San Carlos Island Development
At the same time last year that the proposed Grand Resorts downtown Fort Myers Beach project concept was introduced, a smaller but equally controversial development proposal on neighboring San Carlos Island got many residents there hopping mad for pretty much the same reason, what they saw as too much density in too small of an area. Unlike Grand Resorts, however, the Bay Harbour Marina Village proposed for San Carlos Island is moving forward rather quickly – with a zoning hearing scheduled for April 28th at 9am at the Hearing Examiner’s office located at 1500 Monroe Street, Room 218 in downtown Fort Myers.
Last November 26, 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 to 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 1,700/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 for sale. 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. According to Jack Mayher of Southern Comfort Storage, “the entire project will be well landscaped, have its own stormwater treatment ability and contain subdued, turtle-friendly lighting”.
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 230 feet into the sky. The developers said at the November meeting that the project would beautify a neighborhood eyesore – prompting applause from some of the residents – and that they would make improvements on Main Street to help alleviate the traffic.
The project became a bit closer to becoming a reality on Tuesday, when 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 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 the LDC change at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. “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-$1,700/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 that 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 is not likely to happen before the hearing examiner hears the zoning request on April 28.
“The zoning request will be to flesh out the details of the residential part of the proposal – how many units, where the footprint will be, that sort of thing,” Whitehead said. “And they still have to ask for that bonus density. If they get the comp plan amendment, they can have 75 units. If they get the amendment plus the bonus density, they can have 113.”
“There does exist within Lee County’s comp plan something called the San Carlos Island community plan, and it addresses some of the things that the Bay Harbour folks are asking for,” Charlie continued. “Specifically, that San Carlos Island not be used as parking for Estero Island.”
Public comment will be taken at the zoning hearing on April 28th, but those speaking should be aware they will be subject to questions from the applicant’s attorney, as well as the county’s.
Keri Hendry Weeg