News-Press

November 11, 2016

 

20/20 win not seen as blow to developers

Bill Smith

http://www.news-press.com/story/news/2016/11/11/2020-win-not-seen-blow-developers/93621544/

 

Lee County voters gave an overwhelming endorsement to the 20/20 land purchase program, but local officials say it should not be interpreted as a demand to put the brakes on development

Supporters of Lee County's 20/20 land preservation program were exuberant over the 83 percent vote endorsing the program on Election Day, but it does not appear that success will shift the county's balance between conservation and development.

County commissioners are skeptical that support for buying conservation land through taxpayer-funded land purchases translates into any kind of mandate to tighten rules on developers.

"People voted on the referendum based on the (20/20) language, and to say that will direct and will drive future zoning requests, I don't see that happening," said Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass. "It would be unethical for anybody to do that; it's not what the voters voted for."

Pendergrass said people who want to see specific land preserved can go to the county committee that recommends land purchases to the Board of County Commissioners. He says the commission majority has reformed the program.

"Over the last four years, we've made the program better, added credibility," Pendergrass said. "We're buying the (parcels) that are important to conservation."

Dan Beiter, president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said with 25 percent of county land already under public ownership, the success of the 20/20 referendum is not a call to reject or limit development proposals.

"You can twist anything to make it sound in your favor," Beiter, a developer with Riverview Homes LLC said. "Our commissioners are doing a great job in realizing that there is growth coming, but it should be controlled growth and responsible growth."

Pointing to the community planned by Kitson & Partners for Babcock Ranch on the Charlotte County border, Beiter said that large project is an example of responsible development.

"What they're doing out there is a breath of fresh air in the development industry," Beiter said.

Commissioner Larry Kiker doesn't see the success of the 20/20 referendum as sending any sort of a message to commissioners about being more restrictive in zoning and development decisions.

"I do not interpret it as saying 'let's stop development','" Kiker said. "I read that as it was pro-conservation and it was pro-clean water and yes, we ought to continue those qualities, but it is not about stopping development; I would not go there."

KIker said the evolution of 20/20 from a program in which a willing seller would approach the county into one where the county can initiate transactions means 20/20 should be part of the county's land management strategy.

"We should budget for it on an annual basis," he said. "This shouldn't be something we do special, it should be something we do normally."

20/20 vote led nation

Pete Cangialosi of Estero, who was treasurer of the Vote Yes campaign, said Thursday that the Lee County non-binding referendum "tied with two other issues for the highest approval rating nationwide of all the environmental initiatives on this year's ballots." The Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based pro-conservation group, touted several successful land preservation referendums around the country, including Lee County's 20/20 approval.

The group is undecided whether to disband or fight for conservation issues, and will make a decision after some down time following months of campaigning, he said.

Commissioner Frank Mann said that future projects should be considered "one at a time," but the referendum still sent "a powerful message" that "speaks to the character of the citizens of Lee County and what they want for their future."