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County commissioners vote to adopt Captiva building height amendment

By Staff | Oct 6, 2011

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Board of Lee County Commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt Captiva Island’s building height amendment to the Lee Plan.

Height restrictions, enacted in the 1990s, capped building heights at 42 feet above “mean sea level” or 35 feet above the “average grade of the lot.” This language was adopted in reaction to concerns about towering homes being built on the island, and in an effort to strengthen existing height regulations under a uniform cap.

“”It has been tough to balance both the character of the island and the needs of Captiva’s property owners,” said Ken Gooderham. “That is what (the amendment) was really about not allowing big structures, but giving flexibility for nice structures and the ability to build back.”

Under the new language, which includes the previous restrictions, structures can not exceed the least restrictive of the two following options:

a. 35 feet above the average grade of the lot in questions or 42 feet above mean se level measured to the peak of the roof, whichever is lower; or

b. 28 feet above the lowest horizontal member at or below the lawful base flood elevation measured to the mean level between eaves and ridge in the case of gable, hip and gambrel roofs. If lowest horizontal member is set above the base flood elevation the 28-foot measurement will be measured starting from the base flood elevation.

The “new” option ‘b’ in the newly adopted amendment will, in essence, tie the maximum building heights to governmental regulations, such as the base flood elevation requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, the “old” option ‘a’ remains in the policy to relieve restrictions on properties in certain FEMA flood zones, according to the staff report.

“I was very pleased that they voted in favor of the height changes,” said Sandy Stilwell, president of the Captiva Community Panel. “(The change) will allow adequate sloping of roof lines and people will not have to design houses with flat roofs. It will also allow a more ‘cottage’ design.”

Since height restrictions were based on either the height above mean sea level or the average grade of the lot, areas with the higher base flood elevation requirement were forced to squeeze the distance between floors or between second floors and ceilings. This resulted in ceiling heights, usually on second floors, being cramped or architectural elements, such as rooflines, that were flattened or eliminated.

At nearly two dozen meetings and workshops held from June 2009 to April, the CCP offered island property owners background on building heights and the impact of various base flood elevation changes. There were also a number of drafts to provoke discussion and refinement through public input and interaction. In addition, Lee County staff worked with residents of Captiva Island, as well as members of the CCP, to finalize the proposed and ultimately adopted amendment to the Lee Plan.

“I believe the dialog was good,” said Stilwell about some concerns proposed by the Captiva Civic Association during the final BOCC hearing. “Both sides made very good presentations.I do feel that we gave everybody the opportunity to go to workshops and learn about the proposed change.”

The initial inclusion of height restrictions in the Lee Plan showed the commitment of Captiva Island’s residents to maintain low-rise structures without the option for variance. Since the initiation of this amendment to the Lee Plan during the 2009-10 season, CCP worked to maintain that commitment a difficult balance, according to Gooderham.

“I thought it was a good process because changes arose from discussions and the amendment was clarified better with more practical language,” he said.

CCP’s plans moving forward will be discussed at the next meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 11 in the Wakefield Room at ‘Tween Waters Inn.

“We encourage all to attend,” said Stilwell.