Land-use changes would mean more mining near developed areas

Southeast Lee County is under the microscope at the county courthouse, with commissioners being briefed on land-use changes proposed in the 83,000-acre area.

The county has spent two years and $1.4 million developing studies and plans for the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area. Wednesday, commissioners will be asked to approve sweeping changes in the county growth management plan.

Those changes chiefly would restrict mining of limerock and fill to an area far from eastern Corkscrew Road. The plan would concentrate mining uses along Alico Road and farther west toward already-developed areas.

The changes seem sure to land the county in court with landowners, some of whom are already pushing for mine zoning. Commissioners aren’t the only ones getting the briefing. Private consultants and attorneys are hanging on every word as well.

Commissioners have their own questions. Commissioner Tammy Hall said that basing historic conditions on a 1953 aerial photograph, as environmental consultants did, gives her heartburn.

Hall was not happy with what the county’s $1.4 million bought.

“I’m asking for invoices,” she said. “You shouldn’t spend this much and get this vagueness.”

This despite two different consultants saying more would be available if the budget had been higher.

The proposed plan changes would remove mining as a permitted use across much of the DRGR. Assistant county attorney Donna Marie Collins said other uses - clustered development spurred by a development rights transfer program - would provide an alternative.

Planning consultant Bill Spikowski said it would be preferable if those development rights were transferred out of the DRGR, but clustering in the area would be better than the status quo.

The status quo would be residential development with one home for every 10 acres. Instead, the development rights transfer program would allow the owner of 500 acres to build 50 homes in one spot concentrated nearer existing services and farther from land targeted for preservation or restoration.

Hall said she’s unsure that will work.

“My fear is this particular board won’t even approve bonus densities,” she said. “Density has been a four-letter word in this county for a long time. We have to define good density and bad density.”

Commission Chairman Ray Judah said he’d assumed there would be bonuses. If a landowner transferred development rights off valuable wetlands, for example, he should receive more than one credit for every unit transferred.

“There’s no way,” Judah said. “I want this to work.”

Hall said she’s not convinced clustered development would be welcomed.

“We’re going to put dense clusters in an area where people have fought hard to keep their single-family ranchettes,” she said. “I’m not sure people have thought that through.”

When Bonita Springs was studying its much smaller DRGR, an analysis showed homes built through the TDR program would cost an average of $900,000. That was with land costs at $16,000 per acre.

Consultant James Nicolas pegged county DRGR land costs at $31,000 per acre. That would make the clustered home cost close to $2 million.

Commissioners will be asked to send the proposed changes to Tallahassee for state review after a public hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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