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HEX hears from opponents of Eden Oak project

December 11, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Lee County Hearing Examiner on Dec. 6 heard from residents regarding a proposed single-family housing development near Shell Point, with opponents arguing the plan would further destroy the wetlands.

More than a dozen residents issued their objections to Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins to the Eden Oak project near Shell Point, which is planned for a 306-acre parcel with a maximum 55 single-family homes to be built there.

After the petitioners made their case Dec. 3 with some citizen input, residents spent nearly two hours presenting their side on Dec. 6, saying that the developers should not be given "special treatment" regarding what they say is a very fragile piece of land.

Michael Armstrong, a 20-year resident, said that as a homebuilder, he had to follow certain restrictions and "treat the environment as an asset, not an impediment."

"This developer is asking for exceptions and it's unreasonable. He needs to be held to the rules," Armstrong said.

A main witness was Rae Ann Wessel, natural resource policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who gave a near 45-minute summation of her case.

She maintained the project would further erode water quality, would result in the destruction of the mangroves, endanger species such as the smalltooth sawfish and other endangered species and endanger residents seeking to evacuate from storms.

"This project clearly doesn't meet the requirements that the Lee Comp Plan has for rezoning. It doesn't meet five of the six basic requirements and is in conflict with at least 27 policies, objectives and goals," Wessel said. "This is far from having any compliance with what the county has laid out."

The land is currently zoned as Agricultural (AG-2) and will have to be rezoned as Residential Planned Development (RPD).

Robert Pritt, representing Eden Oak LLC, the property owners, cross-examined Wessel, saying she had a conflict of interest as a member of the committee which decides for the county on what lands the county can purchase in its Conservation 2020 policy, calling it a "Rae Ann Grudge."

Wessel denied a conflict and added that in the next 30 years there is expected to be two feet of sea rise, meaning there will be no access to federal flood insurance or cleanup money. The end game could involve Conservation 2020.

"The property owner lost out on a previous investment and picked this up at a fire sale price and I don't expect anyone to build on this property. I think he will get the entitlement and either flip it or use it to negotiate a higher price for Conservation 2020," Wessel said.

The current proposal is to build 55 single-family homesites on 45 acres, with more than 260 acres to be put into conservation, Pritt said. An earlier plan had between 400 and 700 sites planned

The homes would be placed just south of the existing Shell Point community.

Collins scheduled the petitioner's rebuttal for Jan. 7 at 9 a.m. and, if necessary, Jan. 10 also at 9 a.m.

Collins will issue a report and her recommendations after to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, which will take up the case and make the final decision. Only those who spoke at the HEX meeting will be allowed to speak at the BOCC hearing.



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