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GPICA issues letter to incorporate

October 9, 2019
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

At its meeting last week, Greater Pine Island Civic Association president Scott Wilkinson announced that the GPICA board voted 7-3 "to issue a Letter of Intent to incorporate."

The letter has been sent to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners and to the Cape Coral City Council.

The letter was also sent, via email and regular mail, to District 76 Florida Rep. Ray W. Rodrigues and District 27 Florida Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The Notice of Intent to Incorporate states:

"PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, Inc., located on Pine Island, Lee County, Florida, intends to sponsor and file a Petition pursuant to Chapter 165, Florida Statutes, to Incorporate the lands in Pine Island and Matlacha area (as more fully described in the attached description) into a Municipality as described in Article VIII, 2, Florida Constitution. The Petition to Incorporate, with its required feasibility study, draft charter and other related documents will be filed prior to the earliest deadline provided by law or rule.

"It is requested that Petitions for Annexation of real property within the boundaries described herein, not be filed, prosecuted or approved pending the completion of the Incorporation process. It is the position of the Association that the people should be given the option to vote upon whether they wish to remain in an unincorporated area or to be in a municipality of their choosing.

"The Association has approved the transmittal of this Notice at a Board meeting on October 01, 2019."

In addition to that official letter, the GPICA board also wrote the following open letter, explaining the board's decision:

Civic Association Files Notice of Intent to Incorporate with Lee County

On Oct. 3, 2019, the Greater Pine Island Civic Association filed a "Letter of Intent to Incorporate" with the Lee Board of County Commissioners. We're writing this letter today to the residents of Greater Pine Island, St. James City, Bokeelia, Pineland, Matlacha and all the areas in between to answer the questions:

- Why & why now?

- What's next?

Why and Why Now?

In 2016, the GPICA ? with the backing and support of its membership ? began investigating the possibility of incorporating after Lee County revised the Pine Island Plan to allow for greater building densities and Cape Coral bought and annexed nearly six acres of land in Matlacha, essentially changing the entity that would oversee zoning in that area and opening the parcels up to greater density and building heights.

A few Cape Coral residents, with support of the Matlacha Civic Association, challenged the validity of the land purchase and annexation and sued the City of Cape Coral to stop the annexation.

Incorporation efforts by GPICA were put on hold as that legal process moved forward.

Last month, on Sept. 10, 2019, the Circuit Court quashed Cape Coral's annexation of the five parcels of land in Matlacha and the land is now back under the zoning jurisdiction of Lee County.

The Circuit Court's decision effectively overturned the annexation gives Pine Island residents a small window of opportunity to "push back" against Cape Coral's annexation: Cape Coral has 30 days to appeal that ruling ? until Oct. 10, 2019.

By filing the "Letter of Intent," GPICA serves notice to the public, to Lee County and to the City of Cape Coral that

- The Matlacha parcels are within the boundaries of the area GPICA intends to incorporate;

- That Pine Island entities ? notably the Fire and Water districts ? provide services to those properties;

- Should Cape Coral continue to pursue annexation, it would have to include in its plans how it intends to provide those services.

- And perhaps most importantly it also requests that Petitions for Annexation of real property within the boundaries of the proposed area of incorporation "not be filed, prosecuted or approved pending the completion of the incorporation process."

While the Letter of Intent does not obligate us to incorporate - something that cannot take place without a legally held vote conducted by the Lee County Board of Elections - or take any other action at any specific time, it may give us standing in any future actions that the Cape might take toward annexing parcels that are a part of the Greater Pine Island Community and which are served through our Water/Fire districts.

GPICA consulted with attorney Robert Pritt, an expert in local government and land-use, in making the decision to move forward with the Letter of Intent now.

What's Next?

The ultimate goal is for Greater Pine Island residents to have control over land use decisions ? including building heights and densities and rezoning requests.

The GPICA strongly believes that development in our community should be decided by those of us who live here and we have been working since our creation in 1957 to protect the unique coastal-rural character of the island and protect our environmentally sensitive lands from encroaching overdevelopment.

We know that it is unlikely that the issue raised by Cape Coral's purchase of the Matlacha properties will just go away.

Therefore, we're also taking this window of opportunity to renew open discussion of all aspects of incorporation ? both positive and negative. We are committed to encouraging and facilitating input from all residents ? input that is both positive and negative.

Since 2016-2017, the GPICA board has been clear in its support of incorporation ? we strongly believe that it is the only way to retain local control over important Island issues.

At the same time, we understand that residents have many valid questions and concerns about incorporation and what it will mean for those who live here or own property here.

We realize, too, that our previous efforts to answer these questions and share information with the Island fell short.

To that end, we are developing a better plan and new avenues to share information about the process ? again, we are committed to addressing both the positive and negative aspects of incorporation so that members of the community can make an informed decision about whether to become a city.

It is also very important for residents to understand the legal steps of incorporating, which are:

1. Residents must indicate support for incorporation;

2. The proposed entity must develop a feasibility study, draft charter and other related documents;

3. Southwest Florida's delegates to the state Legislature ? our elected Representatives and Senators ? must also support it and agree to introduce legislation in the House and Senate supporting incorporation;

4. The full House and Senate must pass the bill;

5. The Governor must sign the bill.

But that is by no means the end of the process.

Once Florida's governor signs the bill, the issue comes back to Pine Island, where a majority of registered voters within the boundaries of the proposed entity must approve it in a general election conducted by the Lee County Board of Elections. [Florida Department of State: Formation of Municipalities Act].

That means if you are registered to vote here, you will have your say in a legally conducted election.

The GPICA supports incorporation for many reasons ? reasons that we will be sharing in the days and weeks ahead.

But we also need your help.

-What are your questions and concerns about incorporation?

-Why do you support it?

-Why do you oppose it?

We're asking that you please share with us your opinions and questions via email at GPICA so that we may seek answers and share them with our neighbors.


The Board of the GPICA

Scott Wilkinson, President, Nadine Slimak, Vice President, Roger Wood, Treasurer, Shari Perkins, Secretary, and members Claudia Bringe, Helen Fox, Nancy Harwood, Tim Heitz, Leoma Lovegrove, Deborah Memoli, Anna Stober



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