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Local Knowledge: Cape-lacha? Islanders say no way!

January 11, 2017
By Mike Shevlin , Pine Island Eagle

In my last Local Knowledge column, (10-26-16 Eagle), I wrote about how Matlacha came to be - built on the fill that was dug out of Matlacha Pass when the county commission decided to put in a swing bridge to the mainland. Eventually, squatters moved in and built all manner of shacks and shanties on the fill until a true fishing community grew up.

When I bought my first property on Pine Island in 1977, Matlacha was a hodgepodge of buildings and zoning designations - more monochromatic than colorful. My building (which is the small pink building in front of the larger pink building that houses the Matlacha Wellness Center) was the first pink building in the area. And it wasn't until we began working to get Matlacha designated as a historic district that it began to take on a colorful, cohesive flare.

Today, Matlacha has a unique character and is known as much for being a fishing community as it is for being a home for artists. It was even featured in a recent issue of Southern Living magazine, which described it this way:

"Think of Matlacha (pronounced MATT-luh-SHAY) as Mayberry meets Woodstock. Locals in town - and on the island that shares its name - offer the kind of warm welcome you'd expect from a small Southern town. But Matlacha's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and its chill island vibe attract outdoor adventurers, as well as free-spirited artists and entrepreneurs who have set up shop here."

"Chill island vibe." I think that description fits us just right.

But that could be changing, thanks to a move by the city of Cape Coral to annex nearly 6 acres in Matlacha on the north side of Pine Island Road. The properties include the D&D Bait and Tackle Shop and the fenced-in parking lot on Pine Island Road. The city annexed the properties ? which it purchased as part of a 652-acre foreclosure sale in 2012 for $13 million ? by a 4-3 vote on Dec. 12.

Though about 20 Pine Islanders spoke against the annexation during that meeting, the City Council moved forward anyway. The next steps for them will be to change the zoning regulations on those properties to Cape zoning ? removing any protections on building height and other regulations the properties were previously covered under through the Pine Island Community Plan. That means buildings up to eight stories could be placed there, along with a marina and more boat ramps.

The changes could have a huge impact on traffic ? hampering access for emergency vehicles and islanders evacuating ahead of hurricanes. Increased congestion could also deter visitors from coming to Matlacha and greater Pine Island. And increased boat traffic could cause safety issues (boaters have nicknamed the area Crash Corner) and hurt the water quality of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, which is home to numerous threatened and endangered species.

While the Cape hasn't released any specific plans for these properties, many of us worry that their takeover will damage the delicate environment in the preserve as well as our "chill island vibe." We're a unique community and we'd like to stay that way.

A group of residents and business owners ? myself included ? are banding together to mount a legal challenge to stop the Cape's annexation of these properties. A challenge must be filed by Jan. 11 ? just a few days away. The Matlacha Civic Association has created a defense fund and is collecting donations to help pay legal fees associated with fighting the annexation.

This isn't just a Matlacha issue. If the Cape moves forward to develop the properties at their highest level, it will affect all Pine Islanders ? from St. James City, to Pine Island Center, to Bokeelia ? especially during tourist season and hurricane season. And, some of us are wondering whether this is the first step in a move for the Cape to annex the whole of Pine Island.

How Can You Help?

Donations to the Matlacha Annexation Legal Defense Fund will be used to cover legal expenses and retain a Florida-licensed attorney to help Pine Island residents oppose Cape Coral's annexation of properties in Matlacha.

Make your donation to fight the Cape's Matlacha annexation online at matlachacivicassociation.org.

Donations are also being accepted by the Matlacha Civic Association at P.O. Box 121, Matlacha, FL 33933. Checks should be made out to the Matlacha Civic Association with "Matlacha Annexation Fund" in the memo line.

The Matlacha Civic Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Mike Shevlin has been a Pine Island Realtor since 1981. In 1985, he established Islands Realty, which he later sold to Century 21 Sunbelt Realty. In 2001, he established Team Shevlin under the Sunbelt banner and today works with Carlyn Herring and Erin Lambert. To talk to Mike about Pine Island real estate or to suggest a topic for his monthly "Local Knowledge" column about life and living on Pine Island, please email mike@teamshevlin.com.

 
 

 

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