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Commission to determine fate of farm worker housing

By Staff | Feb 6, 2009

During its regular meeting on Feb. 10, the Lee County Commission is expected that to render its final decision on the fate of a proposed farm worker housing project on Pine Island.

Next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., the commissioners will meet to address the most recent recommendation for the Palms of Pine Island project owned by Russell Weintraub. The meeting will take place at the commission chambers in the old county courthouse on Monroe Street in Fort Myers.

In April of 2008, the project was brought to a public hearing where testimony was provided by more than 100 island residents who opposed the farm worker housing project which had been proposed for a location in Bokeelia. Many of the residents shared concerns with regard to traffic safety issues, and the additional burden it would place on Pine Island Elementary school, the additional traffic traveling over the aging Matlacha bridge and suggested that it would be harmful to the local environment.

After having listened to two days of testimony, the hearing examiner, Diana Parker, found several reasons to reject the applicant’s request for the construction of the housing development of 62 units to be located south of Alcorn Street on Stringfellow Road.

Saying the hearing examiners findings were unreasonable, representatives of the project exercised a state law that allows for another review by the county, and the case was brought before a special magistrate in October of 2008. Again, more than 100 island residents testified before the magistrate. The magistrate overturned the hearing examiner’s decision and the final decision now rests with the BOCC.

The Palms of Pine Island project calls for six two-story buildings with 32 two-bedroom units and 32 three-bedroom units. In addition, the plan proposes a club house, common area and parking for 152 vehicles. During the first phase of the housing project, Palms of Pine Island could house a minimum of 320 occupants. When and if the second phase is approved, it would raise the total occupancy to a projected 640 people.

Speaking on behalf of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association will be island resident Phil Buchanan.

“I know a lot of people on Pine Island are really upset about the special magistrate’s opinion, but it is very important to remember that his opinion is not a reversal of the Hearing Examiner’s denial for authority to build the apartments,” Buchanan said. “The Special Magistrate’s opinion is in reality nothing but a recommendation to the county commissioners that they reverse the hearing examiner, even though the hearing examiner’s opinion, under county law, was final.”

Buchanan went on to say, “I think Pine Islanders need to attend the public hearing on Feb. 10 and they need to remind the county commissioners of all the excellent reasons listed by the hearing examiner’s opinion why this project was denied, all of which are still valid and not even addressed by the special magistrate. If a lot of Pine Islanders do that, I have no doubt that the county commissioners will reject the special magistrate recommendation.”

A televised live broad cast of the BOCC Tuesday morning meeting will begin at 8 a.m. on Feb. 10 on LeeTV Comcast Cable channel 97.