Fort Myers City Council will consider at Tuesday’s meeting selling 36 acres of city-owned land at 5600 Lee Boulevard to a private company for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what it was appraised for six years ago.
The new agreement on Tuesday’s council meeting agenda, known as addendum seven, also appears to violate city codes.
A Farmer Joe’s grocery store is hoping to develop a new location similar to the one opened in January off Pine Island Road in Cape Coral. The store brand’s identity surfaced in a public record, that of a June 7 letter from attorney Kevin Jursinski to city attorney Grant Alley. In the letter, Jursinski expressed the hope that his client, Johnston and Johnston LLC, could close on the land with the city by June 13.
Jurskinski acknowledged the optics of the land price look bad for the city. But he said his client could not close on the land any sooner, because there was an issue with the land’s legal description that the city and Lee County had to resolve.
“We were going to close,” Jurskinski said. “The problem was, the legal description was incorrect. The city didn’t have a good legal description. There was an overlap of properties between the city and Lee County.
We kept extending this so the city could get this done. We ended up paying for the surveys as well as the engineering.”
Farmer Joe’s would create 300 to 400 jobs and also would donate up to $200,000 worth of food annually to area food banks. It also would look to develop workforce housing on adjacent property, Jursinski said.
Rick Johnston, part-owner of the company, is the son-in-law of former Fort Myers mayor Jim Humphrey and the stepson of current council member Fred Burson.
Burson told Gulfshore Business he would recuse himself of voting on the property because of the relationship.
Johnston & Johnston LLC made its most recent rent payment to the city of $83,518.43 in May, according to Jursinki’s letter and city records.
The new Farmer Joe’s would be at the easternmost boundary of the city of Fort Myers and the western entry to Lehigh Acres off Lee Boulevard.
Since 2000, Johnston & Johnston LLC has been leasing the land from the city while earning revenue from two advertising billboards, one on the western and the other on the eastern edges of the property.
Ownership of the land under the billboards will stay with the city after the land sells, per addendum seven.
The terms of the lease have evolved over the years. The next step in this evolution would be the company buying the land from the city for $2.7 million, which is up from the $2.5 million price that had been on the council’s agenda in December.
But the 36 acres was appraised at $3.1 million in April 2016 by Carlson, Norris and Associates.
The new sales price equals about $75,000 per acre.
Just 3,000 feet to the west, on the west side of where State Road 82 and Colonial/Lee Boulevard meet, 54.6 acres of land recently sold for $21.5 million, an average of $394,000 per acre.
Johnston & Johnston LLC would pay the city the full $2.7 million at closing.
Also per addendum seven, the city would agree to rezone within six months 15.5 of the 36 acres, just east of the Farmer Joe’s parcel, to become multi-family housing.
The city also would support a utility easement for the buyer on city property that would run from Buckingham Road to Lee Boulevard and would include an additional 12,004 square feet in the sale.
City code 2-39 dictates that any land sold by the city must be subject to a public hearing, which has yet to happen. According to city code 2-38, the council can request a new appraisal on the land if the existing one is more than six months old. Two-thirds of the council must vote yes on any real estate transactions.