by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners, in a public hearing Tuesday, unanimously voted to delay proposed amendments to the Land Development Code, part of which raised alarm in the Captiva and Sanibel communities. A new public hearing was set for Sept. 5.
Under the proposed amendments, building heights would increase on Captiva, and a restriction which caps buildings at two stories would be eliminated. These changes could also lead to South Seas Island Resort potentially becoming exempt from the administrative interpretation governing its low density and building height since 2002.
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 not been shared publicly.
“Today, we are ready to turn the page on the next chapter, the rebuilding of South Seas,” said Timbers CEO Greg Spencer, who spoke first in public comment at the hearing and favorably of the continuance.
Spencer said there has been “confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation” about the resort’s rebuilding plans, and that is “a clear sign” more time is needed for discussion.
“The delay gives ample opportunity for everyone to get on the same page,” said Spencer. “It’s important we are all looking at the facts as they relate to government codes and regulations.”
Captiva does not have a municipal government and relies on the county’s zoning decisions and comprehensive plan. But the island has special protections for building height and density under the Captiva Community Plan within the Lee Plan, and the administrative interpretation.
The Captiva Community Panel, an advisory board to the county, raised serious concerns over the amendments which would alter its building height protections, and pave the way for South Seas resort to request a zoning change which would allow it to build additional units and as high as 75 feet.
Spencer said South Seas has not requested these changes in the ordinance, and is interested in building back a more resilient resort in character with the community.
“To be clear, South Seas has not submitted any formal requests of Lee County asking for a change in height or density for our buildings,” he said. “We have no intention to pursue structures 75 feet in height.”
Spencer said the same holds true for density. “We heard South Seas wants unlimited density and that is simply not true. We are not asking for it nor do we want it,” he said.
When Sanibel became aware of the proposed ordinance, concerns grew quickly over its potential implications to the island and surrounding environment from an increase in density on Captiva and there was a collective call for the BOCC to reject the ordinance.
Sanibel and Captiva also raised concerns over the ordinance appearing on the June 6 BOCC meeting agenda for a hearing without any public input from the potentially impacted communities or without the rebuilding plans from South Seas resort.
“There is no failed process here,” said County Deputy Attorney Michael Jacob.
He explained the county is following the proper process for adopting an ordinance to its Land Development Code, and concerns over future development at the South Seas resort raised by Sanibel and Captiva are more appropriate for a rezoning hearing, not a public hearing for an ordinance amendment.
Jacob also said the county does anticipate the resort asking for a zoning change.
This ordinance, he explained, is intended to help the county’s residents rebuild from the storm by relieving build-back constraints and streamline the county’s building height codes which means altering community plans like the Captiva plan, as well as make the county more resilient. Its effect is county wide.
District 1 Commissioner Kevin Ruane, who represents the islands, said he was not in favor of the amendments as they stand, and encouraged more clarity and transparency on the matter.
“I honestly believe people’s input needs to be a part of this,” he said. “I also believe, in talking with Mr. Spencer, he has unbelievable plans and unbelievable diagrams. He’s anxious to share them with the community and they should see them.”
Ruane has expressed his commitment to holding informational meetings on Captiva and seeking input from an array of stakeholders to refine and better explain possible changes to the LDC before the new public hearing in September.
“I want to be transparent with the community and am confident we can make the necessary adjustments working together collectively,” he concluded.