After listening to two days of testimony – mostly from the developer, the Lee County Hearing Examiner continued a zoning hearing on the controversial Bay Harbour Marina Village project – proposed for neighboring San Carlos Island – until May 25th.
Right from the start of the hearing last Thursday, April 28th, it was clear that there were two diametrically opposed viewpoints as to the future of San Carlos Island – with Bay Harbour Attorney Russell Schropp saying that the island need no longer be dedicated to the use of the shrimping industry that has called it home for over 50 years. “We’re trying to keep San Carlos Island a community, recognizing that 50 years down the road people and uses have changed,” countered Jim Ink of Inkwerks Coastal Design.
Long-term SCI residents and businesses in that industry, however, could not disagree more. Joanne Semmer, whose family has long been in the shrimping business, testified that the industry is thriving and listed a long list of industrial waterfront uses she says were ‘overlooked’ by the developer. Other residents pointed to the fact that most of their waterside residences are mobile homes and RV’s – which they say contribute half the ‘car impact’ of single and multi family residences.
The community first heard about the development last year, when – on November 26th – over a hundred San Carlos Island residents packed the meeting hall at the Moose Lodge to hear plans to develop the old Compass Rose Marina property into a new mixed use residential space with a marina and a 14-story condominium building, complete with a parking garage.
The property – located at the corner of Oak and Main Street – was the home of Compass Rose Marina for many years until Hurricane Charley destroyed it in 2004. An attempt to rebuild failed when the economy crashed, leaving the area an eyesore covered with rusted foundations and weeds and surrounded by a chain link fence.
The 8-parcel, 7.58-acre site was purchased for $2.1 million in June 2015 by Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, who decided to create a mixed-use space rather than simply rebuild the marina. The proposed ‘ Bay Harbour Marina Village’ is a 14-story residential building with 113 rental units, 35 of which will be ‘workforce’ or ‘moderate income’ housing (meaning they will rent for between $1,500 and $2,000/month), a 286-space boat barn, 29 wet slips that will be open to the public and an indoor/outdoor parking garage with 520 spaces that will also be open to the public, plus four two-story residential townhouses that will be sold. The plan also calls for a number of amenities that will be located on the roofs of the buildings: a pool, restaurant, garden and children’s play area.
With a height of 175 feet, the condo building will be taller than both the Matanzas Pass Bridge and the Diversified Yacht building, but smaller than another proposed San Carlos Island development – Ebb Tide, whose tallest building would reach a height of 230 feet. The developers said at the November meeting that the project would beautify a neighborhood eyesore and that they would make improvements on Main Street to help alleviate the traffic.
Last month, the Board of Lee County Commissioners (BoCC) voted to amend Lee’s Land Development Code (LDC) to allow developers to request bonus density for workforce housing on barrier islands in unincorporated Lee County – something that will not effect Fort Myers Beach or Sanibel as they are both incorporated towns – but would allow the Bay Harbour developers to have more units should the zoning request be granted.
“It’s not that we’re against workforce housing, it’s that – with the residential plus the marina and parking garage -this is too intense and too much for this neighborhood,” said Charlie Whitehead, who – representing many of his neighbors – spoke against both the LDC change and the zoning request. “And people have got to understand – ‘workforce housing’ doesn’t necessarily mean these places will be affordable to those in the service industry. At $1,500-$2,000/month rent, these are geared more towards higher salaried folks like firefighters and teachers.”
The developer has applied for a comprehensive plan amendment and for a zoning hearing, which will be done concurrently – something that is allowed by state law.
“They are allowed to seek both the zoning and the comp plan amendment at the same time, so that gets pretty confusing,” Whitehead told us. “What they are asking for in the comp plan amendment is to create an ‘island of central urban use’ – the 2nd most intense land use allowable in Lee County. This is something that is normally seen in places like downtown Fort Myers.”
That amendment was denied in a 5-2 vote by Lee County’s Local Planning Agency (LPA) on December of 2015, and must now go before the BoCC, something that had not happened by the time the zoning hearing opened last week, and is not likely to happen before the continued date on May 25th.
“If they get the comp plan amendment, they can have 75 units,” Whitehead said. “If they get the amendment plus the bonus density, they can have 113.”
Other things that came to light during the two-day hearing included the acknowledgment by the developer that the landscaping is at the minimum required by the code, that they plan on upgrading Main Street in front of their property only – not all the way to San Carlos Boulevard and that a traffic study done by the developer did not take into account the amount of traffic that would be generated by another development that’s already been approved – Ebb Tide. Also during the hearing, Bay Harbour submitted a new master plan that eliminated some of the required open space, adding more green space to the rooftop instead. After the applicant completed their presentation, county staff gave a brief commentary where they outlined their support of the request should the amendment to the comp plan be approved.
“They (the applicant) have used every square inch of the property – including that which is underwater – to calculate open space and density,” Whitehead said. “And they used the rooftop areas to count as open space. County staff basically agreed with everything the developer said.”
Just before the hearing was continued to May 25th, Matt Noble, Principal Planner for the Town of Fort Myers Beach, testified on behalf of the Town – even though San Carlos Island is not part of the incorporated Town and therefore remains under County rule. He said that the Town feels that Bay Harbour is ‘out of scale, too dense and intense’ and that the Town would like to also appear before the BoCC to voice their concerns.
“The fact that they submitted a new master plan on the second day of the hearing frustrated some people, but the applicant is now done and May 25th will be a day for public comment,” Whitehead told us after the meeting. “I believe this will work in the public’s favor as it gives everyone a couple of weeks to review all the materials before testifying.”
To review all the materials presented at last week’s hearing, go to bit.ly/BayHarbour
Keri Hendry Weeg