County holds Woodstock Airport hearing
A public hearing was held before the Lee County Chief Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins last Thursday morning re-garding a proposed zoning change for Woodstock Airport on Pine Island from “Agricultural” to “Community Facilities.”
The zoning change is necessary to allow Lee County Mosquito Control Division helicopters to use the airport. LCMCD has a purchase contract pending on the property contingent on the zoning change.
About 65 homeowners from Pine Island were in attendance while Russell Schropp, the attorney representing the Lee County Mosquito Control District, outlined the case for the zoning change.
According to Schropp, if the zoning change is approved, the new location will reduce “transition flights” 75 percent at a cost savings of more than $250,000 in the first two years, improve operational reach by 76 percent and facilitate the closure of two existing facilities.
Currently the LCMCD helicopters that service Pine Island and surrounding areas, including western Cape Coral, use Buckingham Field in Fort Myers as a base of operations.
Ken Gallander, architect for Morris Depew, detailed how the area surrounding the airport has changed since the 1970s. Showing a satellite photo from 1977, there were very few homes surrounding the airport, but a current satellite photo shows numerous homes have been built in the last 30-plus years.
Of the 65 homeowners present, 40-plus filled out the Public Participation Form to speak at the hearing. Many speakers repeated concerns about excessive noise, the effects of hurricane storm surge and storage of dangerous chemicals, the additions of lighting and fencing and the effect on property values.
Will Peratino’s 5 acres of land runs parallel to, and borders the length of the airport property. Peratino spent 3 years looking for just the right property at the end of a secluded dead end road. For 21 years, Peratino worked for the Smithsonian National Zoo and as a hobby cares for endangered species parrots.
“What isn’t shown on these maps is a 30-foot wide by 100-foot pole barn that houses 216 endangered species of Parrots,” Peratino said. “Any helicopter going over this pole barn, the steel roof would be like beating a drum. These are wild birds, not pets. If this goes through I’ll have to stop my activities. No one envisioned this would ever become a heliport. In the last 2 years I’ve invested almost $700,000 in this property and I don’t think it’s any stretch to assume that if this zoning change is approved, my property values will go in the toilet.”
Debbie Memoli lives on Woodstock Road within 100 feet of the end of the runway. She played an audio clip of a Mosquito Control helicopter landing at the Industrial Park several weeks ago.
“My husband and I own Uniscape Landscape Design and one of our selling tools is to bring customers into our home where our business office is also located,” Memoli said. “You can imagine while trying to work with customers the noise of helicopters. This airport will put our company out of business.”
Claudia Bringe lives on Pine Island across Stringfellow Road and became involved because she was asked to moderate the June 27 meeting at the fire house.
“At that meeting, during Attorney Tina Ekblad’s presentation, when Ms. Ekblad was referring to the use of the property, she kept saying ‘at this time’ and my antennae went up,” Bringe said. “As the public asked questions, the information kept changing and we learned that they could be refueling every 15 minutes, which is a far cry from what we were told was going to happen.”
Bringe went home and conducted online research of Mosquito Control Commissioners meeting minutes. During meetings between June of 2016 and August 2017, commissioners discussed stationing Huey Helicopters at Woodstock, many more mosquito control helicopters and the extension of the runway into environmentally sensitive lands.
“The Mosquito Control says that in 10 years they’re going to save $10.4 million,” Bringe said. “Well the property costs $1.5 million so we can negate that. The ‘CS’ zoning scares the heck out of me. Once the CS zoning is approved they can do whatever they want with the property.”
Sharon Perkins lives near the St. James heliport Mosquito Control plans to close.
“I would like to say that 50 percent of the island population lives in St. James City and if the south heliport that EMS uses is closed it’s going to cause excessive transportation difficulties to get people off the island in cases of heart attacks, strokes and major accidents.”
The Woodstock Airport property, located east of Stringfellow Road, at the end of Woodstock Road, consists of 33 acres that includes an airstrip known as Woodstock Airport, a house and several outbuildings. The property has been zoned Agricultural since the 1970s.
Hearing Examiner Collins outlined the zoning change process. Zoning classification change cases appear first before the Hearing Examiner where the applicant makes a presentation followed by input from the public. That information is assembled and the Hearing Examiner makes a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The BOCC makes the final decision whether the zoning change is approved or denied. The Hearing Examiner will make her recommendation to BOCC in about 30 days.