The development of a large parcel of land in the Punta Gorda Isles residential area has become the biggest issue in the current city council election. However, the issue about what to put there continues on even before the election. The article below comes verbatim from The Charlotte Sun. Here is the latest:
A proposed Aqui Esta Drive development goes to the Punta Gorda City Council for a hearing in November.
The city’s planning commission has given the project its OK although concerns have been expressed.
The developer is seeking a rezoning of the approximately 105-acre property from single-family residential to a planned development village, which will include two vertically integrated retail and residential buildings, 300 condominium units, eight apartments or condominium units, a 180room resort hotel, and an 18,000-square-foot medi-spa.
Land-use attorney GeriWaksler, representing developer Jorge Flor, presented the project to the planning board this week, joined by experts who testified on the estimated economic impact, traffic impact and effects on the environment.
According to both Waksler and city staff, the development would decrease the previously expected population and the projected load on public facilities by lowering density. The property is currently zoned for five units per acre, for a total of 528 units of single- family housing. The proposed development includes 308 residential units, a reduction by 220 units.
Some Punta Gorda residents contested this fact, arguing that only about 56 acres of the land are available for construction.
Forty-nine acres of wetlands will be preserved by the developer. By calculating with the remaining acres, the project’s density exceeds the allotted five units per acre.
However, Interim Urban Design Manager Teri Tubbs confirmed that density is determined based on the entire site, not merely on the land able to be developed.
Neighbors to the project also have concerns about the added traffic the project will bring, although a study prepared by TR Transportation Consultants out of Fort Myers indicates that traffic would stay within the level of service “D” — deemed acceptable by both the city and the county.
Waksler said the study was done with consideration to peak-season, peak-hour traffic, making the worst-case traffic scenario still within an acceptable level.
City staff have recommended additional traffic conditions, which the developer has accepted, such as constructing or providing funds for turn lanes on Aqui Esta Drive, as well as bicycle lanes and sidewalks.
However, Punta Gorda resident and former City Council candidate Brad Gamblin argued that “D” rated roads, while technically acceptable, may not be truly desirable to most city residents.
“If D-rated roads are good, why do they have A, B and C?” Gamblin asked.
About 1,350 residents have signed a petition against the development, arguing that the commercial aspects will disrupt the quiet of the surrounding neighborhoods, despite conditions offered by the developer to combat noise and light escaping the property’s boundaries.
“I have no doubt that the proposed development would have a devastating impact on the peaceful and serene character of our neighborhood and the quiet and easy lifestyle that we’ve come to enjoy,” said Dr. L.
Dennison Reed, who lives across the canal from the proposed project. “Our present neighborhood is akin to a nature preserve. It truly is a retreat from the stress of the day.’
Reed and others spoke with concern for eagles in the area and other wildlife.
Environmental consultant Ian Vincent said the eagles are being monitored to determine if they have an active nest in the area, and all development will be done according to environmental regulations, ensuring no negative impact on protected species. Additionally, the development will be surrounded by landscape barriers and outdoor lighting will be shielded or directed so that light does not escape the boundaries of the property. Outdoor entertainment on the property will cease at 7 p.m.
The economic impact of the project is estimated at $126 million during construction and over $30 million annually, but some residents opposed to the project questioned the accuracy of the testimony provided, stating that experts can be bought to testify to anything and asking if city staff had independently verified the information, which prompted Chairman Charlie Counsil to ask one citizen, “Have you ever stood on the moon? Do you accept input and testimony from an expert?”
Punta Gorda’s previous mayor Carolyn Freeland spoke in favor of the project, stating that other, once-contested projects are now some of the city’s most-loved areas. She also referred to the half-finished Vivante development as a warning, since the developer gave up on the project because of citizens’ opposition.
“We really need to be careful about what we wish for,” Freeland said.
Realtor lim Quinn also spoke in favor of the development, reminding citizens that Laishley Park was once considered a controversial project.
“Thank God it got developed, and we now have this nice waterfront area,” Quinn said.
“We all want economic development, but when this comes up, no one wants it in their backyard. This project is a gem that most communities would love to have.”
Waksler told the board, “To deny this sends a very loud message to anyone seeking to develop within the city of Punta Gorda: don’t bother.”
While the proposal passed with a slim 4-3 majority by the planning commission, board member and City Council candidate Lynne Matthews led the opposition, standing by her position that the project is not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and future land use map and is not harmonious with the surrounding neighborhoods.
City Council will have its public hearing for the project on Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. at the Charlotte Harbor Conference & Event Center.