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Council split on what to do with city-owned site on Matlacha

By Staff | Jan 28, 2020

The Cape Coral City Council split Monday on what to do with acreage the city owns in Matlacha.

While a majority said at the workshop that they wanted to sell the 5-plus acreage site off Pine Island Road, others wanted to keep the waterfront acreage, with a slim possibility of perhaps trying to annex again, any effort that failed a legal challenge in September with Council then deciding against a second attempt.

The city purchased the property in 2012 as part of a $13.5 million multi-acre land-buy. That foreclosure sale also included Seven Islands.

Several people during citizens input Monday night came up in support of the D&D Bait Shop, which has been on the property for more than 20 years.

Jim Kelly said that more than 1,000 people have signed a petition and 340 more have shown their support for D&D, asking the council to consider building a restaurant there as part of a private-public partnership the city planned two years ago, allowing it to remain open.

Others said the boat ramp already there is the most used in the city and that most of those users are Cape residents and not from Matlacha. Still another said those who had protested so loudly against annexation and the planned city park at the December meeting were not representative of a public majority.

During a presentation, Mike Ilczyszyn, of Public Works, said the city lacks boat ramps, with only five saltwater ramps and 12 saltwater boat lanes, with the so-called D&D ramp being the most used. At buildout the city will need an additional 28 lanes.

Lee County’s Manatee Protection Plan limits the number of boat slips throughout the county. D&D has been grandfathered in with its 64 slips, making the property four times more than appraised value. Without grandfathering, it would only have 17.

Conceptual plans include the addition of 44 boat trailer parking spaces and 20 water slips, as well as a restaurant, fuel dock and the retention of the popular bait shop.

Selling the property would mean losing those 64 slips. The city would have to purchase enough land on the water’s edge to qualify for 64 slips under the MPP. The city would need $13.55 million to retain the current boating access level, officials said.

Councilmember John Gunter asked Ilczyszyn if a transfer of the slips is allowed. If so, it would make sense to sell the property, since he was wary of another battle with Matlacha residents and paying for something they would like to have for nothing.

“I don’t think they want it there, but they want us to bring our checkbook. We should sell it and use that money to maybe keep the lock,” Gunter said. “I need the answer about the transfer before I make that decision.”

Councilmember Rick Williams said wanted to sell, but had no problem fixing he ramp. He did take issue with adding partnering with a private party, as the city has done at the Yacht Club park, to add a restaurant.

“Where are we going to park the cars? It will be a mess and it already is,” Williams said. “Let’s sell it. No matter what, Matlacha will have problems.”

Councilmember Marilyn Stout said she wanted to move ahead with the annexation, displeased that those who came to support D&D had not come to the December meeting. Councilmember Lois Welsh agreed, with Councilmember Jessica Cosden leaning toward keeping it but reserving judgement until she knew if the grandfathered slips could be transferred.

At the end of the night, Chris Root, co-owner at D&D, said much of the problem with the annexation was the fear that high rises and condos were coming.

“If you show the Matalcha people that all you want to do is make the property better and that it benefits everyone and it’s a win-win. If you show them that it will stay the way it is, you would get rid of all the legal costs and maybe it would be easier to annex,” Root said.

Mayor Joe Coviello said that anything that is done with the land will be through the county and not annexation, and that if a future council wants to tackle annexation once everyone is done, it will be addressed then.

City Manager John Szerlag came to the conclusion there would need to be three appraisals done on the property (as is, all slips transferred and a partial transfer), since it had been two years since the last one. Also needed would be a look at the impact there would be with a fuel pump.