The Lee County Commissioners approved a plan, which has been in the works for seven years by the Matlacha Civic Association, by a 3-2 vote last Tuesday morning concerning the size of homes being built in particular areas.
The vote came down to whether the commissioners wanted to allow or prohibit variances, limit pool cages to one story or two and allow side set backs to be either 5 feet or 7.5 feet in Matlacha Island Harbor and the southern portion of the Crows subdivision, which excludes residential properties in Matlacha historic district.
The ordinance, along with option one language of the Matlacha Overlay Plan that was set forth by the Matlacha Civic Association, was approved by Commissioners John Manning, Ray Judah and Frank Mann. Commissioners Tammy Hall and Brian Bigelow voted against the plan.
"The revisions to the code were moderate, balanced, well thought out and much needed," Greg Stuart said. "The problem was the degree of misinformation spread by certain individuals who followed their own agenda and, in so doing, caused a good deal of confusion to our community."
Manning said the most contentious issues were the swimming pool standard designs and the variance procedure in the plan.
"I support option one for variances and support the civic association in respect to swimming pool design standards," he said.
The first option prohibits variances from building coverage, building height and vertical plane for new construction and properties that are substantially improved more than 50 percent of the market value. This does not include disasters that can occur unexpectedly. Individuals can build back their property without exceptions based on the variances that were already granted.
In terms of the pool cage, they may not exceed 12 feet in height, which is measured from the lot's street grade elevation to the point of attachment of the cage structure to the house faade. The pool cage also may not exceed 14 feet in height from the street grade elevation to the top of the pool cage.
The commissioners also voted for a 7.5-foot side setback for properties with lot areas greater than 2,500 square feet.
The vote was taken after the board had a lengthy discussion about the plan.
Judah said he felt that pool cages should be restricted to one story because adjacent property owners could be the victims of pool cage projectile in the case of hurricanes.
Hall said she was not in favor of taking away height restrictions for pool cage requirements on a specific portion of Matlacha. She said if you have requirements for pool cages it needs to be a county-wide rule.
"This isn't a Matlacha total overlay," Hall said. "This is a very targeted overlay."
She said if the rule is passed, the county is going to see more pockets of overlays for their particular neighborhoods.
"What we're going to start seeing is neighborhood overlays," Hall said.
Bigelow said it seemed to him that you cannot predict all the possible scenarios of hardships that may occur in regards to variances. He said there are higher hurdles to undertake with the new variances process.
Mann said he was inclined to support the more strict standards in the plan, but was hung up on the variance issue in regards to making it more difficult or taking them away before the final vote was taken Tuesday.
"I don't want to take that option away," Mann said.
Before the board voted, many residents of Matlacha spoke during public comment either for option one of the plan or option two.
Nancy Harwood supported option one because she believed the plan is fair to all the homeowners. She said it is not fair for a neighbor to build a home that poaches on your property because that new home is out of place and devalues the existing home on both sides, along with devaluating the community.
"I don't think variances should be granted," Harwood said. "There is a lot of flexibility in option one in terms of setting the footprint on the lot. We are not trying to deny anyone's rights, but trying to preserve rights."
She said the goal is to work for the preservation of the character of the community that everyone values by minimizing the variances that have caused a problem for individuals in the community.
Kathy Malone, who is also in favor of option one, said although they cannot stop the big houses from being built, the plan was put together in hopes of preventing the outrageous use with variances.
"We all need to know what can and cannot be built," she said. "We don't want people to be scared to buy in Matlacha. Please help us protect the charm that benefits us all and not the big house that benefits only those who live in it."
The second option, which did not pass, would have allowed the applicant to request variances and allow existing homes if damaged more than 50 percent, to be rebuilt under current LDC regulations. It also included swimming pool cages to be greater than 14 feet, or a two-story home.
Option 2 also included a 5-foot setback for all lots.
Patricia Murphy said she did not like the Matlacha Overlay Plan because there are too many rules and regulations, but if she had to choose she would go with option two.
"We don't need to spend our tax dollars on big government micro-zoning locations in Lee County," she said. "I love Matlacha, I love what it was 15-20 years ago much more."
John Hunch, who is in the construction industry, asked the commissioners to approve the overlay plan with option two because he likes permitting.
"The new overlay plan will eliminate the need of a lot of variances," he said. "The option two still allows the variance option for those that may run into a hardship. Option two does keep our variances open and not preclude variances for any type of ordinance."
Ron Schlegal told the commissioners to support the plan with option two because it is important to preserve the current method of getting variances in the community.
"It will provide the ability to deal with unforeseen conditions," he said because the lots that are in question are largely non-conforming lots.
George Graber encouraged the commissioners to support option two because the county government is on a slippery slope.
"This plan covers an extremely small sliver of the county," he said. "Should we bring forth our own overlay plan to exclude us from the overlay?"