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Zemel land use reclassification questioned

By Staff | Nov 22, 2008

The state’s Department of Community Affairs this week presented Cape Coral with another hurdle to jump before the city can move ahead with plans to allow development on the Zemel property.

The department asked for more specific information on how development will affect the sensitive wetland areas nearby when it responded to the city’s request to change the land’s use from open wetlands to mixed use preserve to allow for some commercial development of the recently annexed sites off Burt Store Road.

“Their No. 1 issue is environmental. They wanted to make sure we were providing those areas with the appropriate buffers,” Assistant City Manager Carl Schwing said Friday.

Besides the possible affects on wetlands, the DCA also wants to know how development would affect road capacity, utility needs, and address urban sprawl.

While areas would be set aside for preservation, a minimum of 80 percent of the area designated for possible development would be designated for commercial development with 20 percent set aside for residential under the city’s plan.

Areas that are not preplatted are at a premium in Cape Coral as the city tries to bring in businesses and reduce its reliance on residential property taxes during the current housing crisis.

“This whole effort is part of a strategy to balance the city’s land uses,” Schwing said.

Cape Coral annexed the 1,100-acre property two years ago from Lee County, but the county objected to its proposed use for the site and filed a lawsuit in a failed attempt to prevent the annexation.

Schwing said the city is already in the process of responding to the DCA’s requests.

“We anticipated the letter would go that way. We’ve got an answer for quite a few of these things,” said Schwing, who added that the issue could come before city council members for their approval as early as January.

Mayor Jim Burch is hoping the city will be able to develop the lands without impacting the wetlands.

“The Zemel property presents a lot of opportunities but also we need to be good stewards of that land,” he said.