In June, Lee County Commissioners approved the Kingston project, a 6,676-acre Cameratta Cos. development, including 10,000 dwelling units, 240 hotel units, 700,000 square feet of commercial use and 3,287 acres of restoration, conservation and flow way.
Two joint petitioners, Lee County and Corkscrew Grove, are seeking judicial approval of the settlement agreement under the Bert Harris Act. The choice was presented to the public as a take-it-or-leave-it option between a mine or a development.
Without the settlement, the county would be on the hook for $63 million to settle a 2011 lawsuit by Corkscrew Grove Limited Partnership over the denial of lime rock mining on the site.
Previously used for agriculture, the property extends south of Corkscrew Road to State Road 82, bordering conservation lands such as CREW and the Imperial Marsh Preserve.
The case has two interveners, Kevin Hill and Jeffrey Kleeger, who live on properties within the area impacted. They argue the development will put additional density and intensity in the rural environmentally sensitive Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area, a land-use category incorporated in the Lee Plan to address development’s effect on wetlands and natural resources.
Interveners would like to cut the addition of the southern 2,400 acres added to the claim, as it did not include it in the original mine site. They are mainly interested in protecting the rural area, the wildlife that comes with it and water quality and management.
Cameratta Cos. had witnesses who worked on their developments testify that the level of restoration would not be possible without the addition of the southern acreage.
“The Kingston development does have environmental benefits, particularly when it comes to the restoration components,” said Rebecca Sweigert, principal planner for the county. “Restoring 3,000 acres is going to be a lot of work to undertake. It will provide connectivity to the surrounding lands, particularly those public lands, help to provide flow way connections for wildlife movement and help improve the water quality that’s there now.”
Throughout the case, the contract price had not been announced, until Judge James Shenko said the fiscal cost was necessary to access the settlement properly. The contract price is $25,000 per acre on the north 4,200 acres, totaling $105 million for the northern portion alone.
Part of the developers’ argument is that all costs are theirs, with no cost to the county. The spine road will cost $40 million, and the wildlife crossing will cost $2 million. The estimated restoration construction will be over $78 million.
However, after the spine road is built it will be turned over to the county, making maintenance the taxpayers’ responsibility.
The interveners take issue with spine road in terms of traffic and the phases of construction, wanting phasing to begin to the north, accessing the four-lane SR 82 for public safety on roadways as opposed to the two-lane, often congested, Corkscrew Road.
Interveners say the public’s safety and wildlife are a cause for concern, as the wildlife corridor is insufficient to protect the endangered Florida panther, considering the site is primary and secondary panther habitat.
“It is not an ideal situation,” Sweigert said, who also focuses on the environmental review for content amendments and environmental mitigation for the county’s public infrastructure.
The developers plan to begin construction in phases on the south end of the property, closer to the Estero area, then work up to the north, abutting a portion of Lehigh Acres. The benefits to Lehigh were consistently brought up in testimony, with the interveners suggesting phasing begin in the north with some commercial uses to help the community automatically.
“The problem is, is that Lehigh does need grocery stores and they could be taking a leadership role in alleviating some of Lehigh’s suffering,” said Marsha Ellis, part of Interloop Working Group. Interloop’s mission is to ensure integrity and safety in community development impacting the 17-mile loop connecting Alico Road, Corkscrew Road and Ben Hill Griffin Parkway.
After all the witnesses testified, both sides made their closing arguments, with one of the petitioner’s attorneys, Bill Moore, stating the settlement agreement was on target.
“It gives more benefits than any settlement agreement and any development that you can think of,” Moore said. “It’s the only way to go. The Board of County Commissioners have spoken legislatively, the public has had plenty of opportunity and no law suggests otherwise to convince the court to overturn this agreement.”
The interveners stated through their attorney, Richard Grosso, that they are not against profit or development and that the point of the Harris Act is that you can only authorize an undue amount of profit to the extent necessary to avoid a complete burden on the property owner.
“You’re given a false choice,” Grosso said. “What you’ve heard today is that under this deal, the landowner is going to double their investment. The Harris Act says it’s only a limited waiver of that law, that comprehensive plan consistency requirements, only to the extent necessary to avoid violating private property rights. The petitioners have not demonstrated settlement agreement meets that test.”
Judge James Shenko recessed after closing statements, with a final decision to be made later.