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Matlacha fends off annexation but now faces question of incorporation

By Staff | Oct 18, 2019

Right now, some people on the unincorporated island of Matlacha may feel like they are in the Steven Seagal movie “Under Siege.” After beating back an annexation attempt by Cape Coral to incorporate prime real estate it purchased on the island, the Matlacha Civic Association is now worried about an attempt by the Greater Pine Island Civic Association to incorporate.

Matlacha Civic Association Secretary Julie Oberlin said her board was “shocked” to learn that another attempt at incorporation was underway by the Greater Pine Island Civic Association. Oberlin said the board is not interested in joining with Pine Island. “We just want to stay the same,” she said.

The board is seriously considering incorporating on its own, said Matlacha Civic Association member Michael Hannon. He believes this would protect the community in future legal fights as well as help raise money.

Hannon said he opposes the Greater Pine Island Civic Association’s latest attempt to incorporate with Matlacha based on “their failure to consult us and the fact that we’ve already told them that our members have no interest in incorporating Pine Island.” The Matlacha Civic Association opposed a previous attempt to incorporate with Pine Island and successfully lobbied its state representatives to oppose the plan. Hannon said the Matlacha Civic Association leadership has also previously notified the Greater Pine Island Civic Association (GPICA) board that it doesn’t represent Matlacha.

The latest plan as outlined by GPICA President Scott Wilkinson would involve a vote by residents in Pine Island and Matlacha but Hannon notes that Matlacha residents are vastly outnumbered by those on Pine Island.

Wilkinson said he supports a vote on the incorporation though he declined to speculate on what would happen if a majority of Pine Island voters were in favor of incorporation and a majority of Matlacha residents opposed the incorporate. “I can’t answer it,” he said.

“I’m surprised that they were shocked,” Wilkinson said of the Matlacha board. “I’m kind of shocked that their shocked. I don’t know where they got the idea that we’ve given up.”

Wilkinson said the incorporation plan was previously put on hold while the annexation fight went through the courts.

“I understand where they are coming from,” he said regarding the Matlacha Civic Association board.

Wilkinson said incorporation would protect residents from Cape Coral attempts to develop in the area in the future and help maintain local control of planning.

Hannon, a retired lawyer who was instrumental in leading the legal fight to halt Cape Coral’s attempts to annex a 5.6 acre parcel in Matlacha, said the association also will be pursuing the next phase of its fight against Cape Coral.

In addition to going after attorney fees (Matlacha Civic Association contracted with two attorney firms), which could be between $60,000 and $130,000, Hannon said the association intends to ask for a court judgment that Cape Coral’s ownership of the 5.6 acres outside its boundaries is unconstitutional and that the city should be forced to sell the property.

“I am fairly confident that is a slam dunk,” he said. “The city can’t buy land outside its boundaries for any reason.”

Hannon said it is possible that a judge could rule that the entire $13 million worth of land purchased by Cape Coral should be voided due to what he considers to be a violation of the state constitution. Hannon said the state constitution prohibits a municipality from engaging in practices that compete with private enterprise.

“It is unfair for them to compete with private individuals,” he said.

“We want them to either adhere to our local ordinances and requirements and be a good neighbor or sell it,” Oberlin said. Oberlin said the board is concerned that Cape Coral could turn the property into a high-rise development.

Oberlin said part of the problem with Cape Coral’s attempted annexation of the land was the mystery behind its intentions.

“It’s a great big secret,” Oberlin said. “What we are all afraid of is a high-density condo (development).”