Last Wednesday night, about 30 people gathered in the Matlacha Art's Building to hear the president of the Cape Coral Northwest Neighborhood Association, Denis Catalano, speak about the Cape's Seven Islands project.
The Seven Islands project consists of 7 man-made islands west of Old Burnt Store Road in the North Spreader Canal between Tropicana Parkway on the north border and Sirenia Vista Park on the south border. The proposed development lies along the estuary in Matlacha Pass about 1 mile north of the Matlacha Bridge.
"We have more than a thousand members of NWNA," Catalano said. "The residents of Northwest Cape and NWNA have been concerned about this development project since it was announced in 2015."
Denis Catalano, NWNA president, left, and
Birdi Smock, president of Matlacha Civic Association, during the presentation on Cape Coral’s Seven Islands project.
The Cape Coral City Council approved the purchase of 491 parcels of land at a foreclosure auction in 2012. The total land purchased was 652 acres at a cost of $13.367 million, including the 48 acres of the Seven Islands property.
"NWNA wasn't too concerned in 2012," Catalano said. "We knew the city was going to do something with those properties, but we felt we would have some input."
It wasn't until February 2015 that the NWNA was invited to a "vision planning" session. "We at NWNA immediately put out a survey of NWNA members to find out what they thought about the Seven Islands project," Catalano said. "Sixty-one percent of our membership did respond to the survey and 83 percent of those respondents wanted waterfront dining, single-family homes and parks. We were looking for something that would have minimal impact on the environment and we were especially concerned about high-rises.
"The sessions with the city occurred in November of 2015 and we had two plans we called Plan A and Plan B," Catalano said. "Plan B was, leave them (the islands) as they are but Plan A allowed up to 3-story buildings. Both plans were presented to the City Council but the council surprised us with two additional proposals that included much higher buildings. In the end the council approved 8-story buildings. The vote was 6-2 with two council members objecting to the 8-story plan - Rick Williams and Jessica Cosden."
The "mixed use" development plan includes a marina, community center, multi-family residential and a resort hotel with a maximum height of eight stories.
"We were, and still are, concerned with the density of the project," Catalano said. "The 8-story buildings involve about 2 1/2 of the 7 islands. When you go from our recommended maximum 4 stories to 8 stories, you double the density to 40 units per acre and if they do 'cut and fill' to fill in areas that are now water, they can theoretically increase the height of the buildings. Of course, the reasons for increasing the density is dollars, dollars and more dollars."
Catalano then took questions from the audience.
Q: "Are there any developers willing to take on the project?"
A: "Not that I know of but the city of Cape Coral isn't talking."
Q: "What effect will the Seven Islands project have on the Ceitus Boatlift lawsuit?"
A: "I don't think it will have any effect."
Q: "Does Cape Coral have a comprehensive land use plan?"
A: "They do but they change it all the time."
"One thing I'd like to emphasize is that the 8-story buildings that the council approved isn't the end of the story," Catalano said. "None of the environmental impact studies have been done and there are lots of issues yet to face: lack of roads, there is no infrastructure, no water in that area. They will have to address increased boat traffic and environmental concerns. We also have the new manatee zones inside the canals that have to be addressed. So they still have a long way to go."