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20/20 review of Cape site expected next Thursday

By Staff | Jan 2, 2020

A proposal to have land north of Four Mile Cove be considered for Conservation 20/20 purchase is expected to take place next Thursday.

The Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee is expected to decide at the Jan. 9 session whether the 193 acres that adjoin Four Mile Cove should be considered for acquisition as Conservation 20/20 property.

The scheduled meeting on Dec. 12 was postponed when the county advisory committee failed to reach a quorum to vote, to the dismay of the dozens of advocates who came in support.

Jason Pim, an advocate for the county’s purchase of the property, said there will actually be three meetings next week.

The first to be held at the Community Development/Public Works building at 1500 Monroe St., in Fort Myers is at 4:30 p.m. when the Management Subcommittee meets, with the ranking subcommittee next at 5 p.m. and the full CLASAC meeting following that at 5:30 p.m.

“If there are people who want to speak, they need to be there by at least 5,” Pim said. “The questions we had last time weren’t necessarily answered in regards to scoring. I understand the concerns of the county to take on liability for things that happened out there, I’m not sure they did their due diligence by speaking with the city and DEP.”

Supporters are being asked to come early, as in December many arrived to find the subcommittee that scores the properties for eligibility was already hearing comment from supporters.

Concern from supporters are numerous. First was how the property was scored so low, earning 47 points out of a possible 100. The property was dinged for plant and animal habitat, a lack of wide-ranging species and of rare and unique uplands, among other things.

Cape Coral City Councilmember Jennifer Nelson reached out to the county for the grade sheet and the criteria for the property so she can learn where the property falls short and if the city can do something about it.

“I’m working with the county to see how we can move up on the list. I support it if it falls in the correct criteria and if three commissioners vote to approve it,” Nelson said. “I want to know if the city or residents can do anything to increase that score.”

Some also question how Cape Coral, the largest municipality in Lee County which contibutes somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 percent of tax money into Conservation 20/20, seems to get very little in return.

“We benefit from other things happening elsewhere in the county, but inside city limits we don’t get much,” Pim said. “Nor do we have much representation of the CLASAC committee.”

This has not gotten past Nelson, who hears from her constituents on the bang for their buck they get from the program.

“I asked the county what percentage in revenues comes from Cape Coral. We have more than 188,000 people, so we can make the assumption that the largest portion comes from here,” Nelson said. “Residents argue if most of the money comes from here, how come we can’t have first pick.”

Nelson said her best guess is that the land isn’t panther habitat, though the property is considered prime for manatees, gopher tortoises and burrowing owls.

There was also concern with how the property was disturbed by the city, which the county doesn’t want to have to pay the tab for in order to restore it.

Pim said regardless of the condition, the land needs to be protected from development.

“We want the city to tell the county that it won’t be held liable, that the city will do the restoration,” Pim said. “We want people who support the acquisition to come and show it. This is important for the city and county.”

Calls and e-mails to county officials were not returned.

However, Tim Engstrom, communications specialist with Lee County, said the process works like this:

A team does a site visit – usually it’s County Lands Department and Parks & Recreation (Conservation 20/20) staff. The person who nominates the property also is invited, as are the CLASAC members. They walk the site, complete the form and post their info before the subcommittee and CLASAC then considers it.

The committees then vote to recommend it to the Board for moving forward or recommend the Board not pursue it. Public comment is taken at the subcommittee meeting and at the CLASAC meeting, and at the Board meeting, which is where the parcels go on a regularly scheduled agenda. The Board votes to direct staff to pursue negotiations with the land owner or not.

If passed, county staff works to negotiate and the property comes back to the Board for approval to purchase at its regular meeting.