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Burnt Store Corridor residents inched closer to possibly having a neighborhood shopping center, when the Charlotte County Planning and Zoning Board voted 21 June 8 to recommend approval for landuse and zoning changes for a 41.31-acre parcel. 

During the more than two-hour hearing on the applicant’s request, emotions ran high as two sides expressed opposing views. 

Pirate Harbor residents William and Laura Fischer, who own acreage in the southern portion of Charlotte County in Punta Gorda, were represented by an attorney, professional planner and transportation expert who gave presentations stating why the area is ripe for retail commercial development. 

Agreeing with them were nearly a dozen residents who spoke during the public portion. 

However, county staff members disagreed with the applicant’s representatives and provided their findings and studies. 

Jie Shao, principal planner for the county, cited the county’s paid economist study from Metro Forecasting Models, which shows that by 2045, 91% of the projected population along Burnt Store Road will support a new neighborhood shopping center but no sooner. 

In 2045, the property size for the center would be between 10 to 20 acres. For a larger community shopping center, by 2050, 63% of the population would support one on 25 to 60 acres. 

John Fleming, chairman of the Burnt Store Corridor Coalition, or BSCC, representing 13 communities’ residents along the corridor and the Burnt Store Lakes Property Association where he serves on the board, said of the projected 2045 date, “A lot of people are going to be dead by then.” 

Like other speakers during the public portion, he spoke about the driving distance and time it takes to go to a supermarket or doctor’s visit. “Gentlemen, my pet has more options for health care than I do,” he said. I have to drive 14 miles to a doctor. During Hurricane Ian, it took me six hours to get food.”  

He said residents drive to Cape Coral or to Punta Gorda for essential services and provisions. 

Residents along the corridor often call 911 for minor medical emergencies that could be treated at a walk-in clinic, he said. 

Fleming said he does not own the land and has no interest in Fischer’s property. “We went to the Fischers and asked them if they would think about rezoning,” Fleming said. 

Some residents cited wear and tear on their vehicles, and that some elderly residents pay for transportation because they don’t feel safe driving up to 20 miles roundtrip. 

“The last thing we need on Burnt Store Road is more homes, corridor resident Roberta Colletti told the board. 

Landuse attorney Amy Thibaut cited the Florida Community Planning Act and other state agencies, saying there wasn’t a “sufficient basis to deny the applicant’s request.” 

Jason Utley, transportation expert and project manager for Planning Analytics, said by allowing the rezoning, a shopping center would cut the time residents are currently driving and save wear and tear on Burnt Store Road. 

Shao said there is a total of 500,000 square feet of commercial space along the corridor that could provide for a shopping center. 

However, developers are not stepping forward to build a commercial shopping plaza despite the available acreage zoned for commercial development. 

Board Secretary Stephen Vieira asked Zoning Official Shaun Cullinan how many commercial developments are being planned along the corridor, and Cullinan said there are none. 

Existing commercial developments are Turtle Crossing Plaza and Twin Boys Storage. 

Cullinan defended the county’s studies and said the corridor is “building out exactly as planned.” He added that the recession “shut down growth for a decade.” 

The request of the Fischers to rezone their property to Commercial General does not guarantee they will get a supermarket or hospital, as there are 46 potential uses “and nothing is guaranteed,” Cullinan said. 

Vieira, who recommend approval for the rezoning, said, “My greatest fear, quite frankly, is that we’ll make a recommendation for approval and then the property gets flipped to somebody else. 

He added that he’s not saying the applicant will do that, and he made a motion for recommendation and to move it to the commissioners to be “the ultimate decision-maker on it.” 

Board Member Doug Izzo also voted to recommend approval, but Board Chair Michael Gravesen said he would vote against it, “just to give commissioners some reason to think about it.” 

Two board members were absent from the meeting. 

Next, their recommendation goes to the Board of County Commissioners to be further discussed at a Sept. 10 commissioner’s meeting. 

Cullinan said commissioners will hold a stakeholder meeting, probably in January when the seasonal people are back, to get more input from the community. 

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