×
×
homepage logo
STORE

50 years later: Today’s Cape Coral City Council

By Staff | Sep 18, 2020

Cape Coral’s first city council came into office in December of 1970 after Cape residents voted in favor of incorporation. The first board was made up of Paul Fickinger, who the board tapped as the then new city’s first mayor, as well as council members Cleo Snead, Chandler Burton, Robert South, Gordon Berndt, Lyman Moore, and Casey Jablonski.

Since then, the Cape Coral City Council has expanded to eight seats, with the mayor elected every four years by the voters.

Today’s Council, in the city’s 50th year, is made up of Mayor Joe Coviello and council members John Gunter, John Carioscia, Marilyn Stout, Jennifer Nelson, Lois Welsh, Rick Williams and Jessica Cosden.

The Breeze asked each to share how they came to their initial impressions and where they think our city is going:

 

Joe Coviello

Mayor

Part One, the resident

From: New York

Why did you come to Cape Coral? Family

How long have you lived here?

20 years

What was your first impression of the Cape?

Wow, a water wonderland

What do you like most about living here?

Seeing the progress the city has made and having the opportunity to contribute to that progress.

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

Yacht Club, Cape Harbour, the Westin/Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro — love them for the beautiful waterfront views and ambience.

Best Cape story or memory?

Unforgettable fishing experience for tarpon and sharks with my two sons.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have your seen?

* Construction of the Southeast 47th Terrace Streetscape

* Passage of the $60 million GO Bond for parks

* Interlocal agreement with Fort Myers for pipeline and FGUA for water supply

* Solidifying the LCEC Franchise Agreement

* Continuation of the UEP

* Water quality Improvement

* Hiring a new city manager 

* Continued road paving and city beautification

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

In a continuing effort to increase business investment opportunities, we have created business incentives and established Innovative Land Use Planning Techniques. Cape Coral has launched a Commercial Activity Center (CAC) Future Land Use Classification. This allows us to promote high quality mixed-use and commercial development. There are seven types of CACs which will allow different ratios of commingled use (mixed residential and commercial) structures. These productive tools are designed, so that the construction of commercial and places of employment are close to residential areas.

As we continue to see an increase in the younger population moving to Cape Coral, we remain focused on providing affordable housing. Cape Coral strives to offer diversity, ranging from single family homes, affordable apartments and multi-family homes.

 Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

In 10 years, I envision it will be a thriving city with a much better corporate presence. In 25 years, I foresee a tremendous amount of growth in the northeast and northwest areas. At our centennial, I anticipate us to be double in size.

John Gunter

City Council member, District 1

Part One, the resident

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

Originally, my wife and I visited friends in the winter months to enjoy the weather. Once we made several trips and discovered how nice the weather was in the winter months, and the amount of water access with all-year boating opportunities, we decided to move.

How long have you lived here?

13 years

What was your first impression of the Cape?

My first impression of Cape Coral was it is a nice community and the people are very friendly. It was more of a bedroom community back then and most businesses were closed down by 9 p.m. and the streets were empty. The canals throughout the city made water access unlimited. The “laid back” feeling that the community had made this a very enticing place to live.

What do you like the most about living here?

I am an avid boater so the water access and being able to spend time outdoors all year is what I like most about living in Cape Coral. Due to our incredible Police Department we are one of the safest cities in the State of Florida, therefore, this is a great place to live and raise a family. Typically, most citizens within our community have moved here from other parts of our country. One common denominator that I see in most people that live in our community, they are very friendly and just here to enjoy life.

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

I enjoy any of the waterfront restaurants or amenities throughout Cape Coral that can be accessed by boat. I enjoy spending time out on the water so being able to pull up and patronize our businesses on the water is very relaxing.

Best Cape story or memory?

Believe it or not one of my best memories is Hurricane Irma. Watching our community come together and help one another during this disaster was incredible. Myself and many others helped people in our community board up their house in preparation of the hurricane. Afterwards, for several days we cut trees off houses, cleaned debris in many yards to help residents that we did not even know.

We cut trees in the city parks, the Historical Museum, and many other locations throughout the city next to people that I didn’t even know. Once I saw how the citizens of Cape Coral came together to help one another I knew I picked the right place to call home.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

I think we have seen many positive changes throughout our community in the last three years since I have been on Council. We have added Fire Station #11 in the northwest, will be constructing Fire Station #12 in 2021 and Fire Station #13 in 2023. These stations will greatly reduce the response time for our residents in a time of need.

We implemented the new Land Development Code to promote growth within our city and to help streamline the development process. As a result of this effort, we have noticed an increase in commercial development throughout our city.

We have added police officers in our schools to ensure the safety of our students and provide them with a safe environment while learning. We continue to add police officers to fill our vacancies to bring our funded police positions to capacity.

Our residents passed the GO Bond for $60 million to enhance our park system throughout our city. The development for our new Neighborhood Parks should begin in the next several months with the Community Parks to follow.

We have continued our Road Paving Program throughout the city and added additional revenue for additional streetlights throughout our city. We are continuing our sidewalk program and implementing additional crews to construct additional sidewalks throughout our city.

We completed the Streetscape Project and continue to promote revitalization and growth in our CRA District.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

I think I have mentioned some of our accomplishments in my previous question. One of the challenges that I think we face is we need to identify who we are as a city, and what changes do we want to make to create the vision for the future of our city. Our goal should be to increase our commercial tax base to 20% but always keep in mind that we are currently a residential tax base community. We should set parallel goals for our future recognizing who we are, and who we want to be. Establishing these goals for our community will give us the best chance of success for our vision.

We need to continue an aggressive approach for our Utility Expansion Project in the northern part of Cape Coral. This will help with residential and commercial growth in this area and provide the necessary infrastructure for this area. 

We have made great strides in our new Land Development Code but I feel we still need improvements to make our city more business friendly.

Streamline our process, establish common sense policies, and develop a task force to work with businesses which want to open in Cape Coral. This will only help in our goal of a 20% commercial tax base, but also provide the support needed to make the process of developing and opening a business in Cape Coral easier.

We need to invest into our infrastructure throughout our city to accommodate for the future growth of our city. One area of concern is the Downtown CRA District where we are promoting larger-scale commercial development, but we presently do not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate those type of projects. Also, I feel that we need to invest in Fiber Optic Technology throughout our city. This type of technology will not only help in our monopoly of our cable service providers, but also provide a technology needed to attract larger-scale internet base companies to our city.

We need to invest in the appearance of our city. Our return on investment will be the additional increased property values in our city as a result of this effort. We need to set our level of expectation for our city higher to establish our city as the best city in the State of Florida. We have all of the elements for a great city, we just need to improve on our weaknesses to rise to the next level. Enhancing our quality of life throughout our city will increase the value of our city, and promote positive growth for all of our residents.

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

10 years

85/15% residential/commercial tax base 

Seven Island Project Completed

(3) additional UEP Projects Completed

270,000 population

14 Fire Stations

325 Sworn Police Officers

Fiber Optics Infrastructure Improvements

25 years

80/20% residential/commercial tax base

UEP Projects Completed

350,000 population

15 Fire Stations

400 Sworn Police Officers

50 years

450,000 Population

John Carioscia

City Council member, District 2

Part One, the resident

From: Originally from Chicago

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

I was retired and looking for a warmer climate and where I can do outdoor activities like golf, fishing, boating and softball. Florida has it all.

How long have you lived here?

16 years

What was your first impression of the Cape?

I came down here before I moved here. A detective I worked with invited me down because he thought it was paradise. I spent time down here and I agreed. We rented a house for year to make sure it was what we wanted and decided this was where we wanted to be.

What do you like most about living here?

It’s spacious for a city with 200,000 people. I find the people friendly. There are a lot of retirees but not as many as there were. There are more young families with children. I thought an open neighborhood was where I would want to be.

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

It’s difficult to say. It depends on what I want to do on a particular day. I like the Yacht Club and the Pier. At night after dinner it attracts me to go down to the water. I like Cape Harbour, anything that has to do with water.

Best Cape story or memory?

When my wife and I went over the bridge for the first time and looking out to the north and south and seeing the Caloosahatchee below us. The sight was breathtaking.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

In council, we were facing a financial dilemma because we were hit hard by the recession. Houses were abandoned and investors bailed. Months after coming into the council, we had the good fortune to hire John Szerlag as city manager. He said if we didn’t come up with a solution to the financial problems we had, we would be in trouble. He came up with a “three-legged stool” and proposed — which is very hard to do for conservatives — variations of taxes. He added the fire assessment and the public service tax to go with the ad valorem.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

We stopped bleeding employees, police and firefighters. Those who had the skills were leaving for more promising municipalities. We brought in a three-year budget and a five-year paving plan because the roads were so bad. We also realized the South Cape needed help so we beefed up the CRA and Southeast 47th Terrace. The Seven Islands and Bimini Basin show promise, and the UEP expansion was another project we needed to reactivate.

We also have expanded our fire department and added more stations to get them out faster as well as paramedics. I’m also proud of the way we have continued lowering crime, where we’re No. 2 in the state, and the charter schools, which is another choice for families in the Cape who want to come here and get a good education. Quality of life is what it’s all about.

The challenges are financial, like with any municipality, and with infrastructure. But we get very few complaints about service, which is what municipalities do.

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

I think everyone realizes the problems with the bridges. We’re going to have to address another access out of the Cape. We’re going to need an exchange off of I-75 that will allow us to access the Cape closer. We don’t have a rail system and we don’t have our own airport. Moving people in and out of the Cape will be the top priority. The city managers and economic development has told me that’s why we lack commercial. We’re where we were nine years ago because of the cost. That will be the major issue in the Cape 10 years, 25 years and 50 years from now, when we build out. If we don’t start this project, it’s not going to get any cheaper.

Marilyn Stout

City Council member, District 3

Part One, the resident

From: Virginia

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

Before we moved here, we visited Fort Myers Beach and Punta Gorda. My husband was retiring and we had a lot in Punta Gorda, but we felt it was too far removed. We went to Cape Coral, found a lot, put a home on it and did the work inside the home, such as picking tile and carpeting in three days. The house was built in 1981, but my husband didn’t retire until 1982, so our daughter lived in the house for a year before we arrived. There were about 40,000 residents at the time.

How long have you lived here?

Since 1982, though we travelled back and forth from Texas for a couple years to help care for a sick relative.

What was your first impression of the Cape?

We loved the quality of life, the sunshine and the water. It was clean and attractive, but it was a small city. I had no idea we would end up what we are today.

What do you like most about living here?

Especially where I live now in Sandoval. Everybody is so friendly. We have an attractive city where I feel safe and the police are such that I never worry going out at night alone.

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

It would be to either play with my great-grandson or my great granddaughter outside.

Best Cape story or memory?

Positive: I like the ball drop on New Year’s Eve at Cape Harbour and the Red, White & BOOM on July 4th; we used to go by boat and it was just spectacular.

The negative would have to have been the debate over the dual water system in the early 1990s and so many people were afraid of the irrigation system. There was a lot of hysteria.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

The growth, without doubt, is the major change. I also feel strongly that our medians needed attention and consequently I believe we need to work on all of them, but that takes time and patience to allow the money to be spent over several years. We have a good council.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

The challenge has been the expansion of utilities because septic tanks are not good for the environment. We will have utilities all the way to the Charlotte County line one day. Accomplishments include the building of City Hall, the Southeast 47th Terrace streetscape, and having the ability to control the future of the Seven Islands. The P3 (public-private partnership) we did at the Yacht Club with the Boat House has helped residents pay less in taxes.

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

In 10 years, I would think all the utilities would be in place, and at 25 years I would think we would be at buildout, which is somewhere around 400,000 people. I don’t think anyone can predict what will happen 50 years from now. I just hope that by then we don’t have to cope with the COVID-19 virus.

Jennifer Nelson

City Council member, District 4

Part One, the resident

From: Hometown, Houston, Texas . Moved to Cape Coral from Santa Rosa, CA

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

Job

How long have you lived here?

12 years

What was your first impression of the Cape?

Flat 

What do you like the most about living here?

The water

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

Rotary Park due to the walking path and beautiful scenery. 

Best Cape story or memory?

During Hurricane Irma, our community came together to help residents get what they needed. 

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

LCEC Agreement completed. Trash service improved overall. Southeast 47th Terrace project completed.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

 Being a platted community and our UEP infrastructure continues to be a challenge for economic development. We have accomplished a beautiful entertainment district and have brought attention to our former bedroom community as the 8th largest city in our state. 

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

I am hopeful the old golf course purchase gets resolved so that our city may have a central green space opportunity for our future generations to enjoy. I look forward to hosting more industries in Cape Coral once our infrastructure is complete. 

 

Lois Welsh

City Council member, District 5

Part One, the resident

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

I moved to Cape Coral in 1985 because of its low population density and its quality of life.

How long have you lived here?  Since 1985

What was your first impression of the Cape?

Lots of wide open green space and only 30,000 people. We felt that Cape Coral had potential for growth and was a relatively young community with loads of opportunities.

What do you like most about living here?

 I enjoy our climate year round, our close proximity to water and our low taxes. (Property tax and lack of state income tax).

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

Echo Park

Best Cape story or memory?

I love that nesting bald eagles live down the road from me.  George and Grace came back each year since we first moved here. When George died, Grace returned with a younger mate.  We began calling her our neighbor “Grace the bald eagle who is a cougar.”

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen? 

I am grateful to have had a part in the 20/20 Land Acquisition of Coral Pointe, thereby enlarging the preserve near Echo Park for future generations.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

The biggest challenge will be maintaining balance as our city continues to grow.

Water quality,  green space and our environment should be strictly cared for and considered when approving future developments, particularly their impact on our groundwater.

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

Working together, our community will maintain our vision to be America’s preeminent waterfront community. We will accomplish our mission to provide services and resources that enhance the quality of life for those who live, learn work and play in our city. Finally we will enhance our values of collaboration, accountability, professionalism and excellence in our caring and giving community.

Rick Williams

City Council member, District 6

Part One, the resident

From: Connecticut

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

We looked out the bedroom window one morning after we were both laid off and saw bumps in the driveway and decided to get in the car and look for something. I was looking for a Navy town, but I had come to Cape Coral before and really liked it more than Corpus Christi, Texas, so we moved here.

How long have you lived here?

Since 2004. I moved here the day before Hurricane Charley — Welcome to Cape Coral, Rick.

What was your first impression of the Cape?

Not much because there wasn’t much here. In 2004 there was a lot of open land and roads that went nowhere, but we liked the water. We’re boaters and we got a nice house on salt water and had great access in a nice house.

What do you like the most about living here?

Absolutely the weather.

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

There are a lot of places I like to go. I love going to the museum, Cape Harbour and Tarpon Point, which has nice waterfront amenities. I like going to places with friends and people I know and making new friends. I like the entertainment district and we have so many great restaurants. There’s no one destination.

Best Cape story or memory?

Printable? When I got elected to council it was a good night. I was always in public service anyway and it was an opportunity to do something. Any big event like Red, White & BOOM where the people come out so I can meet them as a resident and not as a council member.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

We’re growing like crazy, and unfortunately, we’re growing so large that we may be losing the small-town attitude, though some places have been able to maintain it. It’s a little frustrating at times, but we get through it. We are able to get the right people to run for offices and get good people on the council. I want to put the idea of wanting to be like Tampa back on the shelf.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

We’re growing and we’re getting our infrastructure in place. We’re doing it within our means and not jacking up taxes. We’re turned this city around after the 2008-09 recession and we have to credit the city manager (John Szerlag) for that. The challenge is to keep that growth under control and keep up with it. The challenge is the UEP projects. We finish this one and we’re right back into it with the next. And it’s state mandated. We aren’t inventing ways to spend money.

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

In 10 years, I see us continuing to grow at the rate we’re going. In 25 years, I hope there’s a piece of land big enough to bury my body because I won’t be alive. We’re going to be like another Tampa. The only thing we’re lacking is infrastructure and the economy. We need to make use of our economic development to get business and transportation in here. We need to support the growth we’re attracting. I still think it will be a beautiful city and the future people who move here will have a beautiful city. There’s a base of good people, so it will continue to be a friendly city.

 

Jessica Cosden

City Council member, District 7 

and Mayor Pro Tempore

Part One, the resident

From: N/A; Cape Coral native

Why did you come to Cape Coral?

I was born here. My parents and my big brother (who was 6 weeks old at the time) came from New Jersey to Cape Coral in 1981 to join my grandparents in operating a family business, Penguin Pools.

How long have you lived here?

Aside from college, all 36 years of my life.

What was your first impression of the Cape?

My earliest memories of Cape Coral involve playing with neighborhood kids in vast open fields dotted with Brazilian pepper trees and Australian pines. I grew up in southwest Cape Coral; my old neighborhood is now nearly 100% built out. We had one of the oldest, tallest Australian pines in our front yard, and I can still remember the sound of the wind blowing through its needles.

What do you like most about living here?

This wasn’t the case 15-plus years ago, but everything is now available within city limits: health care, dining, recreation, quality schools, shopping, and services. We also have a top-notch school system. We are the one of the safest cities in the state.  

What is your favorite place in the Cape to visit?

Rotary Park — it’s a beautiful, unique facility that captures the spirit of Cape Coral.

Best Cape story or memory?

As a child, my friends and I would use a rope hanging from a tree and swing into the canal, spending many afternoons playing in the water. Swimming in the canals was commonplace.

Part Two, the official

During your tenure in Cape Coral, what changes have you seen?

Since I was elected in 2015, the population has grown substantially, from about 175,000 to 200,000. There is a new focus on water quality due to red tide and algal blooms. Bus stops around the city are now outfitted with benches to help ensure children’s safety. Thousands more residents have access to city sewer, water, and irrigation thanks to the ongoing Utility Extension Project.

How would you describe Cape Coral today in terms of accomplishments and challenges?

We have accomplished a lot when it comes to water. We are on the leading edge when it comes to water quality and quantity projects (for example, our dual water system; the reverse osmosis plant; the Fort Myers wastewater pipeline — these are just a few examples). However, this also remains our biggest challenge. In a city with 400 miles of canals and surrounded by water on three sides, how can we balance this stage of rapid growth with the need for clean and plentiful water?

Where do you see the city 10 years from now? Twenty-five? At our centennial?

In 10 years, I see the business tax ratio starting to shift, so that some of the burden is taken off residential properties. Northeast and northwest Cape Coral will look very different than they look today, as density starts to pick up.  In 25 years, I see at least half the city’s streets lined with sidewalks. At our centennial, I believe we will be at full build-out (400,000 residents).

COMMENTS