Mayher, Whitehead Talk Future
On June 17, the Board of Lee County Commissioners (BoCC) by matching 4 to 1 votes approved a Small Scale Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Zoning change from Industrial to Central Urban for the third version of the proposed Bay Harbour Marina Village development at 2120 Main Street on San Carlos Island, with Commissioner Frank Mann the dissenting vote on each. The Bay Harbour concept that the BoCC accepted is for 75 residential units with the 315 already-approved wet and dry boat slips. It includes a row of 49-foot-high townhouses along the eastern canal, to give the site a graduated look. There is 30,000-square-feet of commercial space, 2.61 acres of open space, no public parking and a 100-foot maximum height.
Prior to the June 17 BoCC approval, two different Lee County Hearing Examiners over the past five years ruled against the first two Bay Harbour proposals, before the BoCC did as well by a 4 to 1 vote on October 23, 2019. The June 17 BoCC action mirrored the recommendation of an independent Special Magistrate mediator from a May 11 hearing between the Bay Harbour developer, Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, along with Lee County Staff and the Lee County Attorney’s Office. The mediator is the final step to determine a compromise before the developer can pursue litigation.
Southern Comfort Storage developers are Jack Mayher and Nick Ruland. The Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) formed in 2016, in large part, to oppose Bay Harbour. The Island Sand Paper recently spoke with Mayher and BACA President Charlie Whitehead about the BoCC approval and what lay ahead for Bay Harbour, San Carlos Island and BACA.
“We were very happy to finally receive BoCC approval; the County Commissioners are astute men so I was cautiously optimistic heading into the June 17 hearing. Bay Harbour is a great plan to begin the regentrification of San Carlos Island and the fact that the majority of the people who addressed the BoCC supported us was a big help. Something needs to be done to help San Carlos Island, as that neighborhood has been deteriorating for the last few decades, from the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge all the way to Summerlin Road, with vacant buildings all along San Carlos Boulevard, and Main Street has not seen any significant redevelopment in 50 years, so the BoCC did the right thing for the vision and future of San Carlos Island. The BoCC previously approved the much larger Ebb Tide development for the southern tip of the island and we will be far less intrusive than that.”
Mayher said that Southern Comfort Storage can “break ground in 9 months to a year! We met earlier this week on-site with our contractor, architect and engineer to prepare for construction. Before we go vertical, we must complete our value engineering and receive approval on that and permitting from Lee County. From groundbreaking to occupancy should be roughly an 18-month window.”
He does not anticipate legal actions from San Carlos Island residents, unlike the Margaritaville Resort on Fort Myers Beach. “Somebody may file a lawsuit, but I hope not. In addition to the fact that we want to be good neighbors and kept an open dialog going with those who are against us, Florida law now says if you do file this type of lawsuit and lose, you not only pay our legal fees but we can recoup damages, so that becomes a big hurdle. I totally sympathize with those who are against Bay Harbour because no one likes change, but areas that do not change with the times end up dying, and you see that all around San Carlos Island.”
Mayher noted that of the 25 people who spoke at the June 17 BoCC meeting, “13 favored the project. Nick and I are BACA members and intend to stay that way. We are not going to sell off Bay Harbour but develop it ourselves as members of the San Carlos Island family. When we received the BoCC approval, Charlie Whitehead and several other BACA members who spoke against us offered congratulations. One of the best aspects of Bay Harbour will be the civic space and open areas, as those are for the entire community and not just our owners, with a beautiful waterfront setting, so that will be a huge benefit to help everyone come together. The bottom line is that Bay Harbour will be a great San Carlos Island neighbor!”
“Coming in to the BoCC June 17 Meeting, I thought the Commissioners would deny Bay Harbour again, until I saw the developers contracted high-powered attorney Bill Moore, who was sitting there in the Chambers. My understanding is that Moore defeated Lee County in a string of Bert Harris Private Property Protection lawsuits on Pine Island and Lee County is gunshy of him, so seeing him there on the Southern Comfort Storage side was a bad sign! Now that the decision has been made in favor of Bay Harbour, neither BACA nor Charlie Whitehead intends to file a lawsuit to halt its construction, as that takes a lot of money, but I hear some individual San Carlos Island residents are investigating that.”
Whitehead observed, “Bay Harbour received three prior rejections, two from Lee County Hearing Examiners and once from the BoCC themselves, yet the system allows them to return time and again with slightly different concepts, where initially they ask for the sun and planets, and end up settling for the moon, so it is set up to approve development projects, while the average citizen has little recourse. Remember that not just in Lee County but in all of Florida, we love development and developers.”
In addition to approving Bay Harbour, the BoCC granted its companion request to change its zoning from Industrial to Central Urban, the most dense in the Lee Plan, and that is Charlie’s biggest concern. “Look up and down San Carlos Boulevard on San Carlos Island and you see a whole bunch of properties that developers are gobbling up and if I were those guys, I would run down to Lee County next week to get Central Urban Zoning as well, so five to ten years from now, you will have nothing but huge high-rise resorts everywhere and I don’t see any way around that! Main Street is just a two-lane road and San Carlos Boulevard is already badly in need of renovation; those are crucial hurricane evacuation routes, so look out!”
After approving Bay Harbour, “the BoCC made vague references about improving San Carlos Island roads,” Whitehead recalled, “but I am not comfortable with their answers. My understanding is the only Main Street improvements will end at Bay Harbour, so we want them to update Main Street by widening and paving it, as well as ensuring it does not flood whenever it rains. Remember that developments like this trickle all the way to Pine Ridge Road that is just a single-lane road as well, with its traffic to substantially increase soon with the Margaritaville sister-project hotel. In season, all of these roads are already a mess!”
Island Needs Louder Voice
As for the question of whether Lee County will update the San Carlos Island Comprehensive Plan on which it had just one meeting to date, well over a year ago, “I asked Lee County staff that at the conclusion of the meeting, and they said they have a heck of a lot going on and ours in not the only community plan without any progress. That may be well-&-good, but this is the only community in which I live!”
Whitehead said he does favor some elements of the approved Bay Harbour project. “The reduction in height from 175 to 100 feet is a major improvement and the tiered ‘wedding cake’ design and increased setbacks are nice. Overall, this third version is far-&-away a better alternative than the first two designs.”
What does Bay Harbour’s approval mean for BACA’s future, as opposing the Marina Village led to its formation and galvanized the organization? “I always try to widen BACA’s focus,” opined Whitehead. “People need to think about San Carlos Island, as we still have many issues. My hope is this becomes a wake-up call to stay active. BACA is not about Charlie Whitehead or Bay Harbour but those who live on San Carlos Island, so they have a voice about what happens to them. I can argue that since Bay Harbour went against us, we not only need that voice but more members so our voice becomes louder, to fight off future threats, to keep San Carlos Island the community we want it to be. Another potential quality of life threat is if we really lose the Island Sand Paper on July 10, because it is hard to be involved if you don’t know what is going on, and the Island Sand Paper did a really decent job of covering this issue!”