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Guest Commentary: Preserving our island life

December 25, 2019
By HELEN FOX , Pine Island Eagle

Visitors to the Greater Pine Island community are surprised and delighted by our secluded "Old Florida" environment. We live surrounded by mangrove forests, three federally designated aquatic preserves, and acres of palms, tropical plants and fruit groves. We enjoy a small number of locally owned restaurants, shops and art galleries. We support local fishermen and a productive agricultural community, and we care deeply about preserving the quality of our beautiful aquatic environment.

So far, Pine Island and Matlacha have escaped the cement and skyscraper development so predominant in other Florida waterfront communities. Through the Pine Island Community Plan and the Matlacha Overlay approved by the Lee Country Board of Commissioners, residents have successfully limited building heights, avoided strip malls, ensured our only hurricane evacuation route, halted the construction of canals that degrade water and wetland resources, and set aside lands for native vegetation and wildlife.

Yet without the local control gained through incorporation, the Lee County Commission could roll back these gains and destroy our Island lifestyle.

Think about it: The Greater Pine Island Community has approximately 8,000 registered voters. That's less than 2% of the voters in all of Lee County. Cape Coral has about 90,000 voters. This disparity makes Lee County far more beholden to the Cape than to our island community.

One example of what worries us: In 2016, the Lee County Commission revised the Pine Island Plan to allow greater building densities than the earlier Plan allowed. And on Dec. 12, 2016, the city of Cape Coral attempted to annex six parcels covering 5.47 acres in Matlacha. Under Cape Coral zoning rules, the city could have added additional boat ramps, a marina and buildings up to eight stories tall. Residents had to resort to expensive legal action to regain some semblance of control over their land use.

Further attempts to over-develop our community would also threaten our fragile ecosystem. The mangrove forests that buffer the islands not only cleanse the water of pollutants and provide critical habitat for hundreds of species, they also help stabilize the shoreline and prevent erosion from waves and storms. Overdevelopment sea walls, shoreline condos, high-density housing, lawns and beaches does not allow enough space for mangroves to thrive.

And it's not only the coastal areas that we worry about: Plans to transform farmland into dense residential communities would further stress our roads and bridges and cause traffic jams during medical and weather emergencies. Already we see this happening at the height of the visitor season. While a certain amount of development is inevitable and even desirable, smart development is crucial. Carefully managed development that preserves our Island lifestyle can best be carried out once we've gained control of our destiny through incorporation.

For further information please see the Greater Pine Island Civic Association website, where the Pine Island Plan, the Feasibility Study, the revised draft Charter, and all other the documents regarding incorporation can be found.

Your questions and comments about incorporation interest the GPICA Board. Please send them to

Helen Fox is a member of the GPICA Board of Directors.



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