Why Primaries Are Important

By: Susie Allen

August 20th, 2024 is the date of the upcoming primaries in Florida. Here in Lee County there are several challengers seeking to replace several of our sitting Lee County Commissioners. Generally speaking there is an emphasis on general elections Republican vs Democrats. Even those of us who believe we are informed and want to fight the craziness which has taken over politics ignore the primary process. Local elections rarely draw much interest.  My eyes where opened this year as our neighborhood joined together, both R’s and D’s to prevent high density development  in our rural community, in direct opposition to our community plan. Having attended several Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting and hearing the public outcry about Lee County’s   unprecedented growth it has become clear that there is at minimum an appearance of impropriety at the commissioner level and a total dismissal of the public’s wants and needs .  It is hard to imagine anyone who attends or views these meetings can believe our elected officials are committed to their constituents. Rumors abound that the Sunshine Laws may have been violated as there have been reports of multiple meetings with developers prior to critical votes.  I will leave that to the experts to decide.  The voices of Lee County residents have not been heard in the Commissions Chambers but we will be heard in August.

A recent campaign ad for sitting Commissioner Greenwell states,  “ I’m fighting overdevelopment in Lee County”.  In truth commissioner Greenwell’s actions and voting record prove the opposite. Greenwell had his property along SR 31 rezoned from agricultural to commercial use, a 400,000 SF parcel to include room for big box store and apartments.  In an interview he is quoted as saying, “we cannot say no to these developers if they have been through the application process and receive the hearing examiners’ recommendation. We can be sued by the developer”. While this has some truth to it, it should not be the default response when dealing with sensitive areas such as Captiva where increased density shrouded as resiliency just doesn’t make sense. Now we see the citizens are forming groups to sue the county to challenge these drastic changes that don’t align with the Lee Plan. This has happened in Alva, Corkscrew, Captiva and Buckingham in just the last two years.  It seems the citizenry is willing to stand up for the greater good of the county by pushing back on overdevelopment, but the BOCC is not.  Mike Greenwell’s opponent for District 5, a long time Lee County business woman and conservative republican Amanda Cochran, strongly opposes unbridled development and has stressed her commitment to strategic growth, improved infrastructure and a sincere desire to represent the constituents over developers.  Another candidate running for commissioner District 3 Matt Thornton also shares this view and believes the citizens of Lee County deserve to be heard.  In the last 2 years the board has voted to amend the Lee Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Cases all but one time (Eden Oaks) based on staff recommendations, many of which increase density for development.  There have been hundreds of people speaking in opposition to some of these changes, with little or no support from the board.

 Developers and their minions word smith their proposals to soften the impact and quiet the voices of opposition. Developers call duplexes “single family dwellings”, call bulldozed and flattened land “preservation areas” and press the commissioners to vote for more and more density increases.  It has been reported that a campaign consultant to a number of the commissioners is also a lobbyist for a large developer pressing into Lee County. Traffic, wildlife habitat issues and river quality are all impacted by overdevelopment and surging population growth.  This is not just a numbers issue but is a Life issue.

 By the Lee County’s own staff reports the county admits to inadequate EMS services stating, “Lee County CAN NOT yet sufficiently serve the entirety of the subject property within the established response time threshold”. Our county is expected to have one million residents by 2030. Our commissioners readily admit this (no wonder as they are driving force behind it).  Southwest Florida is considered “medically underserved.”   At the current rate Florida is projected to have the second-largest physician shortage in the country by 2030. In addition hospital beds and a shortage of nurses are outpaced by population growth at this alarming rate.  Lee County is a balloon being inflated to its breaking point.  It is our current commissioners that are blowing it up with their hot air.

 To make matters worse honest concerned citizens dare not run for office against these entrenched officials. There have been unwarranted attacks on grassroots candidates and their staff to discourage competition.  Beware of misleading inaccurate hit pieces and seek out the facts.  Register to vote and vote in the primary. (Only registered republicans can vote in the republican primary).  Next time you sit in traffic, see a car crash (our roads are the 3rd deadliest in Florida), can’t get a timely doctor’s appointment, are placed in an emergency room hallway waiting for a bed, see a dead gopher tortoise on the side of the road, your well runs dry or your community is on water restrictions remind yourself that primary elections matter. Vote August 20!

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