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Lee County votes to allow higher building heights on Captiva, despite strong opposition

South Seas
Posted at 2:03 PM, Dec 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-06 18:28:35-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The almost 12-month battle over allowing taller buildings on Captiva has taken its next turn. The Lee County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve the change on Wednesday morning. Commissioner Kevin Ruane was the lone 'no vote' against the amendment to the Lee Development Code.

The County says the amendment would strike the words "maintain one and two story building heights” from the Captiva Community Plan section of the development code. By doing this the County says it will allow for building higher to make the island safer against storm surge.

This also comes with major opposition from community groups like 'Protect Captiva,' who argue the amendment would not only increase heights, but also density. A density increase could have negative impacts on the environment as well as public safety, evacuation routes, and even wastewater treatment. County attorney Richard Wesch maintains that this change will not affect the hotel or density cap on the island, only the building height, limited to the Captiva community.

Wesch also addressed the letter that FloridaCommerce sent to the Lee County Board of Commissioners. The letter called the amendment a ‘false flag of resilience,’ on Oct. 6.

"The reason you haven't seen it in 11 years is because the state is prohibited by law to do what he did,” said Wesch. “And that's what I said in my letter to them, and we have not received a response."

Commissioner Kevin Ruene said he voted no because he heard enough conflicting statements for and against this change that he didn't feel comfortable voting in favor.

"The concern I have, is I have heard enough conflicting statements in here, and I hope for resiliency and not density,” said Commissioner Ruene. “I can't support this; I have been consistent in my thoughts."

After the vote, City of Sanibel Mayor Richard Johnson spoke out against the amendment, telling Fox 4:

"I don't think anyone on Sanibel would take issue with a homeowner or businessowner on Captiva rebuilding to be more resilient to hurricanes and the potential for flooding. The City of Sanibel recently took action to ensure Sanibel property owners could do just that, while maintaining the maximum building height restriction that was already in place. The issue at hand is the County allowing for an increased density of use that will not only impact Captiva, but Sanibel as well. There is only one way to and from Captiva by land, and that is through Sanibel."

Lisa Riordan, the chair of the Captiva Civic Association Land Use Committee and spokesperson for Protect Captiva, told Fox 4 in a phone call Wednesday evening that they are looking into their legal options and will be providing additional information in the coming days.