Pine Island Plan

Two island residents to be part of Pine Island Plan discussion group

Published in Pine Island Eagle March 17, 2015


http://www.pineisland-eagle.com/page/content.detail/id/528727/Two-island-residents-to-be-part-of-Pine-Island-Plan-discussion-group.html?nav=5051


Lee County will continue its review of density guidelines for development on Pine Island and will formally include two islanders in the process.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously agreed during a lengthy meeting Tuesday that county staff, outside legal counsel and expert consultants will review the existing Pine Island Plan. The vote also included the involvement of two residents that live on Pine Island, who have had a hand in drafting the original plan.

Those islanders will be Greg Stewart and Bill Spikowski, according to the recommendation made by Commissioner John Manning, who was voted to become the liaison for the Pine Island community during the process.

County Attorney Richard Wesch said the two residents will provide assistance in striking a balance between lessening liability to the county from property owner challenges while maintaining the character of Pine Island.

“They are expert planners in their field,” he said, adding that they will provide assistance in the rewriting process.

The Pine Island Plan is under review because of litigation Lee County is facing.

Wesch said there are eight cases against Lee County plus 51 notices from other property owners who have issues with plan parameters.

He said the intent is to authorize those elements of the Pine Island Plan that have created a liability and future liability for all of Lee County, all while safeguarding the character and nature of the Pine Island community.

“This is the formal action required to allow us to start that process,” Wesch said. “Any amendments that are proposed will go through a full hearing process.”

Commissioner Frank Mann said he is troubled because he does not feel they have exhausted everything they could be doing in terms of legal defense in a court room.

“I feel like we could have done more,” he said. “No one knows how far we have to go to downsize and soften the plan. I would like to spend more time in a court room defending the existing plan. I want us to explore every option. We are on the cutting edge of some legal history here and I don’t want to throw in the towel by rewriting a plan and softening a plan that has been really good.”

Mitch Hutchcraft spoke on behalf of King Ranch, an agricultural company that has a 162-legacy during the meeting. He said although they were not there to debate the vision, they believe the Pine Island Plan went too far.

“Is there a better way? A more equitable solution,” Hutchcraft asked. “King Ranch has not filed any lawsuits, notices of content. We have clearly indicated our current agricultural plans. We are ready to collaborate with Lee County and put new policies in place . . . restore the rights that were taken out of this plan.”

Manning told the crowd that they will meet in their neighborhood, as well as share what they know and come up with. He said they also will get input from the Pine Island community.

“I was involved in the first Pine Island Plan,” Manning said. “It is a unique place for folks to live, work and play, and we are going to keep it that way.”

The Lee County Board of County Commission chambers filled with approximately 300 Pine Islanders, many of whom spoke during the very lengthy public comment portion of the meeting.

Many of the residents shared how they enjoy the unique, quaint characteristics of the island, which is why they do not want to see increased development.

Sonny Koutsoutis, a resident of St. James City, said due to the many commercial areas around, they don’t need another one.

“Why would you feel that you got to destroy the unique aspect of Pine Island?” she said. “There is a limited amount of land. As a citizen, resident of Pine Island, a voter and a landowner, I am asking why? I think I am entitled to know why it is you want to destroy Pine Island.”

Many community members also spoke passionately about how large developments on Pine Island would impact the traffic, therefore impacting the evacuation during hurricanes.

The Pine Island plan includes the “810 rule” and “910 rules” which restricted future development.

Kathy Malone, vice president of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, said they love their island, but they do not want to be trapped there in a disaster.

Manning said he has made the pledge to a number of folks on an individual basis that they are going to watch this process very closely.

After the public comment came to a close, Commissioner Larry Kiker thanked everyone for coming to the meeting. He said he learned that the topic is very personal to those who spoke.

Kiker said as they move forward he would like there to be conversations about the evacuation standards that are required, what is minimally acceptable and what that means in terms to what is written in the Pine Island Plan. He said he would also like a comparison of that information to the 810 rule and the 910 rule.

He added he would also like the infrastructure plans for Matlacha and Pine Island to be reviewed for the next five, 10 and 20 years. He would like an analysis of how that plays into funding that has been identified so far in connection with Kings Ranch and some of the other possible land owner projects that they have.

“I would like to see a time line,” Kiker said of all the major purchases mapped out in terms of when the Pine Island Plan came into being.

A comparative analysis of the 20/20 funds that are available was also requested by Kiker. A specific legal liability estimate was another request, so everyone is talking about the same numbers.

A prioritized list from the Pine Island community of what they would like to see the County Commissioners talking about was also requested by Kiker.

“If we are going to do this, let’s do it right,” he said. “Let’s do an analysis. I hear you loud and clear and I know we have a lot of work to do. We have to have some patience.”

Wesch said given the list of requests, he anticipates the commissioners would not have any information much before 60 days at the earliest. He said it will take some time to prepare a proposed draft for discussion.

Mann said the meeting was not to dismantle the Pine Island Plan, nor finding ways to increase the density of Pine Island.

“We are here because we have been sued over the Pine Island Plan, just a component of it,” he said. “We were sued and we lost that suit.”

Mann went on to say that they would like to protect the intent of the Pine Island Plan as it exists today.

“If we don’t make some adjustments to the Pine Island Plan, we could, they have said this on the record, we could possibly if the sky did fall, we could be liable for as much as $2 million. We must find a legal strategy,” he said.

“We are a family”

County to address Pine Island Plan issue Tuesday

Published in the Pine Island Eagle March 11, 2015

A record turnout attended a town hall meeting this week to rally behind the Pine Island Plan.

“We do care about the island, the animals, the clean water and we care about the people,” Greater Pine Island Civic Association Vice President Kathy Malone said. “We are a family. We come together when we need to. We are all on the same page on this issue.”

Greater Pine Island Civic Association President Roger Wood said the attendance for the Monday, March 9, town hall meeting was huge. He said after counting 565 people it became hard to keep track because people were standing outside the doors, in the parking lot and out towards the street.

“It was a huge turnout,” Wood said. “There are a lot of people concerned about this issue on Pine Island.”

The meeting was held because the Lee County Board of County Commissioners is expected to vote on Tuesday, March 17, on whether to hire a Tampa law firm to rewrite the Pine Island Plan.

Phil Buchanan, pro bono consultant for the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, said the reason he was given for the Pine Island Plan change is because it would be difficult to defend it against “Bert Harris claims.” He said the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act became effective on May 11, 1995.

Buchanan maintains the act is not retroactive, and so does not apply to the 810 and 910 rules enacted in 1988.

“The Act provides protection to landowners over and above the provisions of the United States Constitution and is unique to Florida,” he said. “My personal view of the act is that (it) does a reasonable job of legislating fairness to landowners. It provides payment for damages if a government agency ‘inordinately burdens’ an ‘existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of a real property.’ The act does not prevent good land planning or force communities such as Pine Island to accept more development than the island can absorb. In my opinion, there is no need to for local governments to panic when presented with Bert Harris claims.”

Buchanan said the Pine Island Plan was authored by Dr. Gene Boyd and Dr. Ellie Boyd, who also were founders of the Smart Growth Program in Lee County, in the late 1980s. The 810 and 910 rules were created in 1988 and restricted future development.

“The 810 rule restricted rezonings to commercial when the traffic count through Matlacha reached 810 peak hours annual average two-way trips, if the zoning would result in more traffic through Matlacha,” Buchanan said. “The 910 rule restricted, essentially prohibited, new residential development orders when the traffic count through Matlacha reached 910 peak hour annual average two-way trips.”

In 2000, the 810 milestone was met, according to Buchanan, adding in 2001-2002, the Lee County Attorney’s Office said they could not defend a moratorium on development orders before the 910 milestone was met. In 2003, Lee County accepted a change to the 910 rule with a sliding scale.

The Pine Island Agricultural and Landowners Association brought a Florida Chapter 120 action against the plan changes in 2002.

Buchanan said although the 910 milestone was met in 2003, the traffic count was not published and released until March 14, 2006 when the Board of County Commissioners publically recognized the count had been exceeded following a lengthy hearing.

The Pine Island Plan became effective on Dec. 24, 2004 and the Chapter 120 action was withdrawn.

The 810 and 910 rules have been implemented since 2006.

Buchanan, along with Noel Andress and Bill Spikowski, met with Commissioner John Manning, County Attorney Richard Wesch, Supervising County Attorney Michael Jacob, County contact attorney Jeff Hinds and contract Planer Alexis Crespo on Tuesday, March 10.

He said he shared with all of them that the announcement of replacing the 910 rule with “something like one house per acre,” was disturbing.

“All of them assured me that they would proffer provisions that would adequately replace the 910 rule,” Buchanan said.

Wood said safety is the biggest concern regarding changes to the Pine Island Plan.

“Increased traffic from significantly improved density would make it unsafe to evacuate the island,” he said. “Higher density and development would change the whole character of the island.”

Malone said the island is pretty isolated, which causes concern about public safety.

Wood said increased traffic would cause issues to the existing highways and roads. He said another bridge to Pine Island would be an astronomical cost, as well as adding extra lanes to Stringfellow Road.

Another issue, according to Wood, is that the county did not get input from Pine Islanders.

“We should have been involved in the selection of an attorney to defend the Pine Island Plan,” he said.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners will meet on Tuesday, March 17, at 9:30 a.m.

“The main purpose of the meeting was to get people to show up at the Lee County Commissioner chambers,” Wood said.

The address is 2120 Main Street, Fort Myers.

County to consider raising impact fees

County to consider raising impact fees

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Feb. 27, 2015 issue

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners will begin its discussions about a possible impact fee increase this Tuesday during a public hearing.

“I can only hope that it goes well,” Commissioner Frank Mann said of the public hearing. “I’m nervous to say the least.”

The current fees are set at 20 percent of the estimated cost of constructing such things as roads, parks and schools necessitated by growth.

Building Industry Association Executive Vice President Brenda Thomas said they would love the impact fees to remain at 20 percent because they feel the market is still emerging.

“People who have been struggling for more than five years to find a job are now going to be threatened. That is hard to take,” she said.

The biggest issue the Building Industry Association is having right now is the uncertainty of where the impact fee rate will fall.

“Builders are in contracts with homeowners right now and they don’t know what to put in the contract,” Thomas said of impact fees.

The fees were reduced 80 percent two years ago when the commission agreed to a temporary reduction to spur the economy.

“The reason we changed it (was) while the building industry was on its back, but those days are gone,” Mann said. “Permits for construction are flying off the shelves. The industry is very healthy and alive and the impact fees need to be restored.”

The starting point for Tuesday’s hearing would bring the charges on new construction up to 45 percent of cost or more than double the current amount charged.

While commissioners will start their conversation at the 45 percent rate, county staff is recommending that the commission provide a 15 percent discount, or 85 percent of cost, which would bring the fee from $2,900 to $11,000 on a new home.

If the county commissioners approve 45 percent impact fees, Thomas said it will have a very negative impact on the building industry at this point.

“At 45 percent, you are looking at almost a $3,200 increase for a single family home, depending on which is the basis point for 45 percent,” she said.

Mann said he is in favor of restoring back to 100 percent because Lee County desperately needs revenue for new infrastructure because thousands of people are moving into the area and permits for new homes are up again.

Thomas, on the other hand, said although they are seeing an increase, they are not on “fire yet” regarding the number of permits pulled. She said a lot of the permits have been for multi-family apartments and commercial properties.

Mann said where ever he goes, he has 100 percent support on his position from the residents of Lee County.

“I knew it was the right thing to do from the beginning,” Mann said, adding that overwhelming support from the community it only reaffirms his belief.

Mann voted against the one-year reduction with the option for a second year in March 2013.

At 100 percent, including a cost adjustment, the fee would be $12,985 to build a new home. At 85 percent the fee would be $11,116 for a single family home. Currently, at 20 percent, the fee is $2,942.

“It worked very well for 20 years, so why would we change that?” Mann asked. “It needs to be a part of our revenue stream now. Impact fees have never kept anyone from moving here. The 20 years we have had them was the fastest expansion period in the history of the county.”

Mann said he does not see how it is fair to ask residents of Lee County to subsidize its growth requirements when there is a perfect example of a program that works – impact fees.

“It’s only fair that growth pays for growth, and the new people coming here pay for the roads and school classrooms they are demanding,” he said.

School Board member Steve Teuber said the school board voted unanimously to support 100 percent restoration.

“We had three things happen over the last five years, which was kind of the perfect storm,” he said.

Property values declined over those five years, the school district’s capital millage was cut from 2.0 mills to 1.5 mills and the County Commission reduced impact fees, including those for schools, by 80 percent.

Teuber said $640 million was lost in potential income. He said the district is carrying a $450 million capital debt with an annual debt service of $42 million.

“We need money from any source possible,” Teuber said.

He said if the school district gets $9 million from impact fees, they still need $300 million more.

“Nine million isn’t going to make the road,” Teuber said. “We need about $40 million a year.”

Even with an increase in impact fees, the school board’s needs still are not met.

“I certainly know that whatever the Board of County Commissioners do is not going to be the answer,” he said.

With that said, Teuber expressed that the school board wants the county commission to do what they feel is right based on their collaborative work.

“If they give us 55 percent, we are going to say thank you very much,” he said.

Thomas said the biggest issue is the commissioners have a big infrastructure need in Lee County and Southwest Florida. She said impact fees are just a small portion of solving that problem.

The impact fee covers only the new infrastructure that would have to be built to accommodate additional population.

By law, the money collected from impact fees cannot be used for maintenance or regular government operations. The money can only be used to add capacity. In other words, the funds can be used to add a lane to a road, but not to repave a road. They can be used to construct a new bridge but not repair an old bridge.

Thomas said the amount of money that it would take to fix road congestion could not be solved with impact fees. She said the traffic congestion on 41 or on the way to the beach could not be fixed with impact fees.

“Many issues we are facing cannot be solved with one solution,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to solve a problem by hurting someone else. A true community solves the problem together.”

Thomas said another issue with raising impact fees is the effect it will have on the valuation of all properties in Lee County.

She said the issue at hand is how do they manage growth in a productive way that leads to a better, more user friendly community without taking the No. 1 economic drivers and throwing them under the bus.

“Raising impact fees to the maximum will not fix the problem,” Thomas said.

The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the Commission Chambers, 2120 Main St,. Fort Myers.

 

 

County eyes impact fee hike

County eyes impact fee hike

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Feb. 5, 2015 issue

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners will begin its discussions about a possible impact fee increase during a public hearing scheduled for March 3.

The current fee is set at 20 percent of the estimated cost of constructing such things as roads, parks and schools necessitated by growth. The starting point for next month’s hearing would bring the charge on new construction up to 45 percent of cost or more than double the current amount charged.

District 4 Commissioner Brian Hamman said the analogy he uses for impact fees is it is a “set up charge,” or an “activation fee” for joining a community when building a new home. The impact fee covers the new infrastructure they would possibly have to build to accommodate additional population.

By law, the money collected from impact fees cannot be used for maintenance or regular government operations. The money can only be used to add capacity.

In other words, the funds can be used to add a lane to a road, but not to repave a road. They can be used to construct a new bridge but not repair an old bridge.

“These are supposed to be fees that cover the impact of growth and not regular maintenance,” Hamman said.

The dollars collected from impact fees also have to be expended in the same district where the money was collected.

“If you are going to collect fees in Estero, you have to spend that impact fee in Estero,” he explained. “It is the most volatile of funds because they rely strictly on the economy and construction being good.”

Hamman said there does not need to be high impact fees to generate a lot of revenue.

“You will encourage more growth and more building with lower fees and more revenue to build infrastructure with,” he said.

The impact fees collection rate has the potential of going from 20 percent to 100 percent of cost on March 13 if the Lee County Board of County Commissioners does not take further action as that is when the reduction to 20 percent of cost is set to “sunset.”

At 100 percent, including a cost adjustment, it would add a fee of $12,985 to build a new home and $11,116 for a single family home at the 85 percent rate. Currently, at 20 percent, the fee is $2,942.

“If you were to let the reduction expire and let the fee jump up to $13,000, you are adding $10,000 worth of cost to the house,” Hamman said. “The builder is going to pass it onto the consumer. That cost is going to hurt a middle class home. I am trying to think of how we can keep housing affordable for families that want to build a house.”

While commissioners will start their conversation at the 45 percent rate, county staff is recommending that the commission provide a 15 percent discount, or 85 percent of cost. He said at 85 percent, the fee would go from $2,900 to $11,000 on a new home.

“I think you would slow down the market with that kind of increase,” Hamman said. “My position is that a 55 percent reduction actually means a $7,000 saving to a middle class family. That could mean a difference for families of whether or not they continue to build a home.”

Brian Rist, immediate past president of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association said it is obvious that Lee County needs money, but he does not think impact fees are the correct way of going about generating the funds.

“There are other ways of generating revenue that seem to me to be more logical,” he said. “Like if you are going to build roads, why not add a few cents to the gas tax?”

Rist said the problem with impact fees is the charge is only assessed to new construction. Currently, 80 percent of the homes being built are $200,000 or less.

In regard to impact fees to build schools, Rist said the majority of people buying new homes in Lee County are moving from up north after their kids are grown and out of the house.

“Impact fees don’t affect people going to school,” Rist said. “But when real estate changes hands, that is everybody.”

Rist believes the commission is going to set the impact fees anywhere from 45 percent to 85 percent of cost.

“At this time new construction is just starting to return to a good level. It is definitely improving,” he said. “But it is just starting to recover and things like this could set us back again.”

One solution Rist believes would help would be through a real estate transfer fee. He said if a smaller amount of money is paid when real estate changes hands it would make more sense.

“When real estate goes down, when the economy goes down, people don’t buy new houses, but real estate constantly changes hands,” he said.

In March 2013, Hamman said the county commission decided to temporarily reduce the impact fee rate by 80 percent to help jumpstart the local economy.

“That is really largely because our economy in Lee County is driven by growth and new construction,” he said. “Since 2007, we really saw no new growth. Permitting was dead. People were out of work. Long-time businesses were closing down.”

Hamman said the commissioners really could not find a way to climb out of the recession.

Single family permits pulled went from more than 9,000 per year at the peak of the construction boom to 373 permits in 2011.

Lee County is starting to see the rise in permits pulled with 933 last year.

Although the growth is starting to appear, Hamman said they are only about a third of where they were before 2000. He said they were at a sustainable growth rate they could handle at about 2,600 permits a year.