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Questions are being raised after South Seas releases plans to build back

Posted at 12:00 PM, Dec 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-18 12:00:53-05

CAPTIVA, Fla. — On Thursday, Fox 4 told you about how South Seas Resort on Captiva is planning to build back after Hurricane Ian.

As part of the rebuild, South Seas is seeking a rezoning application for 272 multibedroom condominiums and up to 435 hotel rooms. This application would increase the number of units from 247 to 707, increasing the density on the island; which is something that the city of Sanibel and community group Protect Captiva spoke out against before Lee County commissioners voted to allow higher building heights on island.

“They continually said this is not about density, well it was always about density,” said Lisa Riordan, with Protect Captiva and the chair of the Captiva Civic Association Land Use Committee.

And that increase in density is exacting what FloridaCommerce spoke out against in their Oct 6 letter to the Lee County Commission, when they called the comprehensive plan amendment a false flag of resilience…going on to say the amendment was in-part for the purpose of increase hotel room density. Both South Seas and the County pushed back on these claims at the time.

“Because if you read the documents, you had to come to that conclusion if you are a logical person who was not hellbent on providing additional density for one developer,” said Riordan.

The city of Sanibel has also been concerned about how the increase in density on Captiva would affect them. Mayor Richard Johnson telling Fox 4 in a statement on Dec. 6:

“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,” said Mayor Johnson.

There are also concerns from the community on how this increased density will affect other infrastructure like wastewater as well as the fire department not having the proper equipment to fight a fire at the proposed building height.

When Fox 4 spoke with resort owner, Greg Spencer, he said the zoning process will address these concerns.

“There is expert witness testimony,” said Spencer. “They do actual calculations of it. It’s not just like I feel this will be an issue. They sit down and say it is or it is not going to be an issue.”

Spencer also addressed the building heights, saying the resort is asking the lee county to be able to build 45 feet over the minimum inhabitable floor required by code. In the past, they were limited to 35 feet above grade level

“Depending on what zone you're in, it could be as much as 22 feet before you could have your first floor, right, and so that just wasn't fair - you're left with 12 feet to build something,” said Spencer.

But with Lee County easing the building height restriction on the island, South Seas Resort is allowed to move forward with its plan.

"Now, depending on the different zones we're at, that will be the first starting height, and then it will be 45 feet over that height," said Spencer.

South Seas is proposing to this by having all of its buildings have three floors of guest rooms above lobbies and parking areas with building heights up to 64 feet in flood zone areas.

“They would be the tallest on Captiva,” said Riordan. “They would probably be the tallest out of every other barrier island. If you look at any of the barrier islands, be it Sanibel, Pine Island, Boca, Cayo Costa, there is nothing that is that height.”

And with these plans coming so quickly after the changes from lee county, Riordan says South Seas likely was working on this proposal well ahead of time.

“You don’t do that in an afternoon or a week. This I am sure has been being worked on for months and months,” said Riordan. “The county commissioners won’t either told the truth or didn’t care about the truth because you can’t look at what was released yesterday and think anything other than this is very long project that they have been working on.”

Riordan says Protect Captiva is going through their legal options to push back the local, state, and federal level, but they were not ready to announce what those actions would be.