Gov. Scott appoints Estero resident to South Florida Water Management District


Friday, May 27, 2011

Forging cooperative relationships has been the hallmark of Dan DeLisi’s career as a Southwest Florida land use planner. Now DeLisi will take his strategic thinking skills to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) as a newly appointed board member.

Gov. Rick Scott has named DeLisi and four others to the district’s nine-member governing board. DeLisi, a 37-year-old Estero resident and principal of the Fort Myers consulting firm DeLisi Fitzgerald, Inc., will represent Collier, Lee, Hendry and Charlotte counties for a term which runs through March 2015.

"Water supply planning really is a big part of growth management these days," said DeLisi, who has a long history of working with environmental policy. Key issues for the SFWMD include everglades restoration and land acquisitions to preserve the area’s water supply.

"We need to buy land and do restoration in a more strategic way," DeLisi said.

Those who have worked with DeLisi note his competency in community planning and his ability to find creative solutions for complex issues.

"He’s very smart," said Brad Cornell, Southwest Florida policy advocate for Collier County Audubon Society and Audubon of Florida. "He’s a collaborative worker in wanting to involve people who want to contribute to a good outcome."

DeLisi has worked with Audubon on several land use projects, including proposals to transfer development rights in Collier and Hendry counties, allowing owners of environmentally sensitive lands to shift development to areas already impacted.

DeLisi also has sought compromise between developers and residents affected by rock mines in eastern Lee County. While he doesn’t always agree with DeLisi, Cornell calls DeLisi a "very willing partner in discussions" who embodies a spirit of cooperation.

"Dan shows a lot of creative approaches in balancing the concerns for citizens, for business and for the environment," Cornell said. "Those are tough institutions to balance, and he’s going to have the same balancing requirements in the water management district."

As a longtime member of the Estero Community Planning Panel (ECPP), DeLisi also has lent his expertise to development of the Estero Community Plan and Estero-specific Land Development Code. DeLisi has helped Estero leaders forge respectful relationships with Lee county officials and the Southwest Florida development community, said Neal Noethlich, emeritus chairman of the ECPP.

"Dan cares deeply about making the Estero community a better place," Noethlich said. "There has been no better proponent of the Estero vision and plan."

DeLisi threw his name out for the SFWMD position after being on the receiving end of poor customer service from the agency, he said.

"The water management district has a reputation for being too heavy-handed when they deal with people, and I think we need to change our approach," DeLisi said. SFWMD reviewers should be eager to work with developers who bring creative ideas to help restore natural waterways, he added.

DeLisi would like to see more developments like The Brooks in Estero. "When The Brooks went in, they restored this incredible flow way that had long been decimated," he noted. "It was a tremendous environmental benefit."

DeLisi’s goals for the SFWMD include ensuring customer interactions are "fair and nice" and seeking out ways to restore waterways which have been disturbed by agricultural use.

One challenge will be doing so with a reduced budget passed by the state legislature. "We’re going to have to figure out how to make due with 30 percent less," DeLisi said.

In his free time, DeLisi enjoys boating with his wife, Koko, and their two children. The family lives along a canal and appreciates the need to protect the region’s waterways. DeLisi recently was elected as first vice president of his synagogue, Temple Judea, and enjoys SCUBA diving, beer brewing and cooking in his wood fire oven.

"I generally like to only cook things that are complicated," he noted. That includes sourdough loaves which require a week of prep before baking. DeLisi also donated a batch of home-brewed pumpkin ale for an Audubon Society fundraiser last fall.

DeLisi is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and is certified as a circuit court mediator by the Supreme Court of Florida. A one-time music major, DeLisi has a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and a Master of City Planning and Urban Design Certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One of his early role models was famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach. "Bach is a good example of a mathematician who was a musical genius," DeLisi said. "I always liked to think of Bach."