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Raising roofs and ruffling feathers

Two San Carlos Island projects move forward.

September 14, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Gulf Star Marina on Fisherman's Wharf will be getting bigger and taller.

In a 3-to-2 vote, Lee County Commissioners approved a rezoning application for the marina which will consolidate its three zoning categories into one and also approved a deviation to allow the boat barn to reach 65 feet tall.

It's been a long time in coming; applicant and owner Carroll Properties LLC applied to rezone the 2.62 acres in 2009. The change keeps the marina at 147 slips, but allows the slips to accommodate bigger boats. The owner said industry standards have prompted them to increase the footprint of the boat barn to stay competitive. The current barn, at 45 feet tall, is nearly 70 years old.

Gulf Star Marina shares the property with Doc Ford's Restaurant and its special events hall. Dixie Fish Co. is owned by Doc Fords but is not within the same property line.

The larger size cuts down on parking, but the applicant claimed to have fixed the problem with an area for valet parking.

The application and approval drew concern from some San Carlos Island residents who don't think the height deviation should have been approved or that the parking was accurately accounted.

Diversified Yacht Service's boat barn is also 65 feet high. Nick White is concerned that now there is precedent for more and more tall buildings.

"If you let one of them do it, then they all want it," he said.

The Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) held a meeting Tuesday to discuss Gulf Star and other area issues. White expressed his discontent that there had been no mention of Dixie Fish Company in the parking discussion, since patrons of that restaurant also park at Doc Fords. However, the applicant was not obligated to include Dixie Fish's parking requirements because the two restaurants are on separate parcels.

"You can't argue that Dixie Fish and Doc Ford's have enough parking," Charlie Whitehead, BACA president, said, adding that Bonita Bill's also didn't have enough parking, either.

Jack Mayher, developer of the Bay Harbour Marina Village project on Main and Oak Street, was ruffled over BACA's concern about the lack of parking for Doc Ford's while at the same time opposing the 500-space parking garage proposed as part of his project. He said he always hears complaints that San Carlos Island has a parking shortage, but some residents vehemently oppose what he considers the solution.

"It baffles me then that you don't want the parking spots in my garage," he said.

Mayher's project, Bay Harbour Marina Village, is a mixed-use development project slated to put 113 residential units, 38 "workforce" units, a marina, a 500 plus-space parking garage and other commercial space on a 7.58-acre piece of land, which now houses Southern Comfort Storage. The project has been underway since 2015; in 2016, the Hearing Examiner recommended denial because the project was too big and too intense for its surroundings and the Lee County Commissioners remanded the project back to staff to work with Mayher. Originally, Bay Harbour inscluded a rezoning and comprehensive amendment request to change the land to accommodate a "central urban" land use. Many island residents staunchly opposed this change, fearing for added density to the island. Earlier this year, Bay Harbour submitted a different amendment to change the land to Destination Resort Mixed Use Water Dependent (DRMUWD). According to the goals of the Lee Plan, this use can be applied to an area "characterized as predominantly impacted by a declining water dependent industry like commercial fishing" - and it's already an approved land use on the island. Ebb Tide, a defunded project that received its rezoning and comprehensive plan amendment approval years ago, uses DRMUWD. EbbTide is a much larger project, but is also located on a larger parcel of land.

However, Bay Harbour developers never withdrew the central urban amendment, leaving two comprehensive amendments on the table with the county. The county said in a letter dated April 18, 2017, that the developers would have to pick one or the other. The project's rezoning application is moving forward and is scheduled for a Lee County Local Planning Agency meeting in October.

Mayher spoke to BACA about what he called "significant" changes to the Bay Harbour application.

The height of the condominium tower was cut back from 175 feet to 145 feet; some units were moved to townhome style housing along the canal; and the building moved to 90 feet back from Main Street.

Mayher often points to EbbTide as a defense for Bay Harbour as it has more living units, more commercial space and more footprint approved than his project.

"I've heard our project is massive and overscale, but 1,000 feet down the road, EbbTide is enormous," he said.

White said the opposition to Mayher's parking garage - of which 250 spaces are claimed to be open to the paying public for beach parking - has more to do with the entirety of the project's impact on the surrounding community. Most of the residential area around Bay Harbour is mobile home communities.

White also opposed the project because while the project isn't increasing the allowed density for its parcel, it would increase the overall number of people on the small island, impacting both traffic on an already overstimulated road and safety in evacuations.

"I believe adding residences in a hurricane zone is stupid planning," he said. "I see the density (currently) on San Carlos Island as mistakes to be avoided."

Another concern is the shift of the culture on San Carlos Island; once a hub of commercial fishing and small mobile homes and cottages, the scene is changing. Larger homes are being built and the fishing community is dwindling.

Some residents, however, are happy to see progress on the island. Margie Titus, a 27-year resident of San Carlos Island, is one of them. She's served in most of the waterfront restaurants on the island.

"I love and support this island, but it's time to recognize changes are coming," she said. "Opposition is natural but unnecessary."

She lives on Oak Street and said the Bay Harbour property as it currently sits is a "an eyesore." While she understands the concerns of her fellow San Carlos islanders, she said it's better accept positive change - especially as that change has already come to the island. She doesn't believe the island's angle as a working waterfront is valid anymore with only two shrimping companies left.

"I'm about change and improvements, and it seems what these people are doing are trying to make nice improvements," she said. "Some of us have been asleep at the wheel and now we have a heightened sense of awareness that our island is changing."



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