Local Issues

Cape Coral’s City Council held their regular weekly meeting at City Hall on Monday evening.

Items discussed at the meeting included; an update on the negotiations between the City and LCEC, proposed changes to the economic incentive agreement with the Westin Conference Center, more property rezoning requests, and more.


Below are five takeaways from last night’s meeting.


City provides updates on current LCEC negotiations, rate review request

The city council has decided to move forward with a request to the Florida Public Service Commission to review the rate structure of Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC).

The review comes as part of a list of recommendations made by the city’s Special Utility Counsel Brian Armstrong.

Armstrong, an attorney, hired by the city to act as its Special Utility Counsel said during a presentation at Monday’s meeting, that it is his opinion, the City of Cape Coral is subsidizing the rest of LCEC’s service area and feels that due to that, Cape Coral customers are paying higher rates than they should.

Armstrong says that Cape Coral makes up 45% of LCEC’s total customer base which includes 2,100 square miles mostly in rural Florida areas.

Armstrong went on to say that when he requested a cost of service analysis for Cape Coral from LCEC, he only received the analysis for LCEC’s entire service area, and not that just of Cape Coral, “We received the information, just not in a way we could use it.”

At the same time, the city also provided LCEC with its proposed franchise agreement. A detailed document that laid out the items would like included in a new contract if the city extended the current 30-year agreement with LCEC, which expires later this year.

Among the items in the new contract would be a 20 year time frame with an opportunity to renegotiate the contract after 10 years. The city is also asking for a capital improvement plan from LCEC that it would provide to the city on an annual basis, and conduct semi-annual meetings between the city and LCEC for the length of the new agreement.

The proposed agreement from the city has been called quite detailed for an initial proposal. But, Armstrong said that was necessary due to the past contentious history between the city and LCEC, which at times has ended up in front of a judge to settle disputes such as the relocation of utilities in right-of-ways, and undergrounding of electric lines. Taking the rocky history between the two parties into consideration, council member Jim Burch applauded the new agreement saying it will go a long way to creating a more clear public perception to the ongoing negotiations between the city and LCEC, “This document allows people to make a decision about how the city should move forward based on fact, not hearsay.”

However, council member Marilyn Stout disagreed calling the agreement and proposed review of LCEC’s rate structure by the Public Service Commission nothing more than negotiating in bad faith on the city’s part, and saying many of the items the city was asking for in the proposed agreement was unreasonable, “I believe the past year has been used to attempt to discredit LCEC.”

Stout went on to say that what the city was attempting was at most setting up its own electric municipality, and at the least, creating its own subsidiary of LCEC.

Mayor Marni Sawicki admitted that she did not want Cape Coral to create a city-run electric service. But, said that if the lack of information provided by LCEC over the past year continues, it could be an option, “I want information. The fact remains it has been over a year, and we have gotten nothing.”

In the end, the city council voted 6-1 with Stout casting the dissenting vote, and council member Rana Erbrick absent from the meeting, decided to move forward with asking the Public Service Commission to review LCEC’s rate structure.


LCEC responds to city’s proposed franchise agreement, request for PSC review

Prior to Monday’s meeting, LCEC released a statement saying that if the city moved forward with asking the Public Service Commission to review its electric rate structure it would impede the current negotiations between the two parties, “After waiting nearly a year for a franchise proposal from the City, we had hoped to begin good-faith negotiations immediately,” said LCEC Executive Vice President and CEO Dennie Hamilton in the statement. “However, it would be a waste of both taxpayer and LCEC member resources to negotiate terms that are party to a legal challenge before the PSC. This appears to be another costly strategy by the City to delay working out a resolution in the best interests of their constituents.”

The statement also addressed the city’s concerns over Cape Coral subsidizing the rest of the LCEC customer base and calling for rates to be created by geographic areas, rather than one rate for all of its customers, “The information underlying cost of service studies is not collected by geography. As we have communicated to the City, the cost and effort to conduct additional research by geography would be extensive and would serve no purpose with respect to electric rates,” said Hamilton.

From their perspective, Hamilton explained in the statement that LCEC was disappointed that the city, is continuing to be aimed at litigious activities rather than focusing on the negotiation of a new franchise agreement. But, despite that hopes both sides can come to the table to begin negotiations, “We stand ready to work together with City leaders to negotiate an agreement that is in the best interests of our members in the City, and we hope such negotiation can begin soon.”


Addendum to Westin Conference Center agreement proposed

The city council unanimously approved an amendment to the incentive agreement between the City and Freeman & Hasselwander Resort Properties LLC, owners of the property in South Cape Coral that is currently home to the Westin Resort at Marina Village.

The agreement was made in January as part of an incentive package from the city to the hotel, who is constructing Cape Coral’s first conference center at its Tarpon Point property.

The addendum to the agreement adds a June 30, 2018, date for the completion of construction of the conference center.

The original agreement which remains unchanged, calls for the city to fund the repaving of Pelican Boulevard from Cape Coral Parkway to El Dorado Parkway. The repaving project would begin once the construction on the conference center is complete. The estimated cost of that project is $500,000.

Also, the city also agreed to spend up to $200,000 from its Economic Reserve Fund to cover impact fees associated with the conference center.


City continues to receive multi-family rezoning requests

Taking a cue from last week’s request for rezoning property to allow the building of multi-family dwellings, two requests for the same withdrew their applications for the time being.

The reason for the withdrawal is to allow city staff to explore options to allow more flexibility in its Commercial Activity Center (CAC) classifications to allow for a special exception for multi-family dwellings in certain circumstances.

Currently, the CAC classification does not allow for such special exceptions, giving owners of those properties only the ability to ask for a change in the city’s zoning and future land use map to allow for such building.

Last week, the city council deadlocked 4-4 when hearing a request to rezone property on Santa Barbara Place to allow for the construction of a duplex.

Instead of approving, the city council directed staff to research the possibilities of changes to the CAC designation to allow for more flexibility.

City Planner Wyatt Daltry said at the time that while it may be possible to add exceptions to the current zoning and future land use map, it wouldn’t be an overnight fix, explaining that the city would have to change its comprehensive plan and submit it to the state for approval. Daltry said it would take approximately four months for the process to work its way through the state to receive feedback.

Knowing that the classification may change, owners of three properties, located on Santa Barbara Place, NE 16th Place, and SW 16th Place decided to hold off on requesting zoning changes until the results of the process undertaken by city staff were complete.


4 am Bar Hours public hearing set

The city council set a public hearing date on an ordinance proposing the extension of the current ordinance that allows certain bars in the South Cape to extend their weekend operating closing times from 2:00am to 4:00am.

The original pilot program began April 2015 and is scheduled to expire April 3 of this year.

Over the past few months, the city council has heard presentations from both the Cape Coral Police Department and Cape Coral Economic Development Office regarding the impact the extended hours have had on both the local economy and public safety.

The public hearing is scheduled for March 28 at the council’s regular Monday meeting, at which time the public will have an opportunity to voice their input, and the council is expected to vote on whether or not to extend the program for another year.

This information courtesy of CapeCoral.com