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Islanders react to Pine Island Plan review

March 25, 2015
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

Well over 300 people arrived at the Lee County Courthouse early Tuesday morning, March 17, in a show of island unity to preserve the Pine Island Plan. Lee County is currently facing litigation against restrictions in the current plan.

There are currently eight cases brought against Lee County and 51 "notices" of additional cases from people who claim to be affected by the Pine Island Plan. The county has litigated one case, Cammilot LLC vs. Lee County, and according to Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch, lost the case costing taxpayers $250,000. There are seven cases scheduled to go to trial in the next few months.

In the days following the meeting with County Commissioners, islanders voiced their opinions about the plan and any proposed amendments.

"I moved to Matlacha because of what we have," owner of Matlacha Cottages Mike Gibbons said. "I would like to retain what we have as much as possible. Growth is inevitable but we don't have the infrastructure for what they are looking at. If they open this law up, it won't be limited to just one acre or three acres it will open the floodgates. I would rather we preserve what we have."

"I am only here five months out of the year," Michelle Butler said. "I originally came here to get away from the congestion and traffic. Unfortunately, in the last few years the congestion and traffic has gotten worse and I just don't think Pine Island can withstand any more. I am here to show that we are united against developers getting their hands on Pine Island and adding hundreds, maybe thousands of new homes."

"Like everyone I am concerned about density," Pine Island resident Linn Hynds said. "We bought in 1999 and built in 2009. Since then there has been tremendous growth in traffic. We travel through Matlacha several times a week to get on and off the island and we can't even imagine what the circumstances would be in a real emergency. This is a disaster waiting to happen."

"We have lived on the island for almost 30 years." Pine Island resident Mark Strom said. "We've seen many changes. While some of these changes have been good for the island, it's impossible to limit progress, we've seen what's happened to Cape Coral to Fort Myers and to every one of the barrier islands that have only one access road on and off. The problem is from a safety standpoint and an environmental standpoint. We've seen the bulldozers developers bring in to take down the palms and pine trees Pine Island was named for, while at the same time they tell us they want to respect the environment and the island. They are waiting for the day when they can change the property designation from agricultural to residential and build houses houses Pine Island can't afford."

"As a part-time resident I am very concerned about hurricanes," Bokeelia resident Nancy Kaufmann said. "If they allow more development, how is everyone going to get over the bridge in an emergency?"

"They confused us when they took our 20/20 funds. They scared us when they reduced impact fees twice. In politics, perception is everything and it looks to the general public like they are favoring the building/ development industry, empowering them to think they can have it all - including Pine Island," Kathy Malone, vice president of the Pine Island Community Civic Association said.

"The biggest question I have is, what will Lee County and taxpayers receive in exchange for any payments awarded to plaintiffs pursuant to lawsuits under the Bert Harris Act?", St. James City resident Carol Crane asked.

"The real question is how vigorous will this county attorney be defending against these Bert Harris claims?" Roger Wood, president of the Pine Island Community Civic Association, said. "As I understand it, these claims aren't that easy to win. We also have to consider that as our traffic problems get worse how this effects current residents. There are lots of issues to consider when we look at the Pine Island Plan."

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to assemble county staff, outside legal council, expert consultants and possibly two Pine Island residents as part of a review committee to review the Pine Island Plan. One Pine Island resident, Greg Stuart, has accepted a position on the review committee - a second is being sought. Commissioner John Manning will be liaison for the Pine Island community.

County Attorney Wesch assured Pine Island residents that they will be included as part of the review process and that public hearings will be held on Pine Island at a later date.



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