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The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization Board voted to amend the new four-lane Kingston Ranch Road from Corkscrew Road north to State Road 82 into the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan.

Kingston Ranch Road is a privately funded project part of the Kingston development, a product of developer Cameratta Cos., 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.

The development has faced criticism since it was approved by Lee County Commissioners in June 2022.

Two joint petitioners, Lee County and Corkscrew Grove, sought 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 SR 82, bordering conservation lands such as Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed and the Imperial Marsh Preserve on top of being a primary and secondary panther habitat.

The case had two interveners who argued the development would 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.

Judge James Shenko ruled in favor of Corkscrew Grove earlier this month, allowing the development to move forward.

Residents who’ve been at the forefront of efforts to stop the project are still working to minimize the immediate effects of such a large development. Residents such as Marsha Ellis requested the construction of the Kingston spine road to begin on the north end rather than the south end, arguing the north end would be safer for the public.

“Timing and beginning construction of Kingston at the southern access points will be fatal for both people and panther,” Ellis said. “The terms of the settlement agreement all benefit the developer, fail levels of service and increase hazard for the misled public. This is avoidable with common sense alternatives.”

The alternative proposed was for construction to begin on the north end, accessing the four-lane SR 82 for public safety on roadways as opposed to the two-lane, often congested, Corkscrew Road.

The north end also abuts a portion of Lehigh Acres, with phasing in the north allowing quicker benefits to the community as a whole since Lehigh could benefit from better access to commercial development.

“I’m not denying that we need growth, but we need appropriate growth,” resident Patty Whitehead said. “You’re not really serving the broad base of the population of Lee County. Furthermore, you’re absolutely destroying the natural resources out there and the implications will be devastating.”

Despite the concern of residents, Lee’s planning organization voted to amend the spine road into the 2024 transportation plan, with two nay voters.

Tony Cameratta, civil engineer for Cameratta Cos., addressed the room during public comment to clarify a few things about the project. First, he stated the spine road will be funded and maintained by the developer, with no cost to taxpayers.

Cameratta also spoke to environmental concerns. “We’re eliminating nearly 4,000 acres of agriculture that is heavily fertilized pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, much stronger chemicals that you’re allowed to use in a residential setting. We’re reducing that down to nearly 1,000 acres or less,” he said.

“If you saw some of these properties out there under the existing conditions, they are not very environmentally friendly. And if you see the post-restoration conditions, which I welcome you to do, they’re very environmentally friendly.”

Board member and Lee County Chairman Brian Hamman followed the roll call vote by saying there will be more opportunity for public involvement as the project moves forward.

“Our goal is to work with the community to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities throughout the process to have that public input and make it as compatible as possible with the surrounding neighborhoods as we tried to do with all of our projects,” Hamman said.

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