet irritating) warning notices.
But when the issue came up to the Board of Supervisors to vote on whether to keep or remove the improper signs, they voted 3-2 to keep them. And the vote came down to where the board members lived.
Chairman Margaret Fineberg, Supervisor Doug Banks and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty – who are all Stoneybrook residents – voted to keep the signs. While the two non-Stoneybrook residents, Vice-Chairman Bill Guy and Supervisor Ed Tinkle, voted to remove them.
But here’s the thing… Stoneybrook residents responded to an HOA poll conducted on what to do about street parking. And the residents told their board, by 74.6% of the vote, that they did not want a ban on street parking.
Technically, what the Stoneybrook residents want doesn’t matter in this case. They’re public roads, with street parking allowed 24 hours per day.
But the fact that Fineberg, Banks and Flaherty defied their neighbors the way they did based on their own personal preference set me off. The trio pretended they still believed the lawyer’s position, but two of those Supervisors are sophisticated enough to know that they wilfully did the wrong thing.
I suspended coverage of the GSCDD for awhile. I even contemplated handing off the publication if the right author/editor emerged. But the right fit was never found.
While I was willing to pass the torch under the right circumstances, I wasn’t willing to leave the community without local coverage of this nature.
So here we are today.
Once again, thank you for continuing to read this publication. As many of you know, both my wife and I earn a living by providing services to Gateway residents. So I would like to thank the community for your continued support.
I look forward to providing you another year of entertaining coverage in 2018!