Unsettled Land Battle

Proposed Reclassification of Palomino/Appaloosa CPA Still Undetermined                                  

by Don Long

Residents who live along the Daniels corridor have beaten back two attempts to enable new mixed-use development and multi-family housing on parcels of land in the Appaloosa/Palomino area on the north side of Daniels Parkway. However, the long-term use of these properties is yet to be determined.

The Lee County Local Planning Agency advisory board voted 5-1 on March 27 to “not transmit” to the Lee County Board of Commissioners a request for the reclassification of a 50-acre parcel of land from Outlying Suburban (allowing no more than three homes per acre) to General Interchange (allowing a maximum of 22 dwelling units per acre).

Previously, area residents had launched a campaign to defeat reclassification of a much larger area – 137 acres of land between Appaloosa and Palomino – to Central Urban, allowing high-density multi-family housing. The planning board rejected that proposal, a decision applauded by local residents, including 1,000 who signed a petition asking the board to reject the plan.

The planning agency staff then returned with the revised CPA for the much-reduced 50-acre parcel which, like the previous proposal, would allow – though at a lower density – multi-family housing. The vote “not to transmit” the proposal came after a majority of residents claimed at the meeting that the reclassification would have a range of negative impacts on local travel and the surrounding communities.

The most frequent concern was the way in which any multi-family housing in the area would increase the traffic on Daniels.

However, the planning board’s decision does not kill the proposal. The CPA – its terms unchanged – will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners at a public hearing, according to Betsy Clayton, Communications Director for Lee County. As of mid-April, the date for a hearing had not been set, Clayton said.

The likeliest options for the county seems to be rejecting the proposal and forwarding it to state officials, or sending it back to county planners for another try.

Looking to any future decisions by the county, Richard Platt, who on Change.org has rallied residents against the reclassification, said the planning board’s March 27 decision “was only a small step forward with a lot of work remaining to completely stop this initiative. This is not going to go away without coordinated community effort.”

Planning staff at the March 27 meeting first outlined the reclassification proposal and answered questions from LPA board members. This was followed by citizen comment, with 13 residents speaking against reclassification and two in favor.

Robert Varnum, a resident of Cross Creek Estates, noted the frequent difficulties drivers face in negotiating Daniels’ heavy and congested traffic. He particularly cited the difficulties of entering Daniels from the communities that have only one point of entry.

Curtailing traffic on Daniels is even more important, Varnum emphasized, since it is a primary hurricane evacuation route. He also said that the sale of land targeted for development would be a “financial windfall for a handful of landowners” but “at the expense of thousands of people, which is very unfair.”

Varnum thinks many other open areas around Fort Myers would be better suited for construction of lower-cost multi-family housing.

Olde Hickory resident Faith Hartway also expressed concern not for nearby communities and all drivers on Daniels. After the meeting, Hartway said she thought the board members had not seemed concerned about those who deal daily with heavy traffic when trying to get onto and off Daniels via the I-75/Daniels interchange.

Despite the vote of the planning board, Hartway left the meeting without the feeling of a win. The board members “seemed to be addressing this only as a zoning problem,” she said, “and didn’t want to talk about the traffic.” She hopes for some longer-term proposals by county officials to deal with the problems of Daniels congestion, more than just the recent addition of a bike path along the south side.

Presenting an alternate view on the reclassification proposal was Nick Paulus, one of the two people at the meeting speaking in favor of the reclassification. Paulus, manager of the Bella Villa shops on Selrose Lane, which parallels Daniels, was until two years ago a resident in the Palomino/Pinto area. He focused his comments on the potential benefits of reclassification.

Interviewed after the meeting, Paulus argued that the classification change offered a chance for the best possible uses for the property because added development in the area is inevitable. He said that any new multi-family housing would serve as a buffer to commercial development, while offering easy walking distance to nearby businesses, which is especially important during Fort Myers “off season.” He downplayed the impact of additional traffic on Daniels, with multi-family housing likely to have impact of just 2% more, according to the report of the planning staff.

Paulus claimed there had been a lot of “misinformation” on the issue, and that residents were being too emotional in fearing the results of added traffic or a loss in their home values and quality of life. He believes the proposed reclassification for the 50-acre parcel is “responsible and not something that’s going to ruin your neighborhoods.”

The Lee County School District also has an interest in what will happen in the area, since the 50-acre parcel includes about 20 acres of east of Palomino that is zoned for Commercial Planned Development and approved for a combination of retail and office uses. While the school district has suggested the need for developing lower-cost housing for teachers there, this acreage would require rezoning at a public hearing to be developed for residential use.

Clayton said that as of mid-April there were no pending zoning requests for any land identified in either the previous or the revised CPA.

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