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It Took a Village, to Build the Village of Estero

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020
After 33 community meetings, determining a boundary, and obtaining legislative approval of a ballot question, voters went to the ballot box in November 2014 and approved a referendum to incorporate the Estero area of Lee County as a Village. On December 31, 2014, the incorporation became effective, and much more work began. 

Once incorporated, the formula for Villagehood required rapid formation of a government. In quick fashion, an election for a seven-member Village Council was organized, and the inaugural Council meeting was held in March 2015. New Councilmembers faced some basic challenges of starting a new government, such as: Where will public meetings and offices be accommodated? Who will serve as staff to manage, budget, and maintain records? Answers came quickly with the renting of space from the Estero Fire District Headquarters, and the contracting and hiring of an Interim Manager and a Village Attorney immediately, followed by a Clerk and a Community Development Director in June 2015.

Another set of obstacles for the new Village leaders was the establishment of governing plans and regulations. Florida Statutes allow for the transition to occur from a County to a municipal comprehensive plan over a three-year period for newly incorporated jurisdictions. The Estero community’s longtime commitment to planning for its future earned it the nickname the “Village with a Vision,” and with the clock ticking, it was critical for the Village to craft its own comprehensive plan to establish the community’s state-mandated blueprint for its future.

In 2016, the Village selected our team of planners, ecologists, mappers, and engineers along with LaRue Planning to prepare the Village’s first Comprehensive Plan. Made up of nine elements, the Comprehensive Plan guides the future development patterns, transportation networks, housing, infrastructure, conservation and coastal management, recreation and open space, intergovernmental coordination, capital improvements, and public school facilities within the Village for the next twenty years.

To prepare Estero’s first Comprehensive Plan, we needed to know where the community is going, and where it has been. We performed a full evaluation of the Lee County Comprehensive Plan before crafting a new document suited for the smaller scale municipality. Public engagement, visioning, and surveys kicked off in early 2017 to inform the guiding principles of the plan. Through these efforts, we learned that parks, open space, central city development, community character, walkability, and environmental protection are keys to the Village’s identity. Also important to Village leaders was the quality of its comprehensive plan in form and function. Not for gathering dust on a shelf, this Comprehensive Plan is designed to be an understandable, user-friendly, and useful tool for its citizens.

Our GIS staff, engineers, landscape architects, and planners helped engage in community visioning, prepare maps, formulate data and analysis, and develop goals objectives and policies to make the vision workable and adaptable for the future. In keeping with Estero’s tradition of engagement with the citizenry, dozens of workshops were held before the Planning and Zoning Board and Village Council to review the themes and content of each element of the Plan. Final adoption hearings were in 2018.

Following adoption by the Village, the State Department of Economic Opportunity reviewed and issued its Notice of Intent to find the Plan “In Compliance” with state regulation. A petition for administrative hearing was then filed challenging the Comprehensive Plan. A compliance agreement and zoning amendment for the petitioner who filed the challenge was adopted by Village Council on September 25, 2019. With the issuance of a final order determining compliance by the State, this Comprehensive Plan is now effective.

Effectiveness of its plan and the fifth anniversary of incorporation gives the Village with a Vision a lot to celebrate as this decade ends and a new one begins. For more information, contact Laura DeJohn, AICP at [email protected].