Historic Sanibel Lighthouse

FL - Captiva Island is captivating, let's keep it that way

Proposed land use changes would disrupt the island's idyllic charm.

Lee County appears to be moving forward with a “false flag” for resilience.

In late September, the board voted 4-1 to move forward with a controversial amendment to the county’s Land Development Code and Comprehensive Land Use Plan. In the approved amendments were changes that affect Captiva Island that would benefit the South Seas Island Resort.

The only Commissioner to vote against the amendments was Kevin Ruane who represents Captiva and Sanibel Island. He correctly noted that the amendment could lead to higher density on both islands, disrupting the destinations’ quiet charm and hindering efforts at actual resiliency.

Instead, the changes are being billed as an effort to streamline and enhance resiliency efforts.

Pish posh.

For those who know me, even just a little, you know how much Michelle and I love to take our daughter Ella on Disney cruises, and how often we embark. They provide a top notch experience and help our family build lasting memories.

But during COVID, those experiences were put on hold. So we looked for family-friendly opportunities elsewhere. That took us to Captiva where we were, well, captivated by the town’s charm and idyllic natural setting. We fell in love and have been returning to visit ever since.

However, these amendments place some major changes on the horizon for Captiva and Sanibel, which could erode the charming experience we first enjoyed and continue to seek.

At issue are proposed changes to land development code that would establish a uniform way to measure building height countywide, an effort billed as streamlining zoning and a way to ensure building updates, including those that would enhance resiliency, would be readily available. But the changes would allow for the construction of taller buildings and increase density on the islands.

The vote in favor of the amendments came despite massive opposition. More than 13,000 people signed a petition from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Captiva Civic Association opposing the proposed changes, according to the Fort Myers Beach Observer and Bulletin. And at the September meeting, more than 50 speakers showed up to give their two cents, most of them in opposition.

The changes could potentially mean hundreds of new hotel rooms crammed into the resort area of the small barrier islands – hundreds of rooms that will lure thousands of new visitors to flood the beaches and restaurants and clog the local roadways.

Simply put, this will no longer be the Captiva we and so many others have come to know and love.

And local residents and in-state visitors like us aren’t the only ones scratching their heads.

Ron DeSantis’ administration sent a letter responding to Lee County’s proposed amendments, calling them a “false flag” of resilience and urging Lee County officials to be honest with local residents about what they’re really trying to do – increase density.

After reviewing Comprehensive Plan amendments, the Florida Department of Commerce didn’t seem to buy the resiliency bit, and residents and local officials shouldn’t, either.

“Whether or not an increase in hotel room density is appropriate is for the community to decide. Rather, we are simply urging you to have a transparent discussion with the community about the actual purpose of the amendment,” the group wrote.

Yet despite so much opposition from so many corners, it looks like the Lee County Commission is still full steam ahead.

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