by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
The Captiva Community Panel drafted seven resiliency principles in response to proposed changes to Lee County’s Land Development Code which would lead to increased building height and density on the island. The principles (read them here) were approved July 5 in a special meeting of the Panel.
Captiva relies on the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning decisions, but the island has special protections for building height and density under the Captiva Community Plan within the Lee Plan. Under these proposed changes, the island’s special protections would be eliminated to streamline the county’s building height codes and relieve all residents of build-back constraints.
But these changes would increase Captiva’s building height, as well as eliminate a restriction which caps buildings at two stories, and could lead to South Seas Island Resort becoming exempt from the administrative interpretation governing its low density and building height since 2002.
The Captiva Panel, an advisory board to the county, raised serious concerns last month over the proposed changes after the ordinance appeared without much warning on the Board of County Commissioners’ agenda for a public hearing. The Sanibel City Council and a list of environmental organizations joined the Captiva Panel in opposition to the changes.
The City of Sanibel became concerned over the impacts of a density increase on Captiva to its island and infrastructure, since it is the only entry and exit to Captiva. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, along with several of its partners, voiced concerns over the environmental impacts to the surrounding ecosystem by these proposed changes.
Both islands also raised concern over the lack of public input on changes with big impacts to them.
In the final public hearing on June 20, County Deputy Attorney Michael Jacob said the county was following proper procedures for adopting an LDC ordinance, and the concerns raised by both islands were more appropriate for a rezoning hearing instead of a public hearing for an ordinance amendment.
Jacobs also said the county does anticipate South Seas Island Resort to make a zoning change request, which could ultimately lead to it being released from the administrative interpretation. And that would be the time for the resort to share its rebuilding plans with the community as per the comprehensive plan.
South Seas Island Resort is a small gated community on the north end of Captiva. It’s made up of privately-owned homes and condominiums sharing 330 acres with the resort overseen by Timbers Group, which purchased it in September 2021 with two partners.
A year later the resort sustained damage from Hurricane Ian and has been closed since Sept. 28, 2022. Timbers announced in March it would be rebuilding the resort, but specific plans have yet to be shared publicly – another concern raised by the Captiva Panel.
Timbers CEO Greg Spencer spoke first in public comment at the June 20 hearing and said the resort did not request these LDC changes and plans to rebuild the resort will be in keeping with the character of the island community, but did not reveal any specific plans.
The dozen condo and homeowners associations within the South Seas community are also opposed to these changes and want to know more details about the resort’s rebuilding plans.
The BOCC ultimately voted to delay the public hearing to Sept. 5. In the meantime, three public meetings have been scheduled by the county for public input on the proposed changes. Commissioner Kevin Ruane, who represents the islands, along with other county staff will be present at the meetings.
They will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 13 at the Captiva Civic Association, 11550 Chapin Lane; from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2 at BIG ARTS, 900 Dunlop Rd., Sanibel; and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9 in conference room 1B at the Lee County Public Works Building, 1500 Monroe St., Fort Myers.
The next Captiva Community Panel meeting will be at 9 a.m. July 11 via Zoom. Updates on the proposed LDC changes, legal representation for the panel and from island organizations are on the agenda.