Originally released by Captiva Community Panel in association with Protect Captiva

Representing the Protect Captiva coalition, the Captiva Civic Association (CCA) filed a petition with Lee County on Jan. 8 challenging the new land development regulations that increase building heights on Captiva, and building heights and hotel density on South Seas Island Resort.

“The communities of Captiva and Sanibel came out in force and tried everything possible to convince the Board of County Commissioners to maintain the long-established height and density regulations that protect our fragile barrier island,” said CCA and Protect Captiva representative Lisa Riordan. “The Commissioners completely ignored their constituency – giving us no choice but to commence litigation.”

Florida law requires that all land development regulations enacted shall be consistent with the adopted Comprehensive Plan of Lee County. On Sept. 5, 2023, under the guise and “false flag” of resiliency, Lee County adopted new land development regulations that have little to do with resiliency and are not lawfully consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

While the Captiva chapter of the county’s Comprehensive Plan protects Captiva by continuing land use patterns that maintain historic low-density development, the new land development regulations exempt South Seas from all Captiva height and hotel density limits. They also permit three rather than the historic two habitable floors on Captiva’s residential dwellings.

“The radical increase in building heights and density at South Seas is inconsistent with the historic development of the resort and sets a precedent for over-development that will inevitably change the unique and special character of Captiva,” said Jay Brown, President of the Captiva Community Panel.

In an effort to take advantage of the new land development regulations, South Seas submitted a plan application on Dec. 15 that increases density from 247 units to 707 units with new buildings as high as 64 feet – almost twice as high as currently permitted on South Seas and almost 50 percent higher than currently allowed on Captiva.

“The new land development regulations and the increases in heights and density sought by South Seas are totally inconsistent with Captiva’s current infrastructure, its limited hurricane evacuation capability, and its environmental resources,” said James Evans, CEO of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“Captiva is a fragile barrier island which cannot absorb the development projects sought by South Seas. The community has no choice but to contest these unwise and unacceptable changes in the court of law.”

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It’s Time for Contributions to the Legal Fund

Now that South Seas Island Resort has announced its intentions to radically increase density from 247 to 707 units with three-story buildings up to 64 feet in height – and now that our County Commissioners have paved the way for this overdevelopment on Captiva – it’s time for the “Protect Captiva” coalition to pursue every responsible legal option that we have the resources to undertake – which is why we’re seeking donations now.

The new owners of South Seas (Wheelock Street Capital, Timbers Resorts and The Ronto Group) have deep pockets. But our community has deeper concerns, a deeper understanding and commitment to Captiva, and a deeper trust in our community to protect itself. We also have the best attorneys who are lining up the best expert witnesses. We just need your generous contributions to the legal fund to take some or all of the following legal actions:

  • Florida law provides the Captiva community with the right to challenge the changes in the Lee County Land Development Code that now exempt South Seas from Captiva’s height and density limitations. These Code changes are unlawfully inconsistent with the Captiva Chapter of the Lee Plan that our community worked so hard for decades to incorporate into the Lee Plan to protect our barrier island. We have just filed the required initial petition with the County, followed by a petition to the Florida Department of Commerce which could then lead to a formal administrative hearing under Florida law – including full pre-hearing trial motions, discovery and a final evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge.
  • Florida’s Constitution does not permit Lee County to amend the density standards in its Land Development Code to give itself and the Board of County Commissioners unbridled discretion to approve “any rental unit size or density” for the new South Seas hotels on Captiva. By now exempting South Seas from all definite standards for hotel density in a planned development on Captiva, the County subjects itself to a state constitutional claim which we can bring in a Lee County Circuit Court.
  • The U.S. Constitution guarantees property owners on Captiva the right to equal protection under the law. Providing South Seas with greater density and height allowances than those granted to all other similarly-situated resorts and property owners on Captiva raises serious constitutional issues which we can raise in a federal lawsuit.
  • Finally, while the Land Development Code amendments are being adjudicated in the courts, our community has the right to intervene as a party in the South Seas rezoning process which is “quasi-judicial” and takes place before a hearing examiner. During this process, we can present expert testimony to show that South Seas is not entitled to increased building heights and densities, and that its development projects are not compatible with Captiva’s minimal infrastructure, its water and environmental resources, its sewer system, its limited hurricane evacuation capability, and are otherwise not in compliance with relevant County requirements.

To guarantee that our community has the legal resources to undertake these legal options and to do whatever is necessary to protect Captiva, we need your support and contributions now. Any funds not needed will be returned to donors on a pro-rated basis. However, we must be prepared for a legal battle that is long and protracted. The future of Captiva is at stake.

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