Mine decision not necessarily a winner

The announced settlement between Lee County and the FFD Land Co. over a disputed mine permit in east Lee County is a real “good news-bad news” outcome.

The good news: One less mine – and a very big one as well.

The bad news: The potential for up to 5,200 new residences (plus commercial, plus infrastructure, plus amenities, plus…) in the Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource (DR/GR) area of the county — which was designated for low-density, low-impact uses (and this isn’t that).

The good news: More than half of the ~5,200 acres will go into a conservation easement.

The bad news: The overall proposed density (1 unit per acre) is 10 times what should have been allowed in the DR/GR.

The good news: The owner has promised to restore historic flow ways and habitat as part of the development.

The bad news: This new development will generate thousands of road trips and boost usage of schools and public infrastructure without paying anything approaching its fair share. Even if developers have to pay 100% of the county’s impact fees (which have been discounted by the commission for years, and are now being collected at only 50% of the actual costs), these fees were based on average impacts – not the kind that come from development like this, literally in the middle of nowhere.

The bottom line: It’s not a mine, but it’s not a real winner for county residents either. This settlement continues the degradation of the DR/GR, whose original goal is being undermined by each county decision.

Published in the News-Press Oct. 19, 2020 by Bill Smith

No limerock mine, but another 5,200 new homes in Corkscrew corridor

A proposed settlement to a long court battle over a mining permit denied by Lee County Commissioners seven years ago would mean replacing plans for mining with a residential community of as many as 5,200 new homes.

Lee County and FFD Land Co. a subsidiary of the Immokalee-based Lipman family agricultural interests, have agreed to settle the suit FFD filed after commissioners denied a mining permit for 4,652 acres on Corkscrew Road in 2013. 

FFD sought $39 million in damages and $21 million for value of the land.

While the mining application covered 4,600 acres, approximately 600 additional acres of Lipman family-controlled land next to the proposed mine would be added to the parcel as part of the court settlement. 

Jaime Weisinger, an executive with the family agricultural business, declined to comment on the plans while legal work to settle the court suit continues.

The agreement was explained by Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch during the public portion of an attorney/client meeting which began as a closed-door conference of commissioners, county staff and outside legal counsel.

“Sixty-five percent of the property will be set aside for open space purposes that would include preservation and restoration management plan for the property, hydrological preservation plan restoring flowways. A minimum of 56 percent must be placed in a conservation easement,” Wesch said. “The maximum density would be no more than one unit per acre.”

Lee County’s agreement to allow more housing units along Corkscrew Road came as a surprise to civic leaders in Estero.

“It’s better than putting more mines up there,” said Jim Gilmartin, president of the Estero Council of Community Leaders.

After the private briefing meeting with Wesch, an outside law firm hired by the county and senior county management, the board convened in public before an audience of two: attorney Russell Schropp, who represented FFD when its original mining application was rejected, and a reporter for The News-Press.

Commission proceedings in 2013 on the mine proposal were brief, with Schropp agreeing with the county hearing examiner that the proposal could not be adopted under mining rules in place at the time. Since that hearing, the county has eliminated two basic requirements that stood in the way of approval of the FFD mine in 2013.

No longer does a proposed mine have to be located within the confines of Map 14, a county zoning map that designated where mining was allowed.  A requirement that a need for limerock be demonstrated before digging more mines was also on the books at the time of the application by FFD Land Co.

In addition to as many as 5,200 housing units, the settlement would allow 100,000 square feet of commercial use, 90,000 square feet of residential amenities and additional land devoted to office space could be built.

Accessibility to shopping in large residential communities can help reduce traffic on roads such as Corkscrew by eliminating the need for some car trips. 

Since its incorporation in 2015, Estero has resisted new development in the area due to traffic issues and the county’s refusal to assess developers the full impact fee due on new construction. Impact fees pay for improvements to roads, schools and other infrastructure attributable to adding buildings and people.

“The caveat is the real problem, how to deal with infrastructure with impact fees that are half (the full rate),” Gilmartin said. 

County commissioners have been discounting the impact fees for several years, initially to encourage more construction after the economy bottomed out in the Great Recession. 

The road to approval of housing on the FFD property will be long. Land-use changes must go through the same process as other proposed developments. The county hearing examiner will consider testimony from the public and experts and issue a recommendation over which county commissioners would have final say.

A settlement agreement provision requiring restoration of water flowways to their  historic patterns mirrors changes at other projects in recent years.

Phillip Ford, vice president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said homebuilders have become more creative about linking development to protection of resources.

Ford  calls the alignment of homebuilding and environmental protection in development a good marriage between interests.

“You can have growth and development and provide housing to people,” he said. “You can balance that with saving the environment and doing some good things.”


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