(Opinion By Doug Sperin-Smith) It’s a bit ironic that South Seas Resort at the end of Sanibel and Captiva is asking for a full rewrite of the Development Code without a pro-active public dialog process. It is one of the most vulnerable land parcels in the region and has always prided itself on the scale and sense of place compared to more urban resorts. After two major storm events and an expensive acquisition, the new owner now feels they need more density and intensity to improve their business model.
Why do commercial landowners always need more? The best answer is more means more value for them – but what about the community? What about the risk of the next storm?
What about traffic? What about a sense of place? It is a tiresome march with powerful
conversations by special interests with time to lobby our officials.
Fort Myers Beach is in the same position. A consistent pattern of commercial owners asking for more is being lobbied by consultants, owners, and the town’s land planners. Moss Marine, Margaritaville, Beach Baptist Church, Times Square, hotels etc. etc. It will be endless. Southwest Florida is popular and now ripe for the picking.
There is no question our community is experiencing a reset, but where is the public dialog opportunity to discuss options, trade-offs, and incentives for creating the next Fort Myers Beach? How do the residents feel? What about the existing comp plan that has served our needs since incorporation? More intense means more traffic on our fragile vulnerable island.
It seems the biggest need is affordable workforce housing and incentives that have a chance at getting something done. If modest changes to the development code can facilitate this while moderating additional intensity, and building back a sense of community, then we will have been successful. All new development will be stronger, nicer (hopefully) and elevated. More intense land use is a quality that needs to be balanced with community vision.
There are national facilitators with broad experience to help this process- perhaps before we proceed piece-meal with every landowner idea for “more”, we should have a public workshop for input. Community Heart and Soul has a successful model for helping communities through this process and has grants to help a real need.
Our community leaders in the county and the town have an opportunity to be constructive leaders for managing this reset. I hope they do.
Doug Speirn-Smith is from Fort Myers Beach and can be reached directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org