Once again the County overrides the community’s plan for the area and extends residential sprawl further into the county’s rural areas. The LeeTana zoning change was passed by all four Commissioners in attendance.
Originally Published in the Fort Myers News-Press on October 2, 2019
Written by Bill Smith
NORTH FORT MYERS RESIDENTS WILL FACE A BIT OF SUBURBIA IN RURAL BAYSHORE
Lee County commissioners have approved a controversial 201-home development on 216 acres in the Bayshore neighborhood of North Fort Myers that neighbors fear will transform their rural lifestyle into an unwanted slice of suburbia.
“I have lived in Bayshore for 43 years; for 42 of those years I have worked to keep this special area agricultural — where people can live on acreage and have their horses, cows, chicken and goats,” said resident Debbie Jacko. “Bayshore is a special place where you can unwind at the end of the day and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.”
The landowner, SWK LLC, of New York City, has promised neighbors and the county that the project will include improvements to the way storm water flows through the neighborhood.
SWK has also promised an advanced septic tank system that will reduce nitrogen emissions into the water supply. Bayshore has had an ongoing problem with septic tanks leaching into the Caloosahatchee River, contributing to ongoing water quality problems.
Commissioners voted to change the zoning from agricultural to residential planned development. The vote was 4-0 with Commissioner Frank Mann absent.
Under county zoning rules, one house lot per acre could have been built requiring commission approval on the 216-acre site under its prior agricultural zoning designation. The SWK proposal falls short of that maximum because of the lot configuration on the site, and the need to build around wetlands and construct roads through the development.
Neighbors said the parcel where the homes will be built includes wetlands that make it prone to flooding during rainy season. Key to their opposition, however, is the change that homes of a half-acre to one acre may bring to their rural lifestyle.
“Most of Bayshore lies in a flood plain,” said resident Steve Bodkin, who heads the group Concerned Citizens of Bayshore Community.
“Residents have submitted photographs of flooding on the property,” Bodkin said. “The county knows that flooding exists in and around this area, yet county staff and the hearing examiner have recommended approval.”
Attorney Russell Schropp, representing the property owner, said the development will help the flooding issues neighbors say exist in the area, in part by repairing and maintaining culverts that carry water around the planned development.
“What we are trying to do is alleviate some of that, not only by handling our own drainage but allowing for better conveyance of existing storm water from the north to pass through our project,” Schropp said. “I think it is going to be a significant improvement that, quite frankly, the project does not need to do for its own development.”
Homes that will be constructed on the site will be served by environmentally-enhanced septic systems.
The land, now used as pasture, receives an estimated 2,700 pounds of nitrogen per year, courtesy of 65 grazing cows, according to the landowner’s application filed with the county.
Ordinary septic systems would cut that output to 1,700 pounds, according to Kirk Martin, president of Fort Myers based Water Systems Inc., a consultant to the property owner.
The enhanced septic system would reduce nitrogen output to 700 pounds per day. The enhanced system would be maintained by a homeowners association.
“With the enhancements we’re talking about, this is really the Cadillac way to go,” Martin said.
Dena Wenz , a neighbor of the Leetana development, fears buyers of the 201 homes to be built off Rich Road won’t be compatible with the rural lifestyle of their Bayshore neighborhood.
Still, residents are skeptical about more than the physical impact on their neighborhood. Several said at hearings prior to the Lee County Hearing Examiner that they fear a rift between their lifestyles and that of their new neighbors.
“Lets [sic] not put this little development in the middle of our rural home town [sic] feel and have it be an HOA that is going to say ‘We can’t ride four-wheelers and ride horses and shoot guns around there because they are not used to that,'” neighbor Dena Wenz said.
“That‘s going to affect all of us. They’re not going to be happy about it; we are afraid they are going to try and dictate how we live our lives,” Wenz said.