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Manning, county officials meet with islanders about Pine Island Plan amendments

By Staff | Oct 16, 2015

From left, Greg Stuart, Commissioner John Manning, Karl Passetti, Jay Bartlett, Michael Jacob, Daniel Trescott, Jeff Hinds, Richard Wesch and Alexis Crespo

More than 300 people filled the hall at Fishers of Men Lutheran Church for the first Pine Island Plan amendments meeting. Lee County Commissioner John Manning arrived early to emcee the event.

Several years ago the original Pine Island Plan came under attack with litigation from Cammilot Partners. The county settled the lawsuit in the amount of $250,000. Threats of additional lawsuits, potentially costing the county $10 to $20 million, prompted changes to the original plan.

Local attorney and activist Phil Buchanan opened the meeting and introduced Commissioner Manning.

“I think once you hear everything we will throw at you tonight, you’ll be very pleased with what you hear and see,” Manning said. “I want to thank the committee Phil was on for the work they did. The steering committee included Noel Andress, Phil Buchanan, Michael Dreikorn, Michael Downing, Bob Elder, Dan Honc and Kathy Malone.”

County Attorney Richard Wesch presented the legal ramification of the “old” Pine Island Plan and why changes were necessary to protect the county from litigation.

“I’ve been here about two years and one of the first tasks we were given was to address potential Pine Island litigation and liabilities,” Wesch said. “We tried settlement with these cases but thought a better way to go would be to find a way to limit liabilities for the county while still preserving the unique character of Pine Island. That’s why this team was assembled.”

The team consists of Jeff Hinds (legal update), Greg Stuart (Pine Island background and Transfer Development Rights overview), Karl Passetti (transportation overview), Daniel Trescott (hurricane evacuation and coastal planning) and Alexis Crespo (plan summary and LDC amendments).

“We are very sensitive to the timing of this meeting,” Wesch said. “We scheduled this meeting at this time because we wanted to have sufficient time for a series of public meetings when everyone is back. Please take away that this is only the first in a series of public meetings.”

The presentation was given in four parts beginning with legal updates. Wesch introduced attorney Hinds to address the legal update. Hinds is the Tampa attorney with Smolker, Bartlett, Loeb, Hinds and Sheppard hired to advise the committee on land use litigation and land use litigation avoidance.

Legal update

“Our goal was to minimize the litigation liability for the county and at the same time preserve the unique island character,” Hines said. “In 2003 density allowances were changed to Coastal Rural allowing one dwelling unit per 2.7 acres. It was then that the 810/910 rule was implemented to make sure development didn’t hinder hurricane evacuation. Unfortunately what these two things did was to create significant liability on the part of the county.”

Eight Bert Harris cases were filed and remain pending to this day. There is one case in appeal and the remaining seven are set for trial later this year. It has been estimated that the total liability for the county could be as high as $12 to $14 million.

These existing suits include about 180 acres of property. There are more than 7,400 still designated Coastal Rural where property owners could file for damages under the Bert Harris laws.

“This could potentially cost taxpayers,” Hinds said. “These potential lawsuits are the springboard for the revisions to the Pine Island Plan.”

“When we met with the County Commissioners, we suggested that we would litigate cases when the facts are on our side, settle cases when there’s a question whether the fact are on our side and third, to look at those things that are causing the litigation,” Wesch said. “We were permitted to move forward.

“I also have an announcement to make,” Wesch said. “Those remaining eight cases that were pending with a possible expenditure of $12 – $16 million. We have entered into settlement negotiations with those eight plaintiffs. On Tuesday we will take an agenda item to the board for their consideration. We’ve been successful negotiating a proposed settlement for all eight of those cases. These settlements are grounded upon a payment of $4.25 million. That is a total liability figure for all eight cases. But most importantly we are buying the development rights for these eight properties above 1 unit per 10 acres.”

Transfer Development Rights

Stuart, with Stuart and Associates, has lived in Matlacha for almost 20 years and was a member of the planning commission in the 1990s.

“There are 10,937 total parcels and 26,110 total acres on Pine Island,” Stuart said. “When you look at the conservation lands on Pine Island it totals about 57 percent (14,885 acres) of the total land area. That’s due to the hard work of the Calusa Land Trust and other conservation groups on the island.

“Over the years there has been some discussion about the number of vacant parcels with numbers ranging upwards of 6,000 undeveloped parcels,” Stuart said. “The actual number is 3,844 that could be developed.”

The island is made up mostly of single-family homes (61 percent), mobile homes (27 percent) and multi- family 13 percent. 5,459 (56 percent) residential parcels are 0.25 acres or less.?”We also looked at the future buildout for the island,” Stuart said. “The island peaked in 2005 with about 175 residential building permits. Last year there were 20. So for the future and long-range buildout under existing ‘Coaster Rural,’ there are a 12,826 potential buildout units. Under the new proposal the number comes in at 11,038. So that’s a move in the right direction”

The Transfer Development Rights program will all but eliminate excessive growth on the island and TDR will de-intensify building on the island using economics not regulation.

A TDR is a voluntary, market-based program used to transfer development from Pine Island (sending area) to other locations (receiving areas) in Lee County. This program reduces development on Pine Island.

“For example, if a homeowner wants to decrease open space requirements in a residential project in Lehigh Acres, he can reduce his open-space requirements by purchasing a specific quantity of Pine Island Transfer Development Units (TDRs),” Stuart said.

Purchase Development Rights are complimentary to the TDRs. Both protect agricultural lands while reducing long range build-out. The community will decide if the PDR Program should be a ballot referendum item.

Transportation overview

Kittleson and Associates specializes in transportation planning and engineering. The company purchased traffic data for 2014 to better understand the needs of Pine Island and located a traffic counter just west of Matlacha at the edge of Little Pine Island. Passetti reported that the most popular day, with the highest traffic count, was Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

“As everyone knows, the constraining area to traffic flow is the area through Matlacha,” Passetti said. “There are two ways to increase traffic capacity. One is to widen the road and the second is to provide an alternative connection (a bridge). Both of these typical capacity enhancements have been rejected.”

Hurricane evacuation and coastal planning overview

Daniel Trescott Trescott Planning Solutions, LLC

“Our job at Trescott (Planning Solutions LLC) is to determine that everyone can get off the island in a safe amount of time,” Trescott said. “‘Evacuation clearance time’ is a goal for the greater Pine Island area, which includes Pine Island, Matlacha and the outer islands. It’s defined as ‘the amount of time necessary to safely evacuate people from the point when the evacuation order is given until the last evacuee can either leave Evacuation Zone A, or arrive at a safe shelter in Lee County.'”

The calculation table used to determine Pine Island evacuation clearance time is: 6,386 people using 1.1 vehicles per household at a road capacity of 950 cars per hour = 6.2 hours.

In the case of future development, when and if evacuation times exceed 18 hours, Lee County will impose “additional mitigation measures.” One of the mitigation measures would be to evacuate mobile homes and other structures when a “hurricane watch” is declared.

The county conducts hurricane seminars to educate people about the dangers of hurricane winds and storm surge.

Lee Plan and LDC amendments

“The proposed amendments are available online at www.Leegov.com/dcd/GPIPlanUpdate,” said Crespo, AICP with Waldrop Engineering, P.A. “Those who created the original plan did a great job. The plan addresses the uniqueness of Pine Island and we understand you have something special here you want to protect.

“The team has worked to make the minimum number of changes and where we’ve had to make changes we tried to enhance the standards while preserving the Coastal Rural character.”

The amended plan will keep Pine Island one of the lowest density planning communities in Lee County. Those things that have been left unchanged are: maximum building height will remain 38 feet; no changes to sign restrictions or agricultural clearing requirements; buffers to aquatic preserves and wetlands stay the same; commercial building standards and architectural standards stay the same; commercial fishing equipment storage stays the same.

“Although there will be changes, no changes will be made to Pine Island Center,” Crespo said. “The plan does modify the ‘standard maximum density’ from 1 unit per 10 acres to 1 unit per 2.7 acres. The plan maintains the existing provision to achieve an ‘adjusted maximum density of 1 unit per 1 acre if 70 percent of the site is preserved or kept for agricultural usage.”

The plan also requires planned development zoning approval for developments with 10 dwelling units or more.

“Greater Pine Island has one of the lowest densities in Lee County,” Crespo said. “Captiva, for example, has from 1 unit per acre up to 3 units per acre. The goal of the plan is to keep the Greater Pine Island area one of the lowest densities in the County.”

Question and answer period

Question:”Does the TDRs also apply to mangrove wetlands?”

Answer: “Yes.”

Question:”I noticed the placement of the car counting device. Does the car counting device include Matlacha?”

Answer: “We looked at the number of cars we can get through Matlacha in an emergency. The traffic counter wasn’t used for that purpose.”

Question:During last February and March, it was not unusual to take 45 minutes to get through Matlacha. Back when Charley came through, Charley was supposed to go up towards Tampa and at the last-minute changed course and headed for us. Will we have enough time to evacuate?”

Answer: “That’s true that there was a last-minute change in the hurricane’s direction. But we had three days notice before Charley came ashore. People have to understand that when people are advised to evacuate they need to do so.”

Question:”Did the traffic models take into consideration that the bridge may be open?”

Answer: “I believe the Coast Guard controls the bridges and it’s a matter of policy that during an emergency the bridges remain closed.”

Question:”My concern is new development. We have the land to double our capacity. If we doubled our capacity we would never get through Matlacha. Have there been any studies as capacity increases?”

Answer: “The answer was on a slide in our presentation. We have factored development into the evacuation calculations. Even if the population on the island doubled, we are still in the 18-hour evacuation window.”

Question:”If capacity reaches a certain point, what measures would be taken to mitigate evacuating the island?”

Answer: “One way would be to make Pine Island Road a one-way off the island. Another is using the busses to evacuate people.”

Manning closed the meeting.

“I want to thank everyone for coming tonight,” Manning said. “Keep in mind that we will be having meetings in the future probably in a few months.”