The small-town character of a small-community island across the bridge from Fort Myers Beach could change with a proposed high-rise development as soon as 2014.
In the future, San Carlos Island may become more populated if Lee County Commissioners approve the Ebtide rezoning project to a development group.
At a continuation of a hearing examiner case last Wednesday, many SCI residents, Beach officials and others gave approving and disapproving views after listening to both County and development officials discuss factors including zoning application specifications and claims of several modified revisions.
San Carlos Island.
The proposed project would involve a destination resort mixed-use redevelopment, one that would bring roughly 271 dwelling units in five condominium towers, 450 hotel rooms, 75,000 square feet of convention center space, 15,000 square feet of general and office space, 85,000 square feet of commercial retail space as well as 608 units of dry storage and 242 wet slips, of which roughly 536 combined units currently exist. In 2009, County commissioners approved a future land use map to pave a way for the project.
At the hearing Wednesday, some residents pressed for it (raised property taxes, improved roads, needed development), while others spoke against it (increased traffic, increased intensity and density, possible flooding issues). It leaves the community divided.
"It will only enhance the island community and raise property taxes and help in maintaining our roads," said Joanne Semmer, longtime resident and SCI Redevelopment District chairman.
"A large-scale development will exasperate traffic on Main Street much like Estero Boulevard," said resident Janet Hladik in reference to the Beach main road congestion during peak times.
One of the conditions of the developers would be to widen Main Street to a Category A road, one that could handle commercial or industrial standards.
"There will be development in San Carlos Island, so let's go with quality. It will make Main Street more aesthetically pleasing," said resident John Keane.
"Widening the street could address safety issues," said Hladik.
Speaking on behalf of the Emily Lane Homeowners Association as its president, resident Charlie Whitehead said that his group is neither against development nor redevelopment of this particular site, but believes the proposal is incompatible with the area.
"The facts of the case are that it is a massive increase in intensity of use at the end of a dead-end street that runs through established residential neighborhoods," he said. "It's a huge increase in density in a coastal area subject to flooding. It represents a huge increase in traffic on a local two-lane road. It also adds traffic to an area that's already as famous for its miles-long traffic jams as its beaches."
At the close of the hearing, Whitehead stated that Hearing Examiner Diana Parker said her hands were pretty-much tied because the Comp Plan amendment that was approved in 2009 was "so detailed and so specifically tailored" for this property and this project that there is "little for her to rule on and no choice but to find the project consistent with the Comp Plan."
"It's our hope she will recommend, and commissioners will approve, conditions that make things better for those of us already living here," he said.
Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel also spoke during public comment and relayed the Beach Council concern about adding traffic to an already congested problem during season.
'When you add more traffic to Estero Boulevard, you add more pedestrian conflict," he said.
It was suggested that if impact fees collected from the proposed project were shared with the Beach, Estero Boulevard could be redeveloped and the traffic impact could be alleviated.
The hearing began on Thursday, Nov. 22. At that time, Beach officials in attendance included Mayor Bob Raymond, Town Attorney Marilyn Miller, Fluegel and Town traffic consultant Jeff Wilson. After listening to the developer's presentation, many expressed their concerns to be put on record.
The hearing examiner is required by county regulations to visit the affected area before she issues a fully written detailed recommendation.
Raymond said he learned that the project has not one development but five. He would like to push the project to the Metropolitan Planning Organization agenda for discussion.
"There is not one project, there are five projects with all independent developers rolled into one," he said at the Council meeting Dec. 3. "These are not condo towers anymore, they will have hotels and sell condos out of the hotels plus time shares. I think there are a lot of major changes that they have made."
When the hearing examiner asked town officials if they had objections to the project at the first session, Raymond stated "it is a totally different town with a totally different government. It's not up to us to make their rules and regulations but, when it comes to traffic and the Back Bay, we are definitely interested, and we will not be quiet."