County to address Pine Island Plan
A record turnout attended a town hall meeting this week to rally behind the Pine Island Plan.
“We do care about the island, the animals, the clean water and we care about the people,” Greater Pine Island Civic Association Vice President Kathy Malone said. “We are a family. We come together when we need to. We are all on the same page on this issue.”
Greater Pine Island Civic Association President Roger Wood said the attendance for the Monday, March 9, town hall meeting was huge. He said after counting 565 people it became hard to keep track because people were standing outside the doors, in the parking lot and out towards the street.
“It was a huge turnout,” Wood said. “There are a lot of people concerned about this issue on Pine Island.”
The meeting was held because the Lee County Board of County Commissioners is expected to vote on Tuesday, March 17, on whether to hire a Tampa law firm to rewrite the Pine Island Plan.
Phil Buchanan, pro bono consultant for the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, said the reason he was given for the Pine Island Plan change is because it would be difficult to defend it against “Bert Harris claims.” He said the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act became effective on May 11, 1995.
Buchanan maintains the act is not retroactive, and so does not apply to the 810 and 910 rules enacted in 1988.
“The Act provides protection to landowners over and above the provisions of the United States Constitution and is unique to Florida,” he said. “My personal view of the act is that (it) does a reasonable job of legislating fairness to landowners. It provides payment for damages if a government agency ‘inordinately burdens’ an ‘existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of a real property.’ The act does not prevent good land planning or force communities such as Pine Island to accept more development than the island can absorb. In my opinion, there is no need to for local governments to panic when presented with Bert Harris claims.
Buchanan said the Pine Island Plan was authored by Dr. Gene Boyd and Dr. Ellie Boyd, who also were founders of the Smart Growth Program in Lee County, in the late 1980s. The 810 and 910 rules were created in 1988 and restricted future development.
“The 810 rule restricted rezonings to commercial when the traffic count through Matlacha reached 810 peak hours annual average two-way trips, if the zoning would result in more traffic through Matlacha,” Buchanan said. “The 910 rule restricted, essentially prohibited, new residential development orders when the traffic count through Matlacha reached 910 peak hour annual average two-way trips.”
In 2000, the 810 milestone was met, according to Buchanan, adding in 2001-2002, the Lee County Attorney’s Office said they could not defend a moratorium on development orders before the 910 milestone was met. In 2003, Lee County accepted a change to the 910 rule with a sliding scale.
The Pine Island Agricultural and Landowners Association brought a Florida Chapter 120 action against the plan changes in 2002.
Buchanan said although the 910 milestone was met in 2003, the traffic count was not published and released until March 14, 2006 when the Board of County Commissioners publically recognized the count had been exceeded following a lengthy hearing.
The Pine Island Plan became effective on Dec. 24, 2004 and the Chapter 120 action was withdrawn.
The 810 and 910 rules have been implemented since 2006.
Buchanan, along with Noel Andress and Bill Spikowski, met with Commissioner John Manning, County Attorney Richard Wesch, Supervising County Attorney Michael Jacob, County contact attorney Jeff Hinds and contract Planer Alexis Crespo on Tuesday, March 10.
He said he shared with all of them that the announcement of replacing the 910 rule with “something like one house per acre,” was disturbing.
“All of them assured me that they would proffer provisions that would adequately replace the 910 rule,” Buchanan said.
Wood said safety is the biggest concern regarding changes to the Pine Island Plan.
“Increased traffic from significantly improved density would make it unsafe to evacuate the island,” he said. “Higher density and development would change the whole character of the island.”
Malone said the island is pretty isolated, which causes concern about public safety.
Wood said increased traffic would cause issues to the existing highways and roads. He said another bridge to Pine Island would be an astronomical cost, as well as adding extra lanes to Stringfellow Road.
Another issue, according to Wood, is that the county did not get input from Pine Islanders.
“We should have been involved in the selection of an attorney to defend the Pine Island Plan,” he said.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners will meet on Tuesday, March 17, at 9:30 a.m.
“The main purpose of the meeting was to get people to show up at the Lee County Commissioner chambers,” Wood said.
The address is 2120 Main Street, Fort Myers.