County to Look at New Development Policy

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Lee County Commission

A couple of properties being considered for Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 Program were the main topic of conversation at Tuesday’s Board of Lee County Commissioner’s (BoCC)’s regular meeting, after which we met with Commissioner Larry Kiker to hear a little more about a new policy the county is working on.

During Public Comment, Kristine Sierra, resident of Olga, urged the Board to purchase approximately 96 acres of land along the Caloosahatchee River.

“The river doesn’t need more septic systems, which might happen if the property is sold to developers,” she said.

Other nearby residents also spoke of in favor of the purchase and the 20/20 program itself, which goes to a referendum this November.

“The more houses we have out there, the more detrimental it will be to the community – especially regarding safety,” said Michael Cox.

Commissioner Brian Hamman made a motion to approve the item, which passed unanimously.

At the end of the meeting, Manager Roger Desjarlais asked for the board’s direction as to how to move forward with another piece of land being considered for the Conservation 20/20 program.

“This concerns 579 acres north of Corkscrew Road – there is an issue with extinguishing the underlying oil and mineral rights beneath the property,” he said, and County Attorney Richard Welch asked for the Board’s permission to move forward with getting appraisals while that issue is being dealt with.

Robert Clemens with County Lands explained that the appraisal would not include the value of the mineral rights.

“The extinguishing of those rights has always been a policy of this board, but lately property owners have been more reluctant to do this,” said County Manager Roger Desjarlais.

Hamman wanted to know if the long-term vision for the property would be for it to be part of CREW (the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed), and Desjarlais replied yes.

The Board agreed to allow staff to continue negotiations and to return with more information to them at a work session.

At a BoCC meeting held earlier this month, Kiker mentioned neighboring San Carlos Island when he suggested that the county needs to take a hard look at the entire area instead of letting individual projects drive planning decisions.

“This is all started about a year ago with the multiple projects being introduced on Corkscrew Road,” Kiker told us after Tuesday’s meeting. “The way the county does business, project by project, they (the developer) can qualify usually on their own merits. What we don’t have is a way of measuring the cumulative impact on traffic, environment, industry, etc. Nor is there a way for the county to get involved with public input until the actual application is made by a developer.”

Kiker told us that this is occurring on Corkscrew Road, Coconut Road, at the Babcock Ranch property and on San Carlos Island, amongst other places.

“I introduced the concept that we need to change our business model – that will incorporate all these factors – so there is a legal methodology to address immediate concerns of affected communities, as well as looking at what the county needs,” Kiker said. “Staff has taken a cursory look at this.”

The commissioner concluded by telling us that the Board has already funded a study to look at these types of factors on Corkscrew Road.

“Staff is considering San Carlos Island as an ideal place to look at such a business model going forward,” he said.
Keri Hendry Weeg