Submitted by Barbara Hinkson Craig, PhD
On February 3, the Bonita Springs city council may make an important decision regarding the future of the property at the end of Coconut Road by the Hyatt hotel. The council will vote on a comprehensive plan amendment and a rezoning application that would allow the developer WCI to rezone a portion of the land that is currently the Raptor Bay golf course . WCI wants to build four 22-story hi-rise towers on that land.
Here is why I believe the council should not adopt the comprehensive plan amendment.
The amendment proposes to change the current zoning for the Raptor Bay property from Outlying Suburban and Wetlands to Moderate Density mixed-Use/Planned Development. This is a major change in land use designation –from a golf course and open space use to towering high rises To pass it through so quickly shows no thought of how this sort of proposed change will effect future decisions in a consistent manner which is a major requirement of a comprehensive plan.
There are dozens of underperforming golf courses within the boundaries of Bonita Springs and there is absolutely no doubt that other such golf course property owners will be “knocking on the door” of the City Council and Zoning Board seeking similar changes to enable them to build where open space now exists.
As with Raptor Bay Golf Course property, many of these other golf course properties were allowed and used as compensation for allowing higher density building in other parts of their development plan. To now allow a change from the very sort of property that was to compensate for higher density without consideration of implications of such a change for this and other similarly situated properties flies in the face of the very reason for a comprehensive plan.
A comprehensive plan is not something that is supposed to be adjusted willy-nilly in reaction to every knock on the door. It is supposed to think ahead—5 years/10 years. Nor can a local governing body simply suspend the existing law on comprehensive plan amendment requirements just to “entice” a property to be annexed into its City boundaries as is the case here.
The transportation study accompanying this proposed plan amendment is inadequate, having been done off-season and by the developer which does not meet the requirements of the law, and it was not done in cooperation with the intergovernmental coordination elements of the law.
The environmental impact studies are similarly inadequate. In fact the city staff report noted this inadequacy by stating that more extensive studies will be done at time of issuing of building permits and were not required at this point.
A comprehensive plan cannot be rationally based if environmental assessments are not done before changing a zoning designation from ”Outlaying Suburban and Wetlands,” which is intended to provide an area that will protect the public interest of environmental, wetland, water purity, coastal surge protection and a whole host of other critical public interest environmental protections, to a zoning designation that would allow four giant 20 story over 2 floors of garage buildings to be built on what was heretofore considered critical open space wetlands area.
To allow such a change without demanding that these critical studies be completed first would be to make the Comprehensive Plan law meaningless. The Bonita City Council should not adopt this amendment, and I urge the public to voice their concerns as well.
Barbara Hinkson Craig, PhD
Professor Emerita, Wesleyan University