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Bay Harbour: stateward bound

May 9, 2018
By JESSICA SALMOND ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In a 3 to 1 vote, the Lee County Board of Commissioners sent the Bay Harbour Marina Village comprehensive plan amendment request to the state for comment.

But not all the commissioners are so sure they'll be supporting the project when it gets back to the county for a vote.

Bay Harbour seeks both a comprehensive plan amendment and a rezoning request, which greatly restricted commissioners' ability to discuss the project at the Wednesday meeting.

"The problem is, the processes are separate even though they interchange," said District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker. "By our own rules, we can't speak to you or anyone else about zoning we're talking about land use, that's it."

But Wednesday's review came with a change, which wasn't mentioned until the end of the meeting.

County staff has changed its mind on affordable housing.

Fact Box

Bay Harbour recap

Bay Harbour Marina Village first applied to the county in 2015 for a comprehensive plan amendment from industrial to central urban, and a rezoning request. The project was recommended for denial by both the Hearing Examiner and Local Planning Agency.

Developer Jack Mayher came back with a new amendment, to change from industrial to Destination Resort Mixed Use Water Dependent (DRMUWD), a land use already approved on the island by EbbTide, down the street.

Mayher seeks to develop the 7.47-acre property at the corner of Oak Street and Main Street into 113 dwelling units (including 38 bonus workforce housing units), a marina, a 500-space parking garage, a roof-top bar, and commercial space.

From his original central urban application, Mayher made some adjustments, dropping the condo tower height from 175 to 145 feet and moving some of the 113 units from the towner to a line of townhomes along the canal. He also added in some amenities - tennis and pickleball courts - that will be open for the public to use.

The Local Planning Agency supported adding "bonus" density to Bay Harbour Marina Village - if it was for affordable housing, and voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the amendment request.

The LPA meeting was March 26. The staff report issued to the LPA, and the presentation made by Lee County planner Sharon Jenkins-Owen, supported allowing bonus density if it was restricted to low and very low income housing, a resource of great need in the county.

"Staff wants affordable housing to be committed to very low and low income housing," she said at the March meeting. "It really tipped the balance. Otherwise, you're just providing more marketplace housing. To me that was not enough for bonus density to be appropriate."

Very low and low income housing would allow the island's waitstaff, bar tenders, and lower-income employees an easy commute to work. According to the staff report, very low and low income housing would charge about $723 to $1,157 for monthly rent. "Moderate" housing is closer to market pricing at $1,737 a month. Jenkins-Owen said there was a "critical unmet need" for very low income housing.

But between the LPA meeting and the county hearing Wednesday, staff changed its mind.

At Wednesday's hearing, County Planner Brandon Dunn said staff supported bonus density for moderate and low income housing levels. Jenkins-Owen did not present to council.

Moderate housing is closer to what the applicant originally proposed, a $2,026 monthly rent.

Developer Jack Mayher said he felt having the three categories would be "more inclusive."

A number of San Carlos Island residents attended the meeting, some for, some against.

Those supporting the project said they wanted to see the area cleaned up and revitalized, as the property has been blighted since Hurricane Charley.

Margie Tirey owns property across the street from the proposed project, and she's been in favor of it for a while. She thinks a new development could clean up the area.

"Right now I'm looking at something that's been there since Hurricane Charley. It's weeds," she said. "People drive down the street, going to Salty Sam's or Key West (Express), you have to pass all this stuff and it looks like a third-world country."

Those against oppose the added density to the island, and are concerned about infrastructure capacity, like traffic. Others feel it could negatively impact the sense of community and character the island has now.

Henry Blakely is a born-and-raised San Carlos Island resident, and still lives there with his wife, Sandy.

He said the laws and codes of the county address adding density on the island, and he expects the commissioners to demonstrate a sincere interest in their quality of life on San Carlos Island.

"Sandy and I have spent most of our money and our sweat putting together our home. We never contemplated a nightmare of this magnitude," he said.

Joseph McHarris, a local planner, wrote the language for the Destination Resort Mixed Use Water Dependent category for EbbTide, and said Bay Harbour doesn't fit it.

"It was a vision that was a destination on its own, not dependent on Fort Myers Beach," he said. "This changes Destination Resort into a slightly revised Central Urban. They tried Central Urban last time and were shot down, for good reason. This will take over the whole island."

The commissioners voted 3-1, with Commissioner Frank Mann opposing. Commissioner John Manning was absent for this agenda item.

"This project frightens me," Mann said. "It squeezes out every drop of profit blood from this property."

Bay Harbour's DRMUWD change is not approved. The comprehensive plan amendment will be transmitted to the state for comment, but then it will come back for further consideration by the county - which is the reason Kiker voted yes.

But he said, with the project considered as a whole, he is "not convinced" he'll be supporting it.

Kiker warned Mayher he wanted to personally hear that the developer was working with the community to find a more amiable solution.

"You need to work with this community a little bit closer...if that's not done right, perhaps this development doesn't belong there. If it is done right, then maybe it does," he said. "The criticality of that discussion is paramount."

Charlie Whitehead, president of the Beach Area Civic Association, said he was encouraged by Kiker's statements.

BACA has already set up some meetings with Mayher to try to find some solutions for the community, but Whitehead said in his public comment that "we're not there."

Mayher said after the meeting he supports continuing to meet with the BACA group, saying he felt "we're making headway, but there's a lot of work left to do."

"We're committed to the best possible project," he said. "As this evolves, I'm optimistic we'll have something dovetailed."



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