Commissioners continue attack on low-density lifestyle

In a decision that overruled both neighbors’ concerns and adjacent land uses, Lee County commissioners approved a high-density development plan in the middle of much lower density neighborhoods near Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

In a 3-2 vote Dec. 4, the board approved a proposal for 262 units on 21 acres – almost three times more density that the surrounding neighborhoods. This urban-style development will overwhelm local roads and environment, impact the value and use of surrounding properties, and push intense development into areas without the necessary infrastructure to adequately address it (and, of course, without collecting enough impact fees to pay for it).

Originally reported in the News-Press on Dec. 4, 2019

Despite objections from neighbors worried about losing their rural way of life, Lee County Commissioners approved Wednesday the construction of 262 new homes on 21 acres in south Fort Myers.

Approval for Oak Villages came on a 3-2 vote, with Brian Hamman, John Manning and Ray Sandelli voting in favor and Frank Mann and Cecil Pendergrass against it.

The development is located at  Blasingim Road near Penzance Blvd. , an east-west stretch of road between Plantation Road and Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

The number of units to be built on the site, about 12 per acre, has alarmed neighbors who say that the current standard in their neighborhood — four to five units per acre — has served the area well.

The new project will include 255 multi-family units and seven single-family homes. Residents worried that the traffic it will produce will create a more urbanized environment.

Attorney Thomas Hart, who represented the nearby residential communities, including Heritage Palms and Portofino, among others, told commissioners that following the recommendation of approval from Deputy Hearing Examiner Amanda Rivera would put  too many units in too little space to the detriment of neighbors.

“One extremely important part of the Lee Plan is the policy … that says when you do something, you’ve got to protect the existing residential neighborhoods,” Hart said. “You  try to put a large, multi-family property that close to an existing rural large-lot community it’s going to harm that community, it’s going to change that community.”

The main travel routes in and out of Oak Villages would eventually bring more traffic to an already overburdened intersection of Colonial Blvd. and Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Developer Alfred Quattrone, whose engineering firm has done work for a number of developers, is an owner of the project and said another entrance point will be built.

“To the east of the site is Six Mile Cypress Parkway; we’ll have access to that via Crystal Drive, we will continue the extension of that,” Quattrone said.

Cape Coral-based planning consultant Max Forgey, who was retained as an expert by residents of nearby residential communities, urged commissioners to scale the project back.

“Given the inconsistency of this project with the comprehensive plan and the impact, profound impact, on the neighbors, your best option (is to) bring this in at no more than four dwelling units per acre, which is consistent with the comprehensive plan,” Forgey said.

In its effort to win approval, the developer touted the project’s higher housing density as providing needed relief to people such as first responders, teachers and service providers who can’t afford to live near their places of work.

Mitch Hutchcraft, long involved in the real estate industry in the region, represented the Attainable Housing Coalition of Lee County. Hutchcraft told commissioners that too many people who work at essential jobs are forced to spend too much on housing.

“We have a significant need for affordable housing, it is impacting a significant percentage of the residents of Lee County,” Hutchcraft said. “In Lee County, there’s approximately 107,000 households spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs — once you get over 30%, that is considered a cost burden.”

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He said that the building industry-backed group supports projects that make more affordable housing possible.

“The Attainable Housing Streering Committee was formed to help increase the quality, quantity and distribution of attainable housing in Lee County,” Hutchcraft said. “One of the ways to do that is to stand up and support projects to enable it.

Commissioners struggled with the issues presented in the two-hour hearing.

Mann said he worried that, if it was approved, owners of parcels close to Oak Villages would look for the same kind of deal, to increase their profit potential by putting more homes on their open lots.

“What is to me the clear interest of the citizens of Lee County (is) in trying not to go wall-to-wall concrete with everything in that part of the county,” Mann said. “Is development going to come? Yes, but let’s be reasonable about it.”

Mann said grassroots efforts 30 years ago to preserve nearby Six Mile Cypress, which he called “the first major purchase of environmentally sensitive land in Lee County,” and voter approval of the Conservation 20/20 program a generation later signaled public demand for preservation.

Hamman provided a history lesson of his own, tracing back to 1984, when he was 4 and the original zoning for the area was put in place, including central urban zoning that allowed more units.

“I have to rhetorically ask myself, ‘Whose land did we start with?’ because there may come a day when this person wants to sell their 5acres or 8acres and they would like to sell it for that central urban price,” Hamman said. “Whose land do we start to devalue first?”

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