Community discusses rebuilding a Fort Myers Beach church damaged by Ian

Reporter: Gail Levy Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

After getting damaged by Hurricane Ian, Beach Baptist Church on Fort Myers Beach is holding an open house on Thursday. The church can rebuild for free, but there is a catch.

The developers want a piece of the pie in exchange for a free new church building with 36 workforce apartments attached. The developer would get a portion of the property along Estero Boulevard and turn it into a condominium with 105 units that’s eight stories tall.

Neighbors are not sure it’s a great deal, though.

“I’d love for a church to stay here, and I’m a Baptist. But not with all this rigmarole that they want to add on to it,” Tom Insco, a Fort Myers Beach resident, said.

“We all live on Andre Mar, so it would back up to our backyards, and eight-story is inappropriate midblock,” Art Sundry, a Fort Myers Beach resident said.

Sundry and his neighbor Insco live steps from the Beach Baptist Church. They don’t like the idea of an eight-story condo near their backyard.

The church would get a new building holding 500 people, 36 workforce housing units and 348 parking spaces.

“We do want the community input because we want it to serve the community, but you know, there’s that fine line that this front half has to be a certain size in order to pay for the entire project,” Beach Baptist Church Pastor Shawn Crister said.

The town must approve the project since only three-story buildings are allowed there. Pastor Crister insists neighbors’ feelings are at the forefront of the church’s future.

“It’s going to be a huge emotional hurdle,” he said. “I mean, the first plans are big. They are. We’d love to have it. We’d love to be able to build that if there’s a pathway to get us there. That’s what we want. If it’s not, we do want the community input because we want it to serve the community,” he said.

WINK News asked the developer what his make or break point could be. He couldn’t say for sure but wants to listen to neighbors and make adjustments if he can.

Pastor Crister said he plans to change the name of the church to Beach Baptist Community Resource Center, signifying that everything happening there would be for the community.

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