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Cape to reconsider Matlacha parcels annexation

By Staff | Dec 5, 2019

The first city mention of the Matlacha lots on which the D&D Bait and Tackle Shop is located took place when John Sullivan was mayor and the controversy wasn’t about the property being incorporated into the city of Cape Coral.

The issue was, rather, whether the city should, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, spend more than $13 million on a foreclosure land buy that included the 5-plus acre site.

On Monday, the annexation of the city-owned property at the entrance to Matlacha will once again take center stage during the final regular meeting of the Cape Coral City Council for 2019 set for 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The city has initiated a voluntary annexation of the six properties it owns in unincorporated Lee County. This includes the site where D&D is as well as land to the east. The annexation of the 5.37 acres would allow the city to have development authority over its own property.

Mayor Joe Coviello said Cape Coral has no desire to sell the property to a developer, despite what some people have said on social media to stoke the fears of Matlacha residents.

“We’re not looking to put condos or housing there. We want to make the existing boat ramp that’s there more usable and nicer,” Coviello said. “Those who are against it have their own agenda. There’s so much misinformation swirling around. But we own the property and we want to develop it under the rules and regulations of Cape Coral.”

Coviello said the city could explore developing under the rules of the county so there can be a nice facility for boaters while adding a restaurant and maintaining the bait shop, though perhaps at a different location.

Indeed, the first time the city attempted annexation, a plan was unveiled that included more boat slips, increased parking, more access points to the water, a potential public-private partnership, or “P3,” for a restaurant, more and better boat ramps and other amenities.

The city bought the property on Pine Island Road NW in April 2012 as part of a large 652-acre, $13-million land deal, that also included the waterfront Seven Islands in the northwest Cape. At the time, the deal, which was funded with stormwater money, was heavily criticized by residents who believed it was a frivolous way to spend tax dollars.

While the purchase today looks like a steal, controversy has shifted to the Matlacha property and the years of wrangling over who should decide its fate.

The City Council adopted Ordinance 57-16 on Dec. 12, 2016 to voluntarily annex the property into Cape Coral by a 4-3 vote. Current council members Jessica Cosden and Rick Williams voted against the measure, as did former council member Richard Leon.

The annexation was challenged in 2017 and on Sept. 12, the 20th Circuit Court invalidated the annexation ordinance, saying the city did not follow proper procedure in the annexation process.

The City Council subsequently directed staff to move forward to annex the properties again into Cape Coral.

Cape Coral and Matlacha had met to attempt to reach a settlement. According to Carl Deigert, president of the Matlacha Civic Association, the city tried to assure them their new PUD zoning (Public Use Designation) would guarantee the plan it had originally proposed.

“They would not guarantee they would not seek properties to the west of the parcels. I proposed an easement between the properties and Miceli’s Restaurant to break the continuity,” Deigert said. “We also said any negotiations would be contingent on replacement of the Ceitus Barrier that continues to pollute Matlacha Pass daily.”

The city maintains the property has the necessary connectivity, according to both the staff report and the Depew Annexation Report and, while it does not eliminate enclaves, the deal won’t create them, which is prohibited by state statute.

The staff report states that the future use of the land is undetermined. However, the waterfront nature of the properties provides development options in the future.

Matlacha residents continue to be opposed to the annexation, claiming it would further snarl traffic on Pine Island Road and on the waterways, impact the natural habitat and destroy the rural, natural feel of the area.

Some are even worried that the parcel would become another Seven Islands, with the possibility of a resort or a high-rise ultimately being built there.

“We’re not necessarily against development on the lot, but Cape Coral has not revealed their plans. The owner is also the one who makes the rules and change the zoning at will,” Deigert said. “The impetus for Cape Coral’s development for that property is to enhance the Seven Islands project.”

Deigert said Matlacha will continue its attempt to defeat annexation if Council votes to try again.

“The judge ruled in our favor, but the city of Cape Coral refuses to accept no for an answer. We have decided to continue our fight to prevent the annexation,” Deigert said. “We’re not taking no for an answer, either. We’re going to win. We did it before.”

Michael Hannon, who represents a group of residents opposed in Matlacha, said his side will have the support from the Matlacha Pine Island Fire District, which chose to reach an agreement with the city the first time around.

“We were disappointed in that, but now they’ve learned their lesson and aren’t willing to do business with Cape Coral,” Hannon said. “We can’t trust them, and we were told a number of lies the last time we met with them.”

Hannon said the city’s ability to provide municipal services to the area wasn’t truthful, nor was the claim that the Matlacha Pine Island Fire District would provide fire services to the lots through an interlocal agreement, which the district subsequently has declared null and void.

Coviello said it’s part of a misinformation campaign and called it a shame that both parties can’t get together and discuss that and convince them of the opportunity to give more people access to the water.

“My intention is that we’re a boating community and a lot of people live on the water and others who have boats on a trailer. They can launch their boats at that location,” Coviello said. “It would be safer, we would have breakwaters and designs to make it better.”

Hannon challenges the city to put the mayor’s stated position in writing. He said under the new PUD, the city would have the ability to sell the property to a developer with a density of double what is currently permitted, with unrestricted height.

“What the mayor says and $6 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks,” Hannon said. “Put it in writing, which they have avoided doing. It’s a bait and switch.”

Deigert said that it isn’t just Matlacha he’s trying to protect.

“What Cape Coral doesn’t understand is that by protecting our waters, we’re protecting theirs. We’re fighting for the benefit of all Lee County,” Deigert said.

City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

Have an opinion: Take the poll here on the Cape Coral Breeze website under Opinion, Polls: www.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com/page/polls.detail/id/590/Should-Cape-Coral-again-attempt-to-make-land-it-owns-outside-the-city-limits-in-Matlacha-part-of-the-Cape-.html