Estero’s unique advantage was that the community became active in the development process before the majority of development took place. Only about 10% of the 2,000 acres of commercial land along Corkscrew Road and US 41 was developed at the time these organizations developed the Estero Community Plan, so there was no strong opposition from existing merchants to the adoption of high development standards for commercial properties.
Most of the land affected consisted of large parcels that could be developed as planned developments with appropriate buffering from any neighboring residential communities; space for attractive landscaping along the roadway; appearance standards that would apply to all the projects within the property; fewer parcels with less
desirable uses like convenience stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants; less and more attractive signage to name a few.
County government strongly supported the aspirations of the Estero community. The County not only approved the Community Plan but has also approved three packages of “unique to Estero” changes in the County’s Land Development Code (LDC), the document that makes legally binding what developers can and cannot do in Estero.
Our high quality developers recognized that consistently high standards in a community allows the higher costs of development to be more than offset by higher land values and lease rates.
Estero also boasts a relatively large core of talented and committed volunteers who believed strongly in the benefits the community will derive from effectively implementing a community plan. We are constantly seeking active residents to assist in our many projects.
Raising the Commercial Development Bar in Estero
When the Estero Community Plan was adopted in January 2002 it called for a series of changes in the Lee County Land Development Code in order to ensure that the goals of the plan would be achieved throughout Estero.
In June 2002 Land Development Code changes requiring the following were approved by the Board of County Commissioners:
• Increased buffering requirements for all commercial projects but especially
between commercial and residential projects so that residents would not
be negatively impacted by noise, odors and other forms of pollution,
• Special provisions for automobile service stations and convenience food
and beverage stores to reduce the intensity of their canopy lighting,
upgrade their appearance and limit their numbers by establishing a
minimum separation distance,
• Created the Corkscrew Main Street Overlay District and established Design Standards and Property Development Regulations that impact all developments located along Corkscrew Road.
In October 2002 the Board of County Commissioners approved another change in the Land Development Code creating General Signage Guidelines applicable throughout the Estero community.
These legal requirements, along with the Community Plan, have guided the Estero Community Planning Panel (ECPP) and the Estero Design Review Committee (EDRC) in their advisory review of requested zoning and project development (DO) applications during the last three years.
During this period both groups have sponsored community meetings at which hundreds of developments and projects have been presented and reviewed by thousands of community residents. This experience has demonstrated the need for another series of Land Development Code changes applicable only to Estero.
These changes have been developed by the ECPP in conjunction with the County Community Development staff and have now been reviewed and approved by the County’s Land Development Code Advisory Committee and its Executive Regulatory Oversight Committee. During October they will be reviewed by the County’s Local Planning
Agency and will then be presented to the Board of County Commissioner’s for their approval.
Recently County staff decided to create a new chapter of the Land Development Code, Chapter 33, exclusively for “Planning Community Regulations” because several more planning communities have established comprehensive community plans and associated Land Development Code provisions and because these requirements have become so extensive. As a result all of Estero’s unique Land Development Code provisions will be found in one place, not scattered around the County’s voluminous Land Development Code.
When it comes to managing development the “devil is in the details”. As a result this consolidated Land Development Code amendment contains eighty sections, in forty five pages of detailed provisions affected every aspect of any commercial project that wants to locate in the Estero Planning Community.
In addition to consolidating and reorganizing all Estero’s existing provisions, the amendment makes the following major changes:
• Creates extensive standards for the development of “Big Boxes”, buildings with at least 50,000 square feet of retail space for a single user or 100,000 square feet for more than one user,
• Creates new Overlay Districts for Sandy Lane and US 41 applying most of the design standards that have been applicable along Corkscrew Road these last three years along with some new ones.
The Land Development Code organizes the thirty-three sections of the Estero Design Guidelines into five categories: Basic elements, Architectural, Landscaping, Transportation and Signs. The following are some examples of how each of these categories is raising the quality of development in Estero’s Overlay Districts that will soon contain all of the community’s commercial corridors.
Among the “basic elements” of the Design Guidelines are requirements that:
• “all utility lines must be located underground except when located within a public street or road with-of-way”,
• “Places of public interest/open space are intended to provide for areas of public interest within commercial developments and must be provided where possible. These areas must be equipped with amenities such as seating areas, structures that provide shade, drinking fountains and other amenities”.
• “Lighting must be given a distinct architectural theme that complements the building’s exterior. Light fixtures must complement the overall building development…. Provide lighting throughout all parking areas utilizing decorative light poles/fixtures.”
Some key Architectural Design Guidelines are:
• “The preferred architectural style in the Estero Planning Community is Mediterranean, with Old Florida where appropriate, and other styles of architecture that are deemed compatible with these styles”.
• “Buildings of less than 5,000 square feet of gross floor area must be designed with roofs having a minimum pitch of 30 degrees”.
• “…all proposed commercial, industrial, public and mixed use buildings must blend with and complement existing architectural features of adjacent structures constructed under these standards”.
• “Buildings must be designed to be visually appealing from all directions”.
• “Exterior facades of out-parcel buildings must be treated as primary facades and must employ architectural, site, and landscaping design elements that are common to the theme used on the main development on site including colors and materials associated with the main building”.
A few of the important Landscaping Design Guidelines are:
• “All landscape buffer designs should complement adjacent project buffers to help aid in establishing a continuous landscape theme within the Estero Planning Community”.
• “Developments must provide separation between pedestrian and vehicular movement by using plantings as space defining elements”.
• “All required trees must be a minimum 45 gallon container, 12-14 foot planted height, 6 foot spread and 31/2 inch caliper, or field grown equivalent, at the time of planting”. These are much larger trees than is required elsewhere in Lee County.
The transportation sections focus primarily on making Estero pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Some key provisions are:
• “Pedestrian walkways must be provided for each public vehicular entrance to a project…”
• “Sidewalks or bikeways must be installed along all project frontage roads, and whenever possible must be separated from the edge of pavement by a minimum 4’ planting strip”.
• “Bicycle racks are required for all retail and office developments within overlay districts’.
• “Developments must provide street furniture and other pedestrian amenities in their design”.
The Signage Design Guidelines include the following important provisions:
• Prohibit animated, emitting electronic changing message, figure structure, poll, pylon and off-site directional signs as well as the use of balloons, banners, pennants and other flying paraphernalia.
• Limits the use of temporary signs
• Extensively regulates all signage in all commercial and industrial areas so that all identification signs are monument signs that are wider than they are tall; may be no more than 17 feet in height; must use at least 25% of the sign for architectural design; must be lighted attractively; must match the architectural style of the
building or development.
Originally published in the September 2005 Estero Development Report