San Carlos Island Project Back to BoCC
The Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) convened at Bonita Bill’s meeting room on Tuesday evening, June 9, with roughly 20 people in attendance, practicing social distancing and the vast majority wearing face masks. While the meeting updated several community topics, the most pertinent one was the upcoming third proposal for the Bay Harbour Marina Village development on Wednesday, June 17, before the Board of Lee County Commissioners (BoCC) at 9:30 a.m.
“There was a mediation session between Lee County staff and property owner representatives on Monday, May 11,” reported BACA President Charlie Whitehead. “Mediation is a required step to find an equitable solution before the developers can file a lawsuit. Some of us attended to hear the compromise between the Lee County Attorney’s Office and the developers that had the blessing of Lee County staff, though that was not surprising, as County Staff blessed the two previous Bay Harbour proposals when they went up the flagpole, so this should not be a shock anymore! At their June 17 meeting, the BoCC will host a public meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Plan, as Bay Harbour is requesting a Central Urban designation, and this is as intensive a use as there is in the Comp Plan. If Commissioners agree to the Comprehensive Plan amendment, they will immediately hear the requested rezoning that they did not agree with the last time.”
In the Beginning
The original 2015 Bay Harbour Marina Village proposal requested a 14-story, 175-foot-high residential building with 113 units, 38 for “workforce” or “moderate income” housing, with a 286-space boat barn and 29 wet slips; a 520-space indoor-outdoor parking garage open to the public; four two-story residential townhouses; and rooftop amenities like a pool, restaurant, garden and children’s play area. This concept requested up to 10 times the density of the surrounding area, five times the allowable height, and more than twice the building mass, leading to a scathing Lee County Hearing Examiner rejection that called it out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. The developers, Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, purchased the 8 parcel, 7.5-acre site for $2.1 million in June 2015; prior to that, the Oak & Main Streets site on San Carlos Island was home for years to Compass Rose Marina, until Hurricane Charley destroyed that in 2004.
Southern Comfort Storage returned with a scaled-down proposal in Spring 2018 for 113 residential units, with 37 for “workforce” housing; 30,000-square-feet of commercial office, retail, and mini-storage; the 29 wet and 286 dry slip marina; 4,000-square-feet of civic space; and 200 public parking spaces, at a maximum height of 145 feet. After another Hearing Examiner rejected this, the BoCC turned down the Comprehensive Plan amendment and zoning on October 23, 2019 by a 4 to 1 vote, with John Manning in favor. BoCC Chair Brian Hamman spoke for the majority when he called it “too big and too much for too small a space.”
Different Sort of Process
Whitehead reported that the newest Bay Harbour proposal “is for 75 residential units, with the 315 already-approved wet and dry boat slips. It includes a row of 50-foot-high townhouses along the canal, to give the site a graduated look. There is still the 30,000-square-feet of commercial space, increases the open space to 2.61 acres, eliminates public parking, and caps the maximum height at 100 feet. The developers actually tried to offer this to the BoCC at the October 23, 2019 meeting at the 11th hour as a compromise, but the BoCC refused to consider it because the public had no opportunity to vet it. That is what will make this upcoming June 17 meeting so unusual; generally the only people who can address the BoCC about this are those who previously testified before the Hearing Examiner, but since this proposal will not go before a Hearing Examiner, anyone can address the County Commissioners that morning.”
Jane Plummer, a member of the Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency, reminded that there are some BACA members who support the redevelopment of that site, saying “something must be done, as that property needs improvement, whether you are for or against this.” Whitehead stated that “I completely agree, but there is nothing that prevents the owners from keeping it from being an eyesore! Remember, the developers are both BACA members and one has been a San Carlos Island community member doing business here a long time. This has been a troubled piece of property for some time, and they already have permission to rebuild the marina tomorrow if they want, but they say that economically a stand-alone marina will not work, so they proposed the rest of these things. We are not a monolith and have members who think this is a great idea but the vast majority oppose this as out of character with our island, as it will bring too much traffic and those who live next door to it in 15-foot-high homes hate it, but if you feel strongly one way or the other, attend the meeting and share your feelings, as that is how the system works; this is a different sort of process!”
Barbara Hill asked what the current Lee County Master Plan allows for maximum height, with Whitehead replying “34 feet, though they approved deviations for the 65-foot-high boat barns on either side of the Matanzas Pass Bridge as well as the proposed Ebb Tide development at the far end of the island that I testified against as a God-awful idea but the BoCC approved anyway. Because of this ongoing Bay Harbour situation, Lee County actually held a San Carlos Island Master Plan Update public workshop in February 2019, but since then, nada!”
This has been a salient BACA issue since it formed, he reminded, “and I expect it will remain that way. As for my June 17 testimony, I plan to tell the BoCC that if they think this new idea is worthy, then send it back to a Hearing Examiner for a review. I know for certain there are other developers and builders making purchases all along San Carlos Boulevard and I guarantee they are all watching the Bay Harbour case; if they receive Central Urban, I promise you that everyone else will want the same all along the way, as that will set the precedent, and away you go!”
Bay Oaks Update & More
On a different topic, Whitehead explained that the Town of Fort Myers Beach is examining a significant Bay Oaks Recreational Center renovation, with the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB), Friends of Bay Oaks, and Fort Myers Beach Little League reviewing the concept to provide input. Hill, the BORCAB Vice Chair, called it “a great project! It is not really a renovation but a complete redo, and we are working closely with the Town, Lee County and the Lee County School Board, so it has the best possible uses for adults and kids. We are looking at indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, an amphitheater for outdoor concerts, Little League facilities, meeting areas for groups like this, and space for additional events like the ‘Taste of The Beach,’ as well as the gymnasium and workout rooms.”
Whitehead asked if the Town budgeted money for the project, with Hill replying, “The Town increased its millage last year to begin to set aside funds for Bay Oaks as well as renovations to Bayside Park and Times Square, but it will take more than that, such as other governmental funds and programs to pay off the mortgages on an on-going basis. Many of us have a vested interest to ensure this works, so we hope you support this, as it can be a win-win for everyone!”
Brief updates on other matters of concern to BACA members were provided by Whitehead, including the San Carlos Boulevard study, Margaritaville Resort lawsuit that had its Appeals Court oral arguments earlier that afternoon, upcoming Lee County office elections including for Sheriff and three BoCC seats including District 3 that serves Fort Myers Beach and San Carlos Island; announced a new “Save Bayside Park” group in opposition to the Town’s 30% design plan; and stated that BACA hopes to fill two openings on its seven-member Governing Board.
He concluded the one-hour meeting by saying, “The Island Sand Paper recently announced that after 20 years, it will either be sold or close on July 10. I and others had issues with them over the past two decades, but this would be so bad for the community! Studies show when you lose a local newspaper, taxes go up quicker, there is less oversight, and local government corruption increases. Thanks to Bob and Missy Layfield for their good service to all our residents and Good Luck in their future, but if you know anyone who can step up and save The lsland Sand Paper, encourage them to, as the more eyes out there protecting us, the better off we all are!”