‘Small island charm’ at stake? Capri residents protest planned high-rises

Lance Shearer

On Sunday, Isles of Capri residents came together to voice their feelings about the proposed high-rise condo development in the heart of their community. They filled over 50 golf carts – a preferred method of transportation on Isles of Capri – and paraded up and down Capri Blvd. in what was advertised as a Golf Cart Rally.

Additional supporters gathered along the rally’s path to wave signs and hands showing their support, and Capri Community Inc. (CCI) member Jeff O and others even stood along Collier Blvd. at the Capri Blvd. intersection to spread their message to motorists driving to Marco Island. On an island or cluster of islands with only about 850 residences, the hundreds who turned out for Sunday’s rally represented a strong show of unanimity.

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The rally participants and spectators were protesting a proposal from landowner FCC Beach & Yacht LLC to rezone a 5.32-acre section of what is known on Isles of Capri as the “business island” from C-3 commercial zoning to mixed-use PUD, or planned unit development, including three 168-foot high-rise towers with up to 108 condos. The property comprises virtually all the so-far undeveloped area on Isles of Capri.

The developer held a required public information meeting, on Jan. 13 at the South Regional Library, and is working with county staff to move their project forward. They will need to present to the Collier County Planning Board and then to the Board of County Commissioners, who will have the final say on the rezoning request.

The strong showing for Sunday’s golf cart rally showed a community united in their opposition to the developer’s proposal, said Matt Crowder, CCI secretary and head of the group’s Save Capri Committee.

“These towers would in our view completely redefine life on Isles of Capri,” he said. “We’re going to lose our small island charm. Fiddler’s Creek had plans to develop the business island under C-3 zoning for years, with models in their sales center.

“We’re not trying to be unreasonable. We don’t begrudge them the right to develop their property. We don’t have an issue with Fiddler’s Creek developing their property. The issue is rezoning.”

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FCC Beach & Yacht is represented by a project team of development heavyweights, including planning firm Q. Grady Minor & Associates, environmental consultant Tim Hall, and land use attorney Rich Yovanovich of Coleman, Yovanovich & Koester, P.A. Yovanovich made the point that the owner and developer of the subject property on Isles of Capri is not Fiddler’s Creek, but that distinction was lost on the golf cart rally participants. They carried signs urging “STOP Fiddler’s Creek from building 3 168’ condos in the center of Capri” and “Fiddler’s Creek NO – We will not let you destroy our way of living.”

The low-lying coastal community of Isles of Capri is in the coastal high-hazard zone, and extremely sensitive land. Regardless, development of the property will take place in some fashion. If the project including the high-rise condominiums is not approved, said Yovanovich, there will be intensive commercial development, and the residents might find that was more of a problem, particularly regarding traffic.

“It won’t be small mom and pops. This is waterfront property – it will draw people and be an attractor.” He referenced Tin City and Venetian Village in Naples as examples of what might rise on the site.

“The proposed residential property is far less intensive,” with “high-end seasonal residences,” said Yovanovich. “We think residential is the proper option for that property and will be an asset to the community. It will increase property values for Isles of Capri.”

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He said the developer is committed to holding an additional information meeting, “in a month or six weeks,” although no date has been set. They expect to present to the planning board, probably in July, and go before the county commission in “early fall.”

Crowder made the point that the proposed rezoning requires a supermajority of commissioners, four of the five. “We only need two commissioners to vote no,” he said, and expressed confidence they could keep their residents engaged even during the summer off-season.

District 1 Commissioner Rick LoCastro is the representative for Isles of Capri, as well as Marco Island and East Naples. He said while he has heard from numerous residents, nothing has yet come before the board.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from Isles of Capri. Some citizens think they’re putting shovels in the ground tomorrow. Many citizens think this has already been approved. You are in very early stages, but the citizens should know, I do share their concerns,” said LoCastro.

This being Isles of Capri, after the golf cart rally, the participants finished up with lunch at the Capri Community Center, entertained by the music of Jason Beal. Events there tend to have an ice cream social/block party vibe, and on April 9, the annual Spring Picnic is scheduled. The rezoning issue is sure to be a topic of discussion.