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HEX hears from opponents of Eden Oak project

By Staff | Dec 10, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Master concept plan for the proposed Eden Oak project off of Shell Point Boulevard.

The Lee County Hearing Examiner on Dec. 6 heard from residents regarding a proposed single-family housing development near Shell Point, with environmental advocates arguing how the plan would further destroy the wetlands.

More than a dozen residents issued their objections to Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins to the Eden Oak project near Shell Point, which is planned to be placed on a 306-acre parcel with a maximum 55 single-family homes to be built there.

After the petitioners made their case on Dec. 3 with some citizen input, residents spent nearly two hours presenting their side on Dec. 6, saying that the developers should not be given special treatment regarding a very fragile piece of land.

Michael Armstrong, a 20-year resident, said that as a homebuilder, he had to follow certain restrictions and “treat the environment as an asset, not an impediment.”

“This developer is asking for exceptions and it’s unreasonable. He needs to be held to the rules,” Armstrong said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Parcels associated with and adjacent to the proposed Eden Oak project.

The main witness for the defense was Rae Ann Wessel, natural resource policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who gave a nearly 45-minute summation of her case.

She claimed the project would further erode water quality, would result in the destruction of the mangroves, endanger species such as the smalltooth sawfish and other endangered species and endanger residents seeking to evacuate from storms.

“This project clearly doesn’t meet the requirements that the Lee Comp Plan has for rezoning. It doesn’t meet five of the six basic requirements and in conflict with at least 27 policies, objectives and goals,” Wessel said. “This is far from having any compliance with what the county has laid out.”

The land is currently zoned as Agricultural (AG-2) and will have to be rezoned as Residential Planned Development (RPD).

Robert Pritt, representing Eden Oak LLC, the property owners, cross-examined Wessel, saying she had a conflict of interest as a member of the committee who decides for the county on what lands the county can purchase in its Conservation 20/20 policy, calling it a “Rae Ann Grudge.”

Wessel denied the charge and added that in the next 30 years there is expected to be two feet of sea rise, meaning there will be no access to federal flood insurance or cleanup money. The end game could involve Conservation 20/20.

“The property owner lost money on a previous investment and picked this up at a fire sale price. I don’t expect anyone to build on this property. I think if he gets the entitlement he’ll either flip it or use it to negotiate a higher price for Conservation 20/20,” Wessel said.

The current proposal is to build 55 single-family homesites on 45 acres, with more than 260 acres to be put into conservation, Pritt said. An earlier plan had between 400 and 700 sites planned

The homes will be placed just south of the existing Shell Point community.

Collins scheduled the petitioner’s rebuttal for Jan. 7 at 9 a.m. and, if necessary, Jan. 10 also at 9 a.m.

Collins will issue a report and her recommendations after to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, which will take up the case and make the final decision. Only those who spoke at the HEX meeting will be allowed to speak at the BOCC hearing.