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Bay Harbour heads to HEX, round two

August 8, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A large development on San Carlos Island is headed for the next step, and residents are trying to decide where they stand.

The Bay Harbour Marina Village project, slated roughly for Oak and Main Streets, would be one of the first new commercial developments on the island since Diversified Yacht Services.

A slightly different variation of the project already faced the Hearing Examiner once, and was shot down in 2016; but, Laura Belflower, the HEX at the time, retired last month. Now, developer Jack Mayher will be getting a new set of eyes at the Aug. 15 HEX meeting.

"We have a great project, we fully expect to get approved," Mayher said.

Mayher seeks to put in 113 residential units, a 500-car garage, a marina, other commercial space and open-to-the-public civic space, such as tennis and pickleball courts, on a 7.47-acre property. The main condominium tour will be 145 feet in height, with a rooftop restaurant. The development will take both a rezoning request and a comprehensive plan amendment to be approved. The comprehensive plan amendment was sent to the state by the Lee County Board of Commissioners in May. It has to come back for approval or denial by the county commissioners. The Hearing Examiner will review the rezoning request and make a recommendation to the commissioners.

As of press time Tuesday, the Beach Area Civic Association has yet to take an official stance for next week's meeting, but it's been a vocal opponent in the past. Some members are still staunchly against the development, which they feel will negatively impact traffic, density and the character of the island.

Fact Box

Public participation

Lee County code restricts public participation to a very specific process for a rezoning case. Zoning cases are quasi-judicial.

Code says that county commissioners are not allowed to speak, email or communicate with the public or the applicant about a rezoning case, except in the public hearing.

Rezoning cases go before the Hearing Examiner and then the county. If someone wants the chance to express their opinion about a case to the county commissioners, they must attend the HEX meeting to have their name on the public record in order to speak before the county commissioners at the case's board meeting.

Letters of opinion can, however, be submitted to county staff to be sent to the Hearing Examiner for her consideration. Submitting a letter in lieu of attending the HEX meeting does not allow you to speak before the commissioners.

Others, though, may be changing their minds.

Dave Anderson is a BACA board member, and also sat on a focus group that met with Mayher to try to formulate a compromise.

Those conversations gave him a new perspective, Anderson said.

"I like the way that it went, and some of the changes that came from it," he said.

Anderson said Mayher wants to make the commercial building a hurricane shelter and allow residents of the island to pull their vehicles and boats into the parking garage so they can be protected and under cover in case of a storm.

"The fact that they're willing to do that was important," Anderson said.

Mayher was tight-lipped about discussing any of the other ideas the focus group had come up with - he said those discussions could come out during the public hearing at the HEX.

"Stay tuned," he said. "We found a lot of common ground. We'll continue to work with them during the design phase."

Part of Mayher's meetings with BACA were driven by a strong suggestion from Larry Kiker, District 3 County Commissioner. The county commissioners voted 3-1 in May to send the comprehensive plan amendment on to the state, but not without some apprehension on some commissioners' minds. Chairman Frank Mann opposed, saying the project frightened him. Kiker voted in the majority to send it on to the state for review, but said he was "not convinced" he'd be supporting the project as a whole. He told Mayher he wanted to hear that the development team was actively working with the community.

"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," Kiker said. "The criticality of that discussion is paramount."

The comprehensive plan amendment is a separate process from the rezoning request at the Hearing Examiner.

The number of units didn't change; the development is still sitting at 113 units, which includes bonus density for workforce housing. Some of the units will be built as townhomes along the Oak Street canal, which Anderson thinks is a positive for the Oak Street residents as they won't look across to a tall building immediately.

Some people weren't going to change their mind no matter what the developers, did, they just don't want it, he said. But Anderson is concerned that fighting this version could lessen BACA's voice in the future.

BACA was against the EbbTide development, and it lost the battle. If BACA goes against Bay Harbour and looses again, other developers may not see BACA as a serious faction of developing on the island.

Also, despite the opposition, Bay Harbour's project is smaller than EbbTide in some aspects, Anderson said, and since EbbTide has yet to be built he'd rather see future developers use Bay Harbour as a precedent setter.

"Anybody that thinks all the development is going to be modular homes as we move forward, they've got their head in the sand," he said. "If you don't manage the change, the change comes unmanaged and then you get what you get."

The Hearing Examiner meeting will take place at the Hearing Examiner Office, 1500 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor, Fort Myers, at 9 a.m. Bay Harbour is the only item on the agenda.



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