Issues Surrounding The DR/GR Christi Linardich Walter Prescott Kristy Burja Jill Castellano
Outline of Topics • General Info/History • Points of View: • Developers • Environmentalists • FGCU Students • Polices • Affordable Housing • FGCU • Conclusions • Solutions
What is the DR/GR? • Density Reduction/ Ground Water Resource • 96,000 acres of protected land in Lee County • One home per 10 acres • Serves to protect local aquifers and guard against urban sprawl
History • 1989 Designate DR/GR land in Lee County spanning Fort Myers and Bonita Springs under pressure from growing population and to ensure adequate future water supply • 1991-1997 Board of Regents approves 760 acres of DR/GR land for FGCU use, sparking opposition from environmentalists, compromises ensue
History Continued • 2004 study by Tom Missimer on the importance of DR/GR land claims it is not as important as previously thought and YMCA constructed on DR/GR land opens • 2005 study by Greg Rawl and Ron Edenfield conclude that DR/GR land can support a higher density if better water management techniques were implemented
History Continued • 2006 peer reviews of the Rawl study conflict and sense possible skewing of the results • Oct. 2006 under pressure to build affordable housing, city council approves amendment that would allow a piece of DR/GR land to become designated as ‘high density residential’ with extra plans to improve water treatment standards in that area, it is now waiting for approval by the Florida Department of Community Affairs and then through public hearings
Zoning Basics • Lee County: • Land zoned according to density, lot size, and setback requirements • Three zone types are residential, commercial, and agricultural • Steps to Rezoning: • Consult FLUM (Future Land Use Map): compiled by city planners and used to allot land to developers • Amend laws to allow for building there: does not require notification to the public • Cite importance of different perspectives other than city politicians and developers, civic engagement!
Points of View • Developers • Environmentalists • FGCU Students • Affordable Housing Advocates • City Politicians
Developer’s Perspective DEVELOPERS 99 ENVIRONMENTALISTS 1
Developer’s Views • Development Means: • Growth • Change • Progress • Improvement
Development & Quality of Life • Increased tax base = More spending money for beneficial projects • Creates jobs, which drives economy • Helps fulfill American dream of owning your own home • Creation of communities is a positive influence
New Ideas in Development • Clustering Density • Transfer Development Rights (TDR or TDU) • Hometown style development with high capture rate • Low Impact Development (LID) • Environmental Sensitive Design (ESD) – Including latest water cleaning systems • Re-development
Developer Complaints • High impact fees • Concurrency Requirements • Mind-boggling permit process • Touchy-feely environmental wackos • Inflated value of Florida panther and it’s habitat • Government limiting the rights of property owners
Developer Quotes • “Based on the information we have received, we do not believe that a development in the DR/GR will affect water quality.” • David Morton – Bonita LPA Chair • “That’s the whole direction of the city, moving east (towards the DR/GR). There isn’t much out west anymore. It’s a question of doing it right.” • Coalition for Workforce Housing • “If you examine where there is vacant land in Bonita Springs, it is in the DR/GR.”
Environmental Organizations • Sierra Club • Audubon of Florida • Defenders of Wildlife • Conservancy of S.W. FL • Florida Wildlife Federation • Environmental Confederation of S.W. FL • Responsible Growth Management Coalition
Environmental Importance • Provides habitat to native plants and wildlife • Important source of drinking water • Provides a better quality of life for residents • Contributes to the economy
Habitat • The DR/GR is an important habitat for threaten and endangered species • Florida Panther • Wood Stork
Florida Panther • It is widely believed that the number of panthers has dwindled to fewer than 100 adults in the wilds of Southwest Florida, the species’ last stronghold • Florida Wildlife Federation wants Bonita Springs to implement tougher controls on the DR/GR aimed at protecting the Florida panther.
Florida Panther Continued • Nancy Payton (Florida Wildlife Federation): “The city should discourage new developments that pack more homes per acre than what growth rules allow in that region” • In addition to discouraging such development, her group wants the city to create wildlife corridors. • The city also should look into transferring building rights from areas that are good panther habitat to those that are not.
Wood Stork • Very specialized feeders, storks need water levels between 2 and 18 inches in order to hunt. • Researchers say shallow wetland areas are the places where development is more likely to be approved, and those same wetland systems are where storks have historically hunted during the early winter months. • Being able to gather enough food for chicks during December and January is critical because it gives storks two chances to raise young. Without those wetlands, though, the season is practically cut in half.
Wood Stork Continued • Jason Lauritsen, a Corkscrew Swamp biologist who monitors wood stork populations in the region says that urban sprawl is one reason wood storks are still on the decline. • Unlike other wading birds in Florida that have grown in numbers the last few decades, storks’ numbers are constantly shrinking. • And although one bad year can occur for natural reasons, a loss of wood stork feeding habitat has contributed to breeding difficulties.
Water • It is a major source of our drinking water supply • It is a floway that brings rainwater from the interior into Estero Bay in an environmentally effective way
Water Continued • Lee County is generally not part of the regional urban water supply delivery system of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). • Lee County has to get its water supplies from local sources (as does Collier County). • Protecting such local sources, then, is necessary for the County’s future growth.
Water Continued • The greatest part of Lee County’s coastal waters, which draw a large part of the County’s $2 billion tourism industry, are now designated as “impaired.” • These problems can only be addressed with water quality clean up, which commonly occurs with more time for land storage and its subsequent groundwater recharge, and less “fast” drainage into coastal waters.
Quality of Life • Don Eslick (chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders): • “The environment ties into the community and quality of life” • “If you just get overwhelmed with development and that’s all you’re focusing on, you’re not going to have much of a community.”
Economy • Jennifer Hecker (natural resource policy manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida) • “We are trying to educate the community about flood protection and groundwater recharge, because if we don’t have this essential green space then economically it will cost more to replace these things.” • “Preserving our quality of life will benefit long-term market values. Take a long-term vision from a wider scope and make sure we are not shooting ourselves in the foot because natural resources and mutually dependent with the local economy.”
What do you think? • Do you feel it is necessary to keep DR/GR as restrictive as it is now? • What is more important to you: the environment or affordable housing? • Do you think it was wrong to use DR/GR land to build FGCU, even though it benefits all of Southwest Florida?
Lee County Smart Growth Policies • GOAL 63 – GROUNDWATER: To protect the county's groundwater supplies from those activities having the potential for depleting or degrading those supplies. • OBJECTIVE 63.1 - WELLFIELD PROTECTION: The county will maintain a wellfield protection ordinance to provide regulations protecting the quality of water flowing into potable water wellfields. (Amended by Ord. No. 94-30, 00-22)
Policies Continued • POLICY 63.1.1:The wellfield protection ordinance will be amended whenever better technical data is developed and whenever additional potable wellfields are proposed. • POLICY 63.1.2:The staff hydrogeologist will review and comment on all development applications near public utility potable water wellfields, with particular attention to proposed land uses within a l0-year travel time from the wellheads.
Policies Continued • OBJECTIVE 63.2 – POTABLE GROUNDWATER: Base all future development and use of groundwater resources on determinations of the safe yield of the aquifer system(s) in order not to impair the native groundwater quality or create other environmental damage. Criteria for safe-yield determinations will be determined by the SFWMD, the agency charged with permitting these activities.
Policies Continued • POLICY 63.2.1:For maximum protection of groundwater resources, identify future wellfields and/or relocation site(s) for existing wellfields well in advance of need. Coordinate with SFWMD, other water suppliers, and DEP to avoid duplication and to assist in data collection and interchange. • POLICY 63.2.2:Institute a program to identify sources of groundwater pollutants in Lee County and to map these (point and non-point) on a county-wide basis.
Policies Continued • POLICY 63.2.3:Identify water needs consistent with projections of human population and the needs of natural systems in order to determine the future demands for groundwater. (Amended by Ordinance No. 94-30) • POLICY 63.2.4:Expand current programs to identify and map the contamination potential of groundwater resources for those areas of Lee County not currently under public ownership.
Policies Continued • POLICY 63.2.5:Lee County, in cooperation with other agencies and the municipalities, will budget to maintain its current program of plugging non-valved, abandoned, or improperly-cased artesian wells so that at least seventy-five of these wells are plugged each year until such wells are eliminated. (Amended by Ord. No. 94-30, 00-22)
Amendment to Lee Plan • Lee County Board of County Commissioners Represented by Lee County Division of Planning • Amend Policy 16.8.12(2) to include a minimum acreage and width for on-site indigenous preserves and for receiving a 2:1 credit for preserving existing indigenous areas on-site within private recreational facilities in the Density Reduction/Groundwater Recharge Land Use Category (DR/GR).
Affordable Housing • Bonita Springs has 4,800 acres of the DR/GR and a waiting list of nearly 300 families waiting for affordable housing to become available in the area. • The Affordable Housing Coalition held a workshop on affordable housing from October 9 –17 2006 in Bonita Springs. It focused on the consideration of building residences on the DR/GR. Meeting turnout was disappointing where the voice of residents were unheard.
Affordable Housing Continued • On October 18th, the city council of Bonita Springs denied a bid to build 300 affordable homes on a vacant lot on a plot of land owned by Cingular Wireless. • The developers did not give sufficient purpose to build on this DR/GR land with claims that it was mistakenly under DR/GR in the first place. • http://www.bonitanews.com/mediagalleries/affordable_housing/1654/
Decision to Build • The most dramatic change the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area has witnessed since its creation was the establishment of a public university, Florida Gulf Coast University. • The state often sanctions such projects even in environmentally sensitive areas because their benefits are deemed too great to block.
The Controversy Begins • The fact that the more than 700 acres was a gift from prominent land developer Ben Hill Griffin III of Alico Inc. raised more than a few eyebrows. • "The university was put there to ensure growth would take place east of I-75," said Ellen Peterson, a longtime Estero activist, "and it has done that. It was not to help anybody. It was the second-worst thing that ever happened in Lee County, and I can't remember the worst."
Environmental University? • The university acknowledges that the lands it is built on are home to a variety of wildlife and contribute to the region's aquifer, FGCU President William Merwin said. That's why the institution has been developed with the environment in mind, he said.
Quotes to Think About • Matt Bixler (policy specialist for The Conservancy of Southwest Florida): “You have to look at more than groundwater recharge. This land rivals Babcock Ranch for environmental importance.” • Win Everham (FGCU professor): “You need to ask not why shouldn’t you increase density, but why should you? I don’t believe there is a societal obligation to maximize profit for private landowners.”
Quotes to Think About • Frank D’Alessandro (News-Press): “No matter which angle you look at it from, the interrelated affordable housing dilemma and fate of the DR/GR are social, political, economic, and environmental issues all rolled into one. In the end it is not the developers who will make the decision to build in the DR/GR area. That is up to publicly elected county and city officials.”
Solutions • VOTE!!!!! • Get involved with community meetings • Stay informed by reading the newspaper • Write letters
Sources • Biersma, A. (2006). Public participation in the growth and development process of Lee County land use.http://rgmcswf.org/Files/Civicparticipation.ppt#269,1,Public • Cassutt, M. (2006, 10/19/2006). Council sends signal with DR/GR denial. Bonita Daily News, pp. 1A-4A. • Cassutt, M. (2006, 10/10/2006). Public meeting draws little public interest. Naples Daily News.http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2006/oct/10/naffordable_housing_meeting_attracts_few_residents/?housing