The council spent approximately three hours talking about the history of the east-west road through Downtown Naples as part of a broader discussion about the plans for redeveloping an approximately half-mile stretch from Goodlette-Frank Road to Eighth Street North.
Redesign of Central Avenue has become a point of contention among business owners since the release of concept art in November of cutting the road from four lanes to two. The city had previously commissioned and approved another concept in 2005 that added beautifying elements such as plants and trees while keeping the road four lanes. That concept, called the Boorman plan after the designer A. Gail Boorman & Associates, was never funded.
Now, the debate seems to have splintered into two major factions. Business owners oppose what they believe is a change that will drive customers away due to the addition of medians, increased congestion, and scarcer parking, and cyclists who want to see a shift towards pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city streets.
“The main thing that the City Council needs to consider is that things have dramatically changed since 2005,” said Jane Cheffy, President of the Naples Pathways Coalition, a cyclist advocacy group. “Philosophically there’s a shift in thinking to favor complete streets, blue zones, and to make the city a walkable, ‘bikeable’ city.”
The current proposed design, by Kimley-Horn and Associates, adopts a complete streets model, which incorporates pedestrian and bicycle traffic as part of a design to encourage mulitiple modes of transportation on a single street. Business owners continue to support the Boorman plan as the base for any changes to Central.
“Central is healthy and thriving, it allows my wife and I to give back and employ others,” said Terry Hutchison, owner of the 7-Eleven at the corner of Central and U.S. 41. “I recommend the Boorman plan as a template, and that a model closer to Boorman be used.
Perhaps the largest debate is over whether or not there should be a median.
“There are a couple of voices that are very opposed to medians, but they do not deprive you of access,” Cheffy said. “Our Naples drivers are savvy, they know how to get to their destination, and if it means going around a block they do it. It doesn’t stop business on U.S. 41.”
Council member Sam Saad, one of the council’s most vocal proponents, agrees.
“I think the design looks great, provides for a canopy covered street, a beautiful complete street,” Saad said. “The median provides for a more beautiful streetscape, and it doesn’t impede traffic. The studies show east-west travel times remain the same. What is the major opposition?”
No votes were planned, but the council and the community may have left with more questions than answers.
“Everybody is talking about plans. Plans get massaged, they get feedback from people. You have to give people something to bounce off of,” said Vice Mayor Dee Sulick. “I think it is naïve to think that the plan Kimley-Horn presented to this city council was not built on all of the history and what the vision was for this corridor. Nothing is passed in concrete at this point.”
Near the end of the discussion, council member Teresa Heitmann sounded off after being interrupted by Saad. Saad had been involved in some of the more contentious exchanges during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I don’t like the way you treat our residents,” Heitmann said. “They have three minutes to share their concerns, and I don’t think they should be disrespected by any member of this council, no matter what their differences of opinion.”
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