by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Proposed changes to Lee County’s Land Development Code which pose a threat to the low-rise, low-density ambiance of Captiva Island have sparked serious questions and concerns from many island residents, a collection of organizations and the City of Sanibel.
Under the proposed LDC amendments, building heights would increase to three-story levels on Captiva and potentially lead to building heights from 45 to 75 feet at South Seas Island Resort on the island’s north end.
The elimination of a three-unit-per-acre density restriction inside the resort is among the proposed changes, and no alternate restrictions have been cited.
“The three issues to take into consideration are building heights outside the gates of South Seas, the future development of South Seas and the process (in which these changes have come about),” said Captiva Community Panel Vice President David Mintz.
Mintz was part of a special meeting Monday evening, June 12, hosted by the Captiva Civic Association, which has joined the Panel in opposition to the amendments. The CCA and Panel have also raised questions about the way in which these amendments were officially introduced and limited public input.
“The actions taken by the county were done without consultation from the panel or you, members of our community. In my view, this is a huge shortcoming in the process that has been undertaken,” Panel President Jay Brown said on Monday.
Captiva is an unincorporated area of the county and relies on the county government, although the Captiva Community Panel serves as an advisory board to the county. When the Panel was formed 20 years ago, it developed a Captiva Community Plan as a part of the Lee Plan.
Under that Captiva plan, a public meeting is required when an amendment to the LDC has been proposed. Mintz said it was included as a “guarantee” to avoid what is happening.
The question is were the amendments initiated by the county or South Seas Resort to facilitate its post-storm redevelopment and subverted proper public input.
A county report says these changes are part of its effort to streamline height regulations and relieve build-back constraints from Hurricane Ian and changes to the national flood program.
The varied building height restrictions in different community plans are “difficult to administer and prove problematic” due to a lack of consistency or reasonable certainty to property owners or design professionals, the report states.
The amendments are also intended to increase resiliency and reduce vulnerability to flooding and storm surge, according to the county.
But they have raised serious environmental concerns by conservation partners Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Bailey-Matthew’s National Shell Museum and Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.
“We are very concerned about the impact of these changes on our environment, the character of Captiva, traffic and infrastructure,” said SCCF CEO James Evans, who took part in the meeting Monday evening.
SCCF says these changes would negatively impact hurricane evacuations at the risk of public safety, increase traffic to unsustainable levels, as well as have a direct and negative impact on wildlife habitat and water quality.
They may also jeopardize the current plan to improve water quality with long sought-after installation of a central sewer on Captiva by connecting it to Sanibel’s sewer system, Evans said.
Sanibel City Councilwoman Holly Smith has called a special council meeting out of concern over the impact these proposed amendments to the county’s LDC could have on the quality of life among Sanibel residents. Council will consider taking a position on the matter.
County staff from the Department of Community Development will be in attendance to present information on the proposed amendments, which will have a final public hearing June 20, and they will answer questions. The changes could be approved, denied or continued at the public hearing by the five-member Board of County Commissioners.
The Sanibel City Council special meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14 at BIG ARTS, 900 Dunlop Rd. The public is encouraged to attend, but those who are unable can email their comments to City Clerk Scotty Lynn Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments will be part of the record.
Anyone who wishes to contact the Lee County Board of County Commissioners about these proposed LDC amendments effecting Captiva can reach them by clicking here.
This issue could lead to Captiva community discussions about taking more control of development on the island through incorporation. Mintz said on Monday he is confident people will start talking about it more than ever if issues persist.
“It may be the only way to protect our fragile island, so there must be a conversation within our community,” said Mintz.
The proposed changes to the Lee County Land Development Code would:
Eliminate the three-units-per-acre density restrictions inside South Seas, with no restrictions cited to replace them.
Eliminate the current height restrictions on Captiva (and language in the Lee Plan that references those restrictions). It is replaced in general with restrictions of 35 feet above a distance 12 inches above the average elevation of the adjacent roadways. In areas where development is governed by base flood elevations, height is measured from “the lowest minimum habitable floor elevation for which a building permit may be issued.”
In the Captiva-specific section, South Seas would be exempted from building heights language, with no replacement restrictions stated.
Structures in a coastal high hazard area V-zone could increase both the “lowest minimum habitable floor” and the overall structure by four feet without deviation or variance approval.
South Seas may be seeking a de facto rezoning to Outlying Suburban, which with this new language would allow building heights up to 75 feet “when the applicant demonstrates through a zoning action that the additional height is required to preserve environmentally sensitive land, secure areas of native vegetation and wildlife habitat, or preserve historical, archaeological or scenic resources.”
Remove any reference to the 2002 Administrative Interpretation governing South Seas density and development, and exempts development inside South Seas from LDC Section 33 regulations.
Eliminate the 75% requirement for condominiums to initiate rezoning, special exceptions or variance, replacing it with initiation allowed by the association’s president or manager when authorized by the association board.
The county is also seeking a change in the Lee Plan language affecting Captiva that would eliminate references to building height language in the Land Development Code that was intended to encourage building heights compatible with the “one- and two-story” existing structures. That plan revision will be heard by the county commissioners for potential transmittal to the state at a hearing on Wednesday, June 21, beginning at 9:30 a.m.