Fix the Land Development Code



We Have the Power

While we’re supportive of efforts to save beach cottages on Fort Myers Beach, we are also realistic about what kind of new homes will be built on a barrier island in 2017.

Our island is totally built out, with the exception of a few empty lots here and there. As land prices increase, buyers face some difficult decisions. Many will buy a lot, not for the house that sits on it, but for the home of their dreams that they can build on it. Fact of life.

Basic market demand drives the price of homes and land. It is that demand that is changing the face of our island and there is something, beyond hand wringing, that we can do about it. But only if our leaders have the political will to do so.

While we’d like to preserve our Island’s traditional cottage homes, most buyers in 2017 are not looking for the small footprint that our 60+-year-old cottages offer. Buyers want space, lots of it. Few people will spend what it costs to buy a lot here now and then put a small home on that lot. New homes = big homes.

It is just about an official Island sport to complain about the size and shape of new homes on the island. Amazingly some of those complaints come from the only people who have the power to do something about it, our Local Planning Agency (LPA) and Town Council.

The bottom line is that if nobody wanted those big new houses, they wouldn’t be selling. Those hoping to save all the existing cottage homes or for a resurgence of the cottage style, albeit, 10-17′ in the air, are bound to be disappointed. If smaller cottage style homes would sell, builders would be building them.

We would be better off turning our energy to preserving a few of these historic cottage homes somewhere so that in a decade or two, visitors will be able to see what beach homes looked like during the beach cottage period. Some of our Islanders have been saying this for a long time. It’s time we listened and acted.

For years now, we’ve heard the pejorative term, “McMansions” thrown about to refer to new large homes here. They’re too big, they’re boxy, they block views, they’re ugly.

The homeowners and taxpayers buying these homes don’t think they’re ugly, nor are they buying them to block the neighbors’ views. They’re buying them because they want what we all enjoy, a life on a beautiful island. This constant bashing of their new homes is misplaced and displays an embarrassing lack of Island hospitality.

Property owners follow the rules that our Town has set for building. Our Town can change those rules. But they haven’t. There has been talk about changing our Land Development Code (LDC) to better control the type of residential building allowed here for years, yet nothing happens. A whole lotta talk and no action.

Said plainly, our LDC allows those big new homes and will continue to do so until the island is full of them unless the LDC is changed.


The “Box”

The LDC specifies single-family residential setbacks of 25 feet from the street, 7.5 feet from the sides of the lot and either 20 or 25 feet from the rear lot line depending on whether the lot is on water or not. The structure can be 3 stories or 25 feet above Base Flood Elevation. The main structure can cover up to 40% of the lot. That is the “box” in which new homes can be built. Most new homes fill that box and the LDC allows them to fill it.

Last month the LPA approved a change in these rules — a neighborhood flooding ordinance that would impose a limit of 67% of impervious surface on new residential construction. That would include house, pool, accessory structures, driveway, sidewalks, etc. Town Council has not yet weighed in on the proposed ordinance. This change won’t do much for the overall size of a home or its style, but is aimed at addressing water run off from new construction.

As for what our Town looks like going forward, we’ve said in this space for years that if the Town wants to control what new construction and redevelopment looks like, they need to do something about the Land Development Code. Things like setbacks, allowable heights and view corridors are just a few of the areas where the Town could establish guidelines that affect the look and feel of our Town. It’s our LDC; let’s specify what we want new construction to look like. What we are getting now is exactly what our LDC allows. We can’t complain when people follow the rules we’ve set. We need to change the rules if we want a different result.

If we continue to fail to make those changes, new construction will continue to fill the “box” and in another 10 years, we’ll all look back and wonder why we didn’t address LDC changes sooner.

Missy Layfield