A Lee County Hearing Examiner issued a scathing 53-page report against the proposed Bay Harbour Marina Village mixed use development for San Carlos Island last week. Hearing examiners are local administrative agency employees who serve as judges to resolve conflicts in their jurisdiction. The hearing examiner’s ruling is not a final decision, but a neutral place to vet development before it reaches the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for a vote.
“As proposed, the Request cannot be approved because the Request does not comply with the Lee Plan,” wrote Hearing Examiner Laura Bellflower. “It is inconsistent with the Lee Plan directives for residential densities in the Coastal High Hazard area; does not comply with the Lee Plan definitions of ‘density, ‘mixed use, and ‘mixed use building’; is incompatible with and negatively affects the character of the surrounding neighborhood; and creates unsolved transportation and transit issues.”
Bellflower stated that the Bay Harbour Request “does not meet the Land Development Code bonus density minimum qualification requirements and does not improve the area’s existing character, is potentially destructive, and building heights and sizes are too intense. The proposed density and intensity significantly increases the impacts of an already inadequate and constrained roadway without sufficient mitigation; will negatively impact existing road and transportation facilities especially at the intersection of Main Street and San Carlos Boulevard; and proposes conditions that do not provide sufficient safeguards to the public interest.”
It Takes a Village
Bay Harbour Marina Village is a 14-story residential building with 113 rental units, 38 of which are for “workforce” or “moderate income” housing, with a 286-space boat barn, 29 wet slips to be open to the public, and a 520-space indoor-outdoor parking garage open to the public as well, plus four two-story residential townhouses. It calls for rooftop amenities such as a pool, restaurant, garden, and children’s play area. According to Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, the project developer that purchased the 8 parcel, 7.5-acre site for $2.1 million in June 2015, “the entire project will be well-landscaped, have its own stormwater treatment ability, and contain subdued, turtle-friendly lighting.”
If allowed, the 14-story residential building would be 175 feet high, or taller than the Matanzas Pass Bridge and the Diversified Yacht building. Developers claim the project would beautify a neighborhood eyesore, and they will make Main Street improvements to alleviate traffic. Described as a way to revitalize the waterfront, Bay Harbour Marina Village requests up to 10 times the density of the surrounding area, five times the allowable height, and more than twice the building mass.
The Oak and Main Streets site was home for years to Compass Rose Marina until Hurricane Charley destroyed it in 2004. An attempt to rebuild it failed, leaving it dilapidated and surrounded by a chain-link fence. Southern Comfort Storage is seeking approval for Bay Harbour rather than simply rebuilding the marina. It applied for a comprehensive plan amendment and zoning hearing to be done concurrently before the Lee Board of County Commissioners that is allowable by state law. The Lee County Planning Agency denied their amendment by a 5 to 2 vote in December 2015.
Last November, over 100 residents packed the Moose Lodge to hear the development plan, with many opposing it for bringing too much density into too small an area. This spurred the creation of the New Civic Association serving San Carlos and Estero Islands in December 2015 as a forum to discuss issues that may impact the neighborhood and quality of life.
Bay Harbour Marina Village had four Hearing Examiner Office sessions from late April to mid-June 2016, with two diametrically opposed viewpoints concerning the future of San Carlos Island. Proponents say it is no longer the half-century exclusive domain of the shrimping industry. Joseph Villers, a former shrimper and owner of Villers Seafood, explained that “the shrimping industry began in the 1950s, peaked in the 70s and 80s, and has declined ever since. Those that want to preserve that way of life are remembering back 35 or more years. San Carlos Island is in need of an upgrade – let’s move forward.”
The Sun Sets at 2
Other long-time residents testified that San Carlos Island is home to the state’s largest shrimping fleet, with a federally-maintained deep water channel to support that and recreational vessels. They say that most of the waterfront residences are mobile homes and RVs that contribute half the “car impact” of single and multifamily residences. Lowell Weaver claimed that Bay Harbour is simply too big, especially for that segment of the island: “If this is built, the sun will set at my house at 2 p.m.” Some favor development but not at the proposal’s expansive scale.
San Carlos resident Nicholas White called the island “a small Old Florida community” and said that the Bay Harbour Marina Village “is not compatible with it.” Bellflower agreed, ruling that Bay Harbour did not even meet the minimum standards. “The design of the project has a significant role in providing compatibility and character protection,” she wrote. “The Request design does not protect the character of the surrounding area.”
Bellflower upheld the principals of traditional neighborhood development: “The port and working waterfront are a significant characteristic of San Carlos Island; they are a priority island signature. This requires development proposals within the vicinity of an existing port to demonstrate they are compatible and provides mitigation for any adverse impacts. The Lee Plan sets a goal of maintaining, supporting, and expanding commercial fishing in the county, to be compatible with the character of the island; the request must not be so different as to conflict with the character of the port/working waterfront.”
The developer’s request includes a Lee Plan amendment and rezoning, from marine and light industrial, commercial, and mobile home residential to mixed use planned development. The Lee Board of County Commissioners will consider the case at a future date and decide whether to allow the amendment. If so, they will hear Bay Harbour’s rezoning request. Conversely, the development could return to the hearing examiner to address the report’s multiple concerns.