Lee County says a $6 million berm to shield neighbors from widened Burnt Store Road is unlikely, claiming it would delay the project and bust its budget. Officials offer creative landscaping solution.
Neighbors who wanted protection from the sights, sounds and speeding big-rigs of a widened Burnt Store Road in northwest Cape Coral are “highly unlikely” to get a protective berm. Elected Lee County officials say that a berm would push the project at least $6 million over its $28.8 million budget and months, if not years, beyond its scheduled 2019 completion date.
“That’s just not acceptable to me,” said County Commissioner Brian Hamman, whose district includes part of the Burnt Store project. “This project has been on the books for years. It’s really needed. There have been so many accidents on Burnt Store. I feel bad for them, and I’ll do what I can to help them, but we can’t just stop the project now.”
Hamman isn’t alone in his opinion. Commissioner John Manning, whose district includes part of the Burnt Store project, and Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass have concluded it’s too late and too costly to add a berm.
“A lot of these people who are upset moved into their homes long after the widening was approved,” Pendergrass said. “It’s why they got such good deals. If the buyer didn’t do his homework, or the seller or the agent didn’t tell them before they signed the deal, that’s not the county’s fault.”
Hamman has asked county staff to propose “creative landscaping” solutions to help shield the neighbors on the east side of Burnt Store Road from the two traffic lanes, water retention basin, and multi-use path being added to their side of the existing two-lane road over the next four years. The project budget includes about $1.3 million for landscaping.
At Hamman’s request, the county transportation department has agreed to take neighbor concerns into account when considering landscaping, said county transportation director Randy Cerchie.
Some of the Burnt Store Road neighbors aren’t impressed. Kathy Bradley moved from Pennsylvania into her spacious 8-year-old home on NW 31st Place in July. The retired saleswoman decided to buy the house after a local real estate agent led her on a virtual tour. She fell in love with the house, but she also liked the idea of living on the quiet edges of the Cape.
She remembers when the agent showed her Burnt Store Road off in what appeared to be the distance. “He pointed the camera out at the road and asked me if I could live with that,” she recalls. “And I said sure, that’s not so bad. But he didn’t say it was going to end up in my backyard in less than a year.”
Like some of her neighbors, Bradley said she is talking with a lawyer about whether she can sue the seller or the agent for failing to disclose the pending project, which will place the pedestrian and bike pathway on the edge of her property within a stone’s throw of her screened-in porch.
She would like the county to build a berm, or at least install a 10-foot wall, to shield her from traffic and those using the new sidewalk. She is also worried about the rodents and mosquitoes that may be drawn to the water retention pond that will separate the new road from the multi-use path.
Hamman believes some neighbors panicked when construction began. They saw the contractor clearing the ground at the edge of their property and mistakenly assumed that was where the road would be built, he said, when really the contractor was paving the way for the multi-use path. The closest house is at least 100 feet away from the road, he said.
As for the sidewalk, Hamman pointed to the popularity of the Del Prado Boulevard sidewalks, which he said boost the value of nearby homes.
Joseph Wysocki, a Michigan retiree who moved to NW 31st Place a year ago, said the road project has turned his dream house into a nightmare. The multi-use path will pass a few dozen feet from his screened-in pool.
“Look, I know the road has to get widened, I get that,” Wysocki said. “But why can’t they do something for the neighbors? Maybe we weren’t here back when the road got approved a decade ago, but that’s a long time. I think if you’re taking our tax dollars to do this, why not use some of them to help us? I think it would save money in the long run. There are a lot of unsold residential lots on this side of Burnt Store Road. If the county doesn’t build a berm, nobody is going to want to build on those lots, and our property values go down, too. That’s a lot of tax dollars the county would be leaving on the table.”
Marie Murdock has been living in her NW 31st Place home with her husband and teen-aged son since 2011. Murdock said she had only learned about the road widening a few weeks ago when a notice of a pending road closure was hung on her front door.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been here five years and I’m just now hearing about it?” asked Murdock, who had to strain to be heard over the noise of the nearby construction crews. “Now I’m stuck. I’ll never be able to sell now.”