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Islanders oppose deviations for Publix, townhomes projects

One public outcry at hearing: ‘You’re ripping the heart out of Pine Island!'

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Jul 7, 2021

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

Every proposed deviation at a public hearing Tuesday, June 29, at Pine Island Methodist Church, sponsored by the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, was voted down by Pine Island residents — most of them left asking why the meeting was even necessary, since they feel they ultimately have no control over current or future development anyway.

Stacy Hewitt, director of planning for Banks Engineering, gave a five-point presentation on the changes they’d like to make to original plans for the new Publix and Orchid Cove Townhomes being built on Pine Island. After each of the five points of the presentation, the community was asked to vote whether they were in favor or opposed to proposals.

GPICA president Helen Fox informed audience members that although residents did not have a final say on the proposals presented, the votes would be considered and approximated to get an overall feel for the climate of residents on these issues. Fox announced the GPICA would send voting results to the county in an attempt to offer Pine Islanders a voice in the matter.

Matters put to a vote were deviations on signage, allowing a liquor store to be less than 500 feet from Pine Island Elementary School and obtaining a development order for Orchid Cove Townhomes.

Hewitt explained the two-part administrative zoning amendment, which was to include the sign package deviations for Publix, and a deviation for the subdivision, owned by Lake Jefferson LLC. Lake Jefferson LLC will need two other actions to obtain a development order for the subdivision plat. These include a public hearing zoning amendment to allow a package store within 500 feet of a school, and to add the use of a package store, as well as a development order for two retail buildings adjacent to Publix.

The final action will be a development order for the Orchid Cove Townhome Development as well as the subdivision plat.

Zoning approval for the site includes the 66,500-square-foot main parcel, which includes the 30,000-maximum-square-foot grocery, 10,000-square-foot retail building and the 26,500-square-foot retail building with three out parcels with a maximum of 30,000 square feet. The first amendment, for which there is to be no public hearing, is already on file with Lee County is, under application # ADD202100051.

The first sign package deviation for Publix is to allow two ground mounted identification signs in addition to two which have already been permitted. The second deviation would allow 136.14 square foot signage, 16 feet in height and 4.8 feet in width, from the existing approved 44-square-foot signage, which is 12 feet in both height and width. The third deviation from the approved non-illuminated signage would allow for illuminated signage.

Islanders voted in majority not to allow for the deviations on signage. Comments from the community included concerns about traffic, migratory birds, that increasing the size of the signs might set a precedent for future developers, that islanders are merely being pacified until developers move forward with their plans at will, and that the store might be trying to attract shoppers from off the island rather than serve islanders.

Islander Claudia Bringe reminded Hewitt that islanders expected anyone planning to develop on island to follow the Pine Island Plan, a plan that was designed specifically for Pine Island, with a priority of the coastal rural classification.

St. James City resident Ken Cole struck a chord with islanders when he proclaimed that islanders are unanimously happy with Winn-Dixie.

“You are not doing a good thing for Pine Island by shoving stuff down our throats we don’t want. Do what’s right. Don’t come in here and tell us ‘the county says we can do this,'” Cole said.

Cory Hopkins, developer and Publix representative, assured islanders that the chain is trying to be the best neighbor possible to the island. He explained that Publix requested the size of the signs be increased for the good of islanders.

The Orchid Cove Townhome amendment was to reduce the size of the subdivision from 10,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet and to abut the internal roadways rather than abutting Pine Island Road.

“There is no change to the actual line work of the sight development plan,” Hewitt explained, “it’s just literally to allow a lot to be created over the internal development.”

Islander Rhonda Dooley came forward with concerns regarding the distance between the townhouse development and protected island wetlands.

“There’s a lot of pollution going right into those preserves,” said Dooley.

Overall opposition to the deviation from 500 feet to 319 feet of separation from a package store to Pine Island Elementary School began before the proposal presentation.

“The code requires the dimension to be measured to the property line, and the school board owns the wooded field adjacent to the school,” Hewitt said. “It previously had some stormwater treatment ponds and it now has the lift station for the school on it. There has been correspondence from the School Board on this application and they have no comment since there were no dwelling units or outdoor seating for consumption on the premises proposed.”

Hewitt went on to explain that this application has already been filed and notices went out to property owners within 500 feet. When the hearing examiner hearing is scheduled, another mailing will go out as well as a recommendation from the hearing examiner to the Board of County Commissioners.

The current application case number is DCI202100018.

“This ordinance you want a deviation from will set a precedent,” said former GPICA president Scott Wilkinson. “It also includes places of worship, religious facilities, daycare centers, parks and dwelling units. This big sign you want to put out on Pine Island Road — will it say liquor on it? Because that’s the gateway to Pine Island. This is not the way to come onto our island.”

The last order of business was the request for a development order to begin construction on the 94 townhomes in Orchid Cove, originally approved for 156 condominiums in 2013. Islanders expressed concerns about the inadequate infrastructure, water table, traffic, hurricane evacuation and emergency exit hazards, and the number of years that have passed since this development was originally proposed and approved.