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Village of Estero hosted a workshop Wednesday for the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization to provide an update on the Bonita Estero Rail Trail project. The project could transform a 12-mile portion of the Seminole Gulf Railway into a recreational biking trail spanning from northern Collier County to Alico Road in Lee County.

Don Scott, director of the planning organization, said the agency must determine how rights-of-way are purchased before proceeding.

“We can get [Planning Development Environment Study] money, we can get design money, we can get construction money, but we can’t get right-of-way money,” Scott said. “Until we know, we’re trying to keep away from making specific commitments to your jurisdiction or Bonita [Springs].”

The appraisal value for the corridor within the village is $27 million of the total $70 million appraisal. Seminole Gulf requested 30% more than the total appraised value.

Trust for Public Land is in discussion with Seminole Gulf on whether or not an updated appraisal should be completed.

While the project is under negotiation and actively gaining traction, Estero residents used the workshop as an opportunity to voice support and opposition. In mid-January, Friends of Bonita Estero Rail Trail had 1,500 members, but that has grown to more than 2,000 members and 13 homeowner association endorsements.

“The people of the community have spoken and this trail is what they would like to use to recreate, bike, walk and run,” said Emily Porter, a member of Friends of Bonita Estero Rail Trail’s leadership team. “That means from Bonita Beach Road all the way up to Alico and hopefully beyond.”

Porter also spoke in opposition of rerouting the trail, something residents of The Vines private gated community seek to be considered. Diana Ackerman, a resident of The Vines, supports creating a bike trail but opposes the trail running through the center of her community.

“This bisecting trail would put our residents in precarious interactions with the path users who can easily leave the path at any time,” she said. “The option of going through The Vines cannot conceivably be the only option under consideration.”

Bruce Ackerman of The Vines also asked for the planning organization’s consideration of alternative routes, including other paths through the community and the use of existing bike paths. “If they’re not safe enough, it would be far less dollars spent to make the bike path on Three Oaks [Parkway] safer than to buy an entire railroad,” he said. “We already own and operate bike paths. And they’re being used because I drive down every day and I see the bikers passing by. But if there’s a concern, make them safer.”

Ackerman said he met with the planning organizations’ planner and asked if there are any other rail trails running through private gated communities. There were none in Florida, but one in Washington state.

“What does that tell you?” Ackerman asked. “This is simply not appropriate. It shouldn’t happen.”

Residents from The Vines were not the only ones speaking in opposition. Madelyn Isaacs from Cascades at Estero, a neighboring community to the project, was also concerned with safety in her age-55-and-older gated community.

“The argument that the majority of Estero residents want this is yet untested, even though that argument is put forth here,” Isaacs said. “As a resident of an adjacent property whose wall lies within 200 feet of the potential [location] for this, we see direct threats to privacy and security, as well as noise.”

Isaacs asked if Village Council supports the planning organization’s proceeding efforts to purchase the rail trail corridor and if it will support it in a way that eases residents’ concerns.

“Please ensure that your support now does not create a legacy of future problems for others, when you are no longer part of the solution,” Isaacs said.

While no vote was taken, Council came to a consensus to support the planning organization’s efforts to purchase the rail trail corridor subject to a reasonable price.

“In my mind, there’s a lot of unanswered questions for me and I think for all of you out there. But I think as we have a chance to purchase this, there are some real advantages for Estero,” Vice Mayor Jon McLain said. “I will give 100% to make sure that this is serving all the folks in Estero and not disadvantaging others.”

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