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Lee Commission vote paves way for taller buildings and more visitors on Captiva

Nine months ago, Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane, a barrier island resident, directed county staff to come up with a plan that would ensure resiliency as island businesses and home owners build back after Hurricane Ian.

What Ruane was hoping for was a plan that mitigates flooding and other concerns, not one that now paves the way for taller buildings to accommodate more people on Captiva Island.

“This has failed. This has not achieved what I asked for in the motion,” Ruane said "…We want resiliency, okay. No place in my motion did I talked about density. And if you want to raise height to create a third floor, that is density, that is intensity.”

His words followed 2 ½ hours of public comment in which an overwhelming majority of people implored the Lee County Commission to not adopt changes to the land use code.

Since 2002, the land use code has mandated South Seas Resort to adhere to the codes created especially for Captiva Island, which are different than codes in unincorporated parts of the mainland.

Current code dictates buildings may only be two stories above base flood elevation. Density restrictions mandate that there be no more than three housing units per acre. A single hotel room is considered a housing unit.

“This is a really dynamic area and this part of the county cannot be treated the way the rest of the county is treated. Captiva is unique," said Kristie Anders. "This commission in years past has invested money through the Tourist Development Council to make Captiva a different destination than anyplace else. It has invested money in its community panel to retain its unique characteristics. And what you're about to vote on, throws all that out the window because you're asking to eliminate the code as it's written to protect the island the way it is today. And I object that the code be changed to the convenience of one business."

In the end, Ruane was the lone vote against changes to the land use code Tuesday.

“I’m against it,” he said.

Chairman Brian Hamman summed up the contentious matter this way: "I understand this as hard. I understand that change is not fun. And hurricane Ian handed us that change whether we like it or not, and we have to rebuild now.”