Former mayor lauds zoning, land use changes
When Joe Mazurkiewicz served as Cape Coral’s mayor, he inherited a citywide zoning and land use map that was a mess.
But finally, new land use and zoning changes on the horizon represent an opportunity for the city to be “fast, fair and predictable” with its development, even if there are some in the city who oppose the changes.
City staff has been working to update its zoning regulations by eliminating some, adding others, and making it so development doesn’t occur it doesn’t belong.
It wasn’t always like this, Mazurkiewicz said during the monthly Cape Coral Construction Industry Association dinner meeting held at the Westin last week.
In the 1970s, the city’s zoning department was essentially a map that hung on the wall with stick-on notes telling where the zoning changes would be. Essentially, the city was designed to build “1,500-square-foot homes on a 10,000-square-foot lot,” Mazurkiewicz said.
While Mazurkiewicz was mayor, the city redid the zoning map. The IT department created two large city maps, and the zoning department drew by hand, in colored pencils, each parcel and how they would be zoned and the land use map.
“They had development on major corridors, two hospital sites, schools, everything,” Mazurkiewicz said. “We sent it to the state and they rejected it, saying we were creating urban sprawl. They said we didn’t have the utilities, or the population.”
This made three-fourths of the city unbuildable. Eventually they negotiated a concept that essentially made most of the city designated for housing, the basis of the land use map in existence today.
Mazurkiewicz said today’s pending zoning and land use changes have him really excited, as they fix the zoning and the mistakes made in the past.
“This will take the entire 120 square miles with very limited exceptions and the land use will meet the zoning,” Mazurkiewicz said. “It reduces the number of zoning categories and eliminates the PDP process.”
This means if a property owner wants to do an urban development where it is designated, they will have “by right” the ability to do it. Gone will be the days when developers would have to wait 120 days without a guarantee of a public hearing. It will be a 30-day review of site plans, go vertical in 60, by right.
“The ability to develop non-residential development without a public hearing. That has not been possible except in a few limited conditions,” Mazurkiewicz said. “You’ll be able to do that more times than not. You can go vertical without public hearings.”
The Council-approved changes, now pending state review, have their critics.
Residents in some neighborhoods – the “Four Corners” property owners in the area of Beach and Agualinda, and some who live in the area of Old Burnt Store Road – did not like what they were seeing;
“City Council did what it has done for 40 years and did not move those forward. I believe they overreacted and split away the three ordinances that have to be done for this plan to be complete and postponed it to August,” Mazurkiewicz said.
That means the land use map that will be finished in June will not have the overlaying zoning until August. That means parcels within the 9,000-plus acres of land affected cannot be developed without a separate zoning change.
City staff did not do a good job in making city council or the city attorney comfortable with all the changes, with some council members unaware of the changes in their own district, Mazurkiewicz said.
He believes that once all the confusion abates, a perfect storm will develop where everything can get done.
“It doesn’t happen often where you have the right set of regulations with the right elected officials and the right staff to move it along. It’s an exciting time to be in Cape Coral,” Mazurkiewicz said.