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.

Wow … simply wow

Today touched me in a way that left me absolutely overwhelmed … what a fantastic day, another day I will carry with me forever.

With only two days left as the editor of the Eagle, a going away lunch was held for me today.

Little Lilly’s Island Deli, a deli right down the boardwalk from us, made my version of the veggie wrap as the special of the day as a tribute to me. That in itself blew me away.

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They also put a message on their sign, which usually highlights the special of the day …

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This sign kicked off a very emotional day … Chris, Robin and Matt … you all will be missed. You all always brighten my day … especially that wonderful laugh of yours Robin.

Elsie, one of the first women I met when I started on the island, put a letter to the editor in the paper yesterday inviting the community to come say goodbye.

What a thoughtful gesture …

As the hour and a half went by, various individuals came in, shared their goodbyes, and well wishes. I received lots of hugs and a few kisses before we walked away from each other. Some even came baring gifts.

I was especially touched when Linda came into the deli. I instantly got up and hugged her, an embrace that shared every emotion she was feeling at that moment. That hug spoke to me, spoke volumes. As we pulled away tears filled her eyes as she shared how much she was going to miss me. Since I am an incredibly emotional person, I told her to stop crying or I was going to start. We hugged again, after I shared my contact information with her. That goodbye and best wishes touched my heart in such a deep way, made me feel incredibly loved.

As I sat with a great group of women at lunch, laughing uncontrollably, it hit me how much I am going to miss this island and all of the people who have touched my life. I never thought I would have so many emotions fill me as I said goodbye to a place of work.

The best part was those goodbyes continued as I went back to the office.

Although I worked today it did not feel like work. There was so much laughter, so much joy, so many good times. One of the best days I have had on that island.

I don’t think I will ever fully grasp what kind of impact I have had on this community.

The beauty of this job is it never really felt like a job. Yes, I worked a crazy amount of hours, worked way to many consecutive days in a row … and … yes complained about it from time to time. But, I worked with friends, people who I grew to know through the articles I wrote. I became a part of the community in which I did not live all because of the involvement I felt was important to have as the editor of the Eagle.

A community that embraced me, a community that treated me like a member of their personal family will always fill my heart with so much joy.

I am so glad I was given this job, it has changed my life forever! I have so many beautiful memories that I will take with me throughout my life due to the experiences and people I met.

I will miss Pine Island, I will miss writing for the paper that I poured my heart and soul into.

Wow, how incredibly lucky am I, this truly is the best career in the entire world.

So many emotions, so many beautiful, raw emotions are running wild at this very moment.

So many memories

With only seven days left as the editor of the Pine Island Eagle, (due to the move Jason and I are making to NE Tennessee), the push to find someone to replace me has come full circle. A few applicants have called me to find out the “scoop” of the paper in the last few days. These phone calls made me realize how much I have grown to like the Pine Island community, as well as the paper that I have worked so hard on week after week.

This sweet gal who recently moved from Rhode Island to Southwest Florida called with a list of questions this afternoon after she talked with Val, the executive editor about the position. Her enthusiasm for the possibility of becoming the new editor was contagious, which made me reflect upon the moment I was offered the job 18 months ago.

As her questions were answered and we got to know each other a little more, my excitement for her grew as she became more excited about the job. Although I do not have a final say in who replaces me, I decided to call Val and share the nice conversation we had on the phone.

It’s amazing how much of an impact you can have on a community through writing. On the flip side, it is amazing how much the community can have an impact on you as well.

A woman who I have grown to know since I started at the Eagle, due to her involvement in one of the groups that raises money for the island, showed me so much support tonight. She came up to me and asked if she could have a hug, which of course I provided. That hug was then followed by many incredibly sweet remarks of what I have done with the Eagle. As she wished me luck in my next endeavors and shared how much she was going to miss me, she had to cut it short because her eyes were swelling with tears and she did not want to cry.

Another sweet moment that I will carry with me forever…

The wonderful thing about that moment is another woman soon picked up on who I was and instantly shared her feelings. She said she stopped reading the paper for a good amount of time because she was not happy with it, which she said changed when I began. A paper she did not go out of her way to pick up now makes her excited every week to go and get, so she can read the news of her community.

This community constantly thanks me for the paper I produce, their paper that they love. There is no need to thank me, writing is my passion, finding the stories and creating something for the community to enjoy is not work. It’s simply what I believe any reporter and editor would want to accomplish if they are given the opportunity to make a paper their own.

Overwhelemed is an understatement of how all these people leave me feeling after they share their thoughts and feelings about the paper, as well as about me.

It will be  bittersweet next Friday as I say goodbye to the community I have grown to know through the many articles I have published. There were countless memories made on this little island, many memories with individuals I would not have met otherwise.

What a journey, what a learning experience, what an incredible memory to take with me as we travel to Tennessee, where I hope to again make an impact on the community in which I work.

I am incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in this island community as their editor and transform their newspaper into something I will always be proud of producing.

It’s amazing that all of these emotions rose with the simple phone call from a hopeful reporter who has applied for my position.

What is there not to love about a profession that provides that much emotion, good emotion?

Wow is all I am left to say.