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County Commissioners approve rezoning to allow Bay Harbour project

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Jun 17, 2020

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Wednesday to allow the rezoning of land on Main Street in San Carlos Island into a mixed use planned development which will allow the Bay Harbour project to go forward. The developers have proposed 75 residential units, including multi-family apartments with a 100-foot high building to go along with a marina, boat barn and commercial space.

There was more than two hours of public comment regarding the proposal on Wednesday morning. The commissioners had rejected the project twice before in different forms for the property that currently houses Southern Comfort Self Storage.

The development is headed by Chicago-based Jack Mayher and locally-based Nick Ruland. The development was the subject of a FLUEDRA hearing (type of non-binding mediation) where the developer’s attorney Russell Schropp and staff from the county attorney’s office and planning office worked out a compromise to reduce the density of the project. The mediation resulted in the number of residential units dropping from 113 to 75.

Some neighbors argued that the project would make traffic problems worse in an area that is near the busy intersection of San Carlos Boulevard at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. Opponents also argued that the commissioners were extending zoning code changes which violated their property rights and gave the developers preferential treatment.

The project, which has been floated for years, has the support of several local realtors. Paula Kiker, a realtor, said the project would “breathe new life into the area.” Kiker said the project would improve the property values on San Carlos Island. “We all suffer from those woes of traffic and congestion but who are we to deny others to have their own piece of paradise?”

Commissioner Frank Mann was the lone vote against the rezoning. Voting in favor were Chairman Brian Hamman, commissioners John Manning, Cecil Pendergrass and Ray Sandelli.

Bill Semmer, a local businessman and resident, said he objected to the density of the project and the agreement through the FLUEDRA hearing to allow the developer to escape a 25-foot setback requirement from the water. As part of the deal, the townhomes can be built 13.5 feet from the water. “I would appreciate it if you follow your own rules and regulations,” Semmer said to the commissioners.

Pendergrass said he supported the project based on the concessions made by the county and developer. “I understand there is some pain with some changes on the island but we see redevelopment coming here,” Pendergrass said.

Hamman said he felt badly about the project pitting “neighbor versus neighbor.” The chairman said one of the reasons he supported the development are the street improvements which are supposed to occur on Main Street that will be funded by the developer. “It is an area that certainly is crying out for redevelopment and revitalization and is a gateway to probably our biggest tourist attraction,” he said.

Before the deviations were approved by the commissioners, the residential building would have only been allowed to be 35-feet-high. Former Fort Myers Beach Mayor Tracey Gore said the height should be reduced back to 65 feet, which had support previously. In 2016, the height was proposed at 175 feet which was lowered to 145 feet.

Nicholas White, who lives on San Carlos Island, was among those who spoke against the deviations being considered by the commissioners. “The land development code doesn’t say anything that makes my business better is legal,” he said.

Charlie Whitehead said that he could cite all of the Lee County planning policies the project violates but that has been cited already to the county by previous hearing examiners. “You know that stacking additional residential units in a hurricane zone at the end of the most crowded road in the county is a bad idea,” Whitehead said.

The project’s planned marina would have 286 dry slips and 29 wet slips along with 20,000 square feet of civic space. There would be commercial, office, retail, warehouse and storage uses.

Mayher said after the meeting that he expected the county’s approval process for final design and construction to take between six and nine months before the developers could proceed further. “We’re going to be good neighbors,” Mayher said. “We know some people don’t agree with that. We’re excited to be a great neighbor to all of them.”

The developers had initiated a Bert J. Harris lawsuit against the county which led Mann to state during Wednesday’s hearing that he felt like he had a “loaded gun pointed at me while I’m trying to make an objective assessment about what’s been proposed here.”

Mann said “this is the worst road in Lee County,” referring to San Carlos Boulevard and the traffic that builds up during the winter months. He said the development would exacerbate the traffic issue. “I feel it is a punishment to the good people that live down there and I can’t support it.”

Commissioner Ray Sandelli, whose district encompasses San Carlos Island, said “there has been some good-faith compromise here on everybody’s part.”

Joanne Semmer said the development would substantially increase traffic, which she feared would lead to more accidents at the intersection.