The Lee County Board of County Commissioners denied the proposed St. James City gas station and convenient store without prejudice last week.
The request was made by property owner Tom Gauthier to rezone 4.44 acres, two lots, from commercial and agricultural to community commercial on the northeast corner of Stringfellow Road and Castile Road in St. James City. The first public meeting was held on May 9 and the second one was held in front of the Lee County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 6.
According to county records, the request to rezone the property was denied because Gauthier did not prove "entitlement to the rezoning requests and has not demonstrated compliance with the Lee Plan, the LDC (Lee County Commissioners Land Development Code), and other applicable code of regulation."
Gauthier said he was presented with different ideas of what could be done to the property during the public hearing. He said he was told that he might do something that the county would not want him to do, which was one reason why it was denied.
"Basically I applied for rezoning to create a convenient store and gas station," he said, which was made apparent through the paperwork.
Gauthier said since county staff orchestrated the decision to deny or approve the rezoning and Pine Island is not incorporated, not a city, it has to depend on the county to make all of the decisions.
"They missed the boat with this thing," he said.
It was obvious to Gauthier from the get-go that the county was not going to approve the rezoning request.
"All they could see was what was in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, they wanted to protect the island from development," he said. "They are so far out of touch of what was in need and what people wanted on the island."
Gauthier expressed that if Pine Island was incorporated and the people of the island wanted a gas station, it would have passed.
"If Pine Island was incorporated and the people on the island were saying, "Gee, we wanted to do this gas station and we wanted to help our people out,' the whole thing would be passed," he said.
Although Gauthier can appeal the decision, he said he is not going to because of the additional costs that would have to be put into the project due to the endless studies the county wants done.
"I am disappointed, I wanted a gas station as much as everyone else did because I live in St. James City," he said.
Although many residents were in favor of putting a gas station in St. James City, many were opposed to the concept as well.
Donna Kinney, who lives on the eastern side of the proposed property, said she owns two lots that are directly behind the property.
"One of the lots is agriculture with nothing on it right now. The second is a home lot," she said. "It is our homestead and we are full-time Pine Island residents."
Dana, her husband, said it is basically a request for a conventional rezoning.
"In the past it has always been fought vigorously by Pine Islanders to keep us from having urban sprawl," he said.
Dana said according to the hearing examiners report, it is just a conventional rezoning that Gauthier could get rezoned today and sell tomorrow.
"Anyone could put up anything they want to," he said. "Conventional rezoning opens up a Pandora box of what can be built there."
Donna said if the gas station would have been built at the proposed location, it would have impacted their land value and the environmentally sensitive area, such as the Eagle Preserve to the north and the Calusa Blueway to the east, as well as the already protected lands to the west of the property.
"I believe that there has been little consideration to the community that exists surrounding it," Donna said. "We are ecstatic with the denial; we will continue to fight vigorously against it."
Dana said he has no problem with the owner of the parcel to do whatever he wants, as long as it falls into what the original zoning of the property allows.
"That is what the plan is set in place for," he said, referring to the Lee Plan.
Dana said they are glad the rezoning was turned down. He said although they are not against progress, he does not want people to use the property for something it is not zoned for because it would change the uniqueness of the island.
"So many parcels on the island are zoned appropriate for a gas station," Dana said.
When the Kinneys moved to the island they said they knew they would have to drive to the center to get gas.
"We live here for the uniqueness of the island and that is what we are trying to protect," Dana said.
Those who were in favor of having a gas station in St. James City expressed that it would save them time as well as keep them safe, due to them not having to haul gasoline in the back of their vehicles down Stringfellow Road.
Frank Taugner was disappointed to hear the denial of the gas station request.
"I want it for St. James because we need it for St. James," he said. "Definite loss to the community."
Taugner said he remembers when there were three gas stations on the island at one time, which included the old hardware store.
"It is inconvenient to drive 15 miles to fill up the lawn mower or get boat gas," he said. "There are only three pumps on each side. It is a zoo a lot of road rage goes on at those pumps."
After reading the 14 pages of denial and going to the meeting, Taugner said he cannot see any reason for there not be a gas station.
"I am an officer at the Legion," he said. "We aren't opposed to it. We are just taking a neutral stand. The property is useless unless given a variance."