On Tuesday morning, the Board of Lee County Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to amend their InterLocal Agreement (ILA) with the Town of Fort Myers Beach to allow the use of Tourist Development Council (TDC) funding for native landscaping and interpretive signage at 216 Connecticut. They also approved a policy for water quality and storage that they discussed at a work session last month.
During public comment, San Carlos Island resident Charlie Whitehead speaking on behalf of the Beach Area Civic Association (BACA), urged the board not to adopt language into their Land Development Code (LDC) that would allow for bonus density for workforce housing on barrier islands.
“I’m here to talk about workforce housing bonus density on islands and in coastal high hazard areas,” he said. “We understand the advantage of having workforce housing but we urge caution in doing that in coastal areas.”
David Urich of the Responsible Growth Management Coalition urged the commissioners to get behind the movement to acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee.
Commission Chair Frank Mann asked Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini to address Urich’s comments.
“We’re dealing with a policy statement by the board in regards to the water coming down the river,” Mann said.
“What the county is proposing has several policy actions – support the Central Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover dike around the lake, and other projects scheduled,” Ottolini said. “We do support sending water south. CERP and CEPP also support this, as well as the raising of the Tamiami Trail, and MOD waters there are many elements that will assist in this. This an approved plan that also includes our support of creating more storage north of the lake.”
Commissioner Brain Hamman clarified that it is “not the charge of the board to buy land south of lake Okeechobee’.
“We’re stuck in middle management purgatory – we can offer support only,” he said. “We work hard to advocate, but it’s not our role to buy land in another county, nor do we have the resources.”
Kiker added that the District has put together a 20-year plan of projects, which are underway.
“There are a lot of moving pieces, and I think the effort for the extra acreage would be the icing on the cake,” he said. “But there’s a lot of good things going on right now that need to continue.”
Mann agreed, saying that ‘mother nature used to send all the water south’, so that is part of the board’s thinking.
“The Regional Planning Council will also have workshops on this,” he said. “My hope is that – when we’re done – all these counties can adopt a policy we all agree on.”
Solid Waste Study
Hamman questioned a proposal to award an $824,458 contract to Tetra-Tech to conduct a Basis of Design Report that would identify Lee’s solid waster management needs over the next 20 years.
“How long it would take for the study to be completed?” Hamman asked, and Keith Howard, Director of Lee County’s Solid Waste Department, replied that the schedule would be aggressive – 8 months.
“We’re going to have stakeholder meetings with the public, feedback from the BoCC, and create a master plan report that will be guiding forward movements for next 20 years,” he said.
“I don’t agree with the cost of this study,” Hamman said, and Pendergrass asked if county staff could do this study. Howard replied that it “would take county staff at least 2 years” to accomplish that.
“We’re not talking about small dollars here should we need to add a new burner, so we need to provide you with the best information there is,” Howard said.
Kiker said these are not general funds, but rather funds dedicated to the solid waste department.
“What I’m more concerned about is that we may be looking at upwards of $3 million at the end of the day,” he said. “I’d be more comfortable postponing this until we can have a workshop.”
County Manager Roger Desjarlais said ‘this is not about building another waste-to-energy plant in Lee County’, and that a workshop is scheduled for April 19th.
Mann said he sees no problem with delaying a decision until after the 19th, and the board agreed.
It was during the second public hearing that the Board addressed the LDC amendments, which affect not only the Pine Island area that is mentioned but all of unincorporated Lee County – including San Carlos Island.
Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch explained that the LDC amendments would streamline the process of putting density on barrier islands, as well as allow for a new Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program designed to encourage developers to build away from Pine Island’s farms and coast by offering them incentives to build in designated ‘receiving areas’ in Lehigh Acres North Fort Myers and south Fort Myers.
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker asked if workforce housing on barrier islands is currently allowed in the county’s comprehensive plan.
“The Lee Plan allows it to be requested, but the LDC doesn’t allow it,” Wesch replied.
Wesch said the amendments and the new plan for Pine Island meet all of the county’s requirements.
“We believe the major traffic concerns (on Pine Island) are with a narrow, commercial area and no one out there wants another bridge,” he said. “This proposal is a fair balance of all the interests involved.”
The amendments were adopted unanimously.
Keri Hendry Weeg