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Commercial impact: Cape may have a long wait to see impact of land use changes, experts say

By Staff | Mar 6, 2010

Proposed changes in land use would change the values and so the taxes paid on some Cape properties, but it’s unclear as to when, and by how much.
Proponents of the land use changes, specifically from single family residential to commercial activity centers, say homeowners will see property values skyrocket in the coming years as commercial development begins to take hold.
They say, too, that diversifying the city’s tax base will lower the burden on residential tax base, which makes up for 92 percent of all revenue.
With the city still reeling from foreclosures and unemployment, and with much commercial space still vacant, County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said people are going to have to be very patient.
He added that once the city’s tax roll eventually starts to balance out, it is unlikely that millage rates would be lowered, but could level off.
“You could make the argument, long term, that is probably a valid argument. It’s not very realistic in today’s market, but it’s definitely possible,” he said of property values, adding, “But I don’t know any taxing authorities that concentrate on lowering the millage.”
The city’s planning and zoning board has been tackling the land use changes this week, taking public comment and finding ways to tweak the land use changes.
Since the P and Z board doesn’t have final say on the changes — that falls to city council– it’s unknown how many of these tweaks will stick.
Eunice Rofsy, who lives in the Emerald Cove community on Trafalger Parkway, saw the particular land use that would affect her neighborhood fall by the wayside on Friday.
She said that if it hadn’t changed, the possibility of higher property values do little to ease her mind.
“I you lived in a big area with one little house and they wanted to build a great big shopping center, then I could see it,” she said. “We would have nothing to gain by it, not on Trafalger. It’s too much of a gamble.”
Between 2003 – 2009, the city added 3.2 million square feet of commercial space.
The city does not keep figures on how much of that space is occupied.
Local real estate guru Gary Tasman said those future commercial zones are needed for the city.
But for all those people who are thinking a big box store will be in their backyard tomorrow, they won’t have to worry.
“Clearly they don’t have to worry about development any time soon. That will probably fall on their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren,” Tasman said.
The city is making an effort to classify a lot of the changes as commercial activity centers, or CAC’s, to give people who own homes within these areas more protection.
Should damage occur, homeowners are allowed to rebuild, but new home construction would be forbidden.
Christy Vogt, business development coordinator for the city, said that “nine out of 10” times a person would be able to rebuild their home.
However, for people who will be in future commercial professional zones, a homeowner might not be able to rebuild if damage to a home exceeds a certain percentage.
Domenic Cocolicchio, who owns a home in the northwest Cape, said land use changes will probably prevent him from buying future homes in the Cape.
He said his northwest rental property will one day be his retirement home. Currently he resides in Montreal, Quebec.
While he’s not sorry he bought in the Cape, he said the idea of increased property value does little to ease his mind.
“I’ve seen these things in the past, they don’t give you full value,” he said. “They try and squeeze you.”
Commercial and residential land is taxed using the same rate, according to city spokeswoman Connie Barron.
As it stands, there is no Homestead or limit to increase or decrease in value of commercial property.
The truth of the impact all the forthcoming commercial property will have on the tax base is unknown, and might not be for two decades.
For people like Nina Yelvington, president of the Emerald Cove homeowners association, is just thankful that her neighborhood might be exempted from those changes.
“I’m definitely going to vote for Amendment 4,” she said.
Amendment 4, dubbed “Hometown Democracy” would require governments to get voter approval for all land-use changes.
Cape Coral officials are proposing to get the city’s land-use changes approved ahead of that November vote. The city still would need state approval, the current requirement for comprehensive plan changes.