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Mound Key: annexing may require purchasing

December 24, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Town officials are exploring ways to gain development rights of the only privately owned property on Mound Key for annexation purposes of the entire island. If they deem it financially fit in a payback method in helping some Beach residents save money regarding the FEMA rating system, purchasing the plot may be a possibility.

At its most recent workshop and meeting, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council discussed the issue to see if the idea is worth the risk. Mound Key is comprised of 100 acres with 10 parcels on the island. The state of Florida owns nine parcels, while the remaining parcel has been owned by the McGee family since 1914.

Town officials have previously discussed a possible annexation of that particular island in Estero Bay and other smaller Back Bay islands in order "to gain greater positive points in the open category" in the points system of the Community Rating System program. Council approved to go forward in seeking permission for a pre-annexation of the island, and will continue negotiations with the McGee family to see if an agreement can be reached.

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The 100-acre island in the Back Bay is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians when the Spaniards first attempted to colonize Southwest Florida in 1566.

Beach Mayor Alan Mandel said the negotiations do not necessarily mean purchasing the McGee plot.

"We've held meetings (with the McGees) to outline what each side would like to have," he said. "That's been reviewed with Council. The next step is to get with the McGees to see if a pre-annexation agreement can be reached, which then would be sent to the state. From our side, everything in that agreement would have to contingent upon the state agreeing to the annexation."

There have been talks with Florida state lands officials to learn more about the process, but no applications have gone through yet.

"Our attorneys have talked to different people at the state level," said Mandel. "The purpose is to bring up the idea and let them know how we would use the property."

If annexation happened, Council consensual use for that Mound Key plot and the state-owned land would be a passive park. Bathroom facilities may be added. Development is not in the cards.

"The agreement would prohibit development and lock it as a passive park," said Mandel. "We are considering the McGees to have development rights, which they can use in the Town as opposed to out on Mound Key.

"That island and other outer islands add to our land mass and (that could help) FEMA rates to come down. It would only make sense to buy the property if the state would allow the Town to annex the property on a voluntary basis."

State officials have tried to purchase the McGee property for a number of years, but have not been successful. The offer has been $400,000, but the selling price was set at roughly $2.5 million. According to Town documents, the McGee trust would be interested in selling the parcel if the parcel could remain a park bearing the family name.

On a scale of 1-10, the No. 1 class is the best rating to possess within the FEMA rating system, which has a 500-point threshold for each class. The Town currently sits in the classification of 7, but at 492.08 points, is close to improve to a 6. With the annexation of Mound Key and other islands, that could push the Town half way to a 5. In any way, there are no guarantees.

At first, the improvement between each point was reported to have the potential to collectively save the Beach property owners who have active flood insurance policies roughly $500,000 annually on flood insurance premiums. That number would greatly improve the CRS rating and help in lowering it.

After further discussion, the calculations was noted as "incorrect" and reconfigured to be roughly $135,000 in annual savings in property owners' flood insurance premiums.

"We all have to be comfortable with what is the potential savings for the Town," said Mandel.

"Freeboarding" is another method that was discussed and cited to possibly help lower the CRS classification. That would be worth 100 points or 20 percent of a point.

"Right now, you have to build a property to the minimum base flood level," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "If you were to pass a rule that says there must be two feet minimum freeboard, that means you have to build two feet above whatever the base flood elevation is. You can get a certain number of points from that. It doesn't cost the Town any money, but it would cost whoever is going to build a fare amount of additional dollars."

However, minimum base flood levels could change, says Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel.

Mound Key, which boasts an archaeological state park without facilities, is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians when the Spaniards first attempted to colonize Southwest Florida in 1566. There is a connection with Fort Myers Beach via Mound House, which sits on an ancient Calusa Indian Mound. Officials would like to expand paddle tours from Mound House to Mound Key via the Calusa Blueway Trail.

Councilman Bob Raymond does not want to spend money towards the parcel purchase. The rating system is not a constant and could be changed in the future.

"We are spending enough money on enough things now," he said. "I can't see us spending another pile of money to buy another thing that may give us some money off from insurance."

Negotiations were approved to proceed, though.

"There are cultural reasons, but all we are asking is the ability to negotiate with (the McGees)," said Mandel.



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