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What role does community voice play?

Letter to the Editor

April 11, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter to the editor to voice my frustration with the Lee County Local Planning Agency's recent decision to recommend approval of the Lee Comprehensive Plan Amendment - Changing the Bay Harbour Marina Village's Land Use Designation. As a local resident who has lived on San Carlos Island for more than 50 years, and business owner who has multiple businesses which operate on this island, I was very disappointed that the LPA made a recommendation for approval when it is clear most of the island's residents, property owners and business owners are not in favor of this change or the project itself.

On Feb. 10, a Lee County Public Workshop was held at the AMI Kid's School where over 80 San Carlos residents, property owners and business owners attended the meeting, giving feedback from the community's perspective. The overwhelming majority of the attendees were not in favor of the project, sharing their concerns that because of the size of this project that it would negatively impact the community and the character of the island would not be maintained. There was a large contingency of county staff who participated in the discussion and filled out the questionnaires, which I feel was inappropriate as the county staff has no stake in this situation, and their personal opinion of what San Carlos Island should be is irrelevant.

On March 6, Joanne Semmer met with Sharon Jenkins-Owens, the Principal Planner at the Lee County Community Development office. Joanne presented the letters and documents for public input into the LPA file, but the County Staff refused to accept them. Joanne was told that the documentation could be accepted and entered into the file at the LPA Hearing on the 26th of March, if she provided 10 copies of each document. Within days two emails followed confirming this conservation and the events which transpired. Both letters from the Community Development Office staff also cited the Administrative Code's specific provision providing for the procedure for the Public's Participation, which allowed for the submission of written comments before the date of a public hearing and may also be submitted at any public hearing provided that at least 10 copies of such comments be provided for distribution. It is disappointing that protocol as provided by the Code was not followed by the Lee County Development Office.

During the hearing the numerous documents had been refused acceptance on March 6 and 230 letters against the project were submitted. No opportunity or break was given to review anything presented at the hearing. The LPA Board did not look at them or spend any time reviewing them before making their decision to recommend the Land Use Designation basing their decision solely on the Staff report not taking any of the documents into consideration that the we had submitted at the hearing.

My question is what role does the communities voice play in this process? The county and its agencies claim they are interested in the input of the community, but it doesn't seem that the efforts of the community from appearances at workshops and hearings, where most of opinions are voiced in the negative or even 230 letters requesting the plan be denied has any sort of impact but are rather an exercise in futility.

William J. Semmer

San Carlos Island



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