The Cape Coral City Council narrowly agreed Monday to have city staff research the process for annexation of six lots on Pine Island Road in Matlacha.
The decision comes on the heels of a recent offer made by a real estate company on behalf of a restaurant to purchase approximately five acres the city acquired last year as part of a $13 million bulk land purchase.
"It's city owned property based on the acquisition we made. The motion comes down to the city moving forward toward annexing property outside our geographic area," Councilmember Marty McClain said.
This means staff will need to gather geographic information, appraised values, and other things before the land can go on the market, McClain said. Only then can they consider what to use the land for, such as parks or land swaps.
McClain said it is a process that could take months.
The subject of annexing has brought fear among Matlacha residents, who believe that Cape Coral may try to annex their community. Councilmember Lenny Nesta said it's a thought that gives him "heartburn."
"I have a problem with annexation. I was under the assumption when we got the land the parcel would be sold," Nesta said. "Residents in Matlacha say Cape Coral's going to take them over. We reaffirmed that wouldn't happen."
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said the situation is distressing to Matlacha residents, who could fear the village enveloped via annexiation, while still contending that the April 2012 $13 million land deal may not have been legal.
Councilmember Rana Erbrick assuaged Matlacha residents by saying the only way it would become part of Cape Coral would be if it wanted to be.
Leetz and Nesta joined Mayor John Sullivan in voting against the measure that passed 5-3.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail brought up the subject as a discussion topic after Micieli's Restaurant and real estate company LandQwest declared its interest in purchasing five acres of land the city owned for $1.5 million.
McGrail said he wants city staff to determine proper protocol on how to sell land.
He also said the land would be great to use for a marina or a boat launch, and added he believes its value is greater than what has been offered.
City tax rolls have the land valued at $3.3 million, he said.
"We need to introduce the process to any future investor who may want land. We haven't declared anything as surplus property," McGrail said. "I have no problem with staff looking into annexation."
Miceli's manager, Vincenzo Miceli Jr., said in a telephone interview last week that the restaurant is not an investor but an established business looking to expand. He said the business, which wants additional parking space, has been trying to work with city staff to determine how the site could be declared "excess" and so sold but has not made progress.
Miceli also said it's an opportunity for the city to recoup some of the money spent on the land buy at a time when municipal officials have declared a revenue crisis.