Hundreds turn out in favor of, against Fishery plans

Hundreds turn out in favor of, against Fishery plans

■ BY SUE ERWIN

The fate of an old Florida fishing property just off island was discussed at a public meeting held by the developer on Wednesday, Oct. 18, with hundreds in attendance holding varying opinions.

The property in question is the few acres where The Fishery Restaurant, Albritton’s Gallery, Placida Cove Gifts and the Hatch Gallery are located, among other businesses. It is located on a small point that juts out into Gasparilla Sound, and it served as the hub of fishing activity for decades. The property became a fish camp in the early 1900s, and it officially became a fishery in the mid-1940s. The main fishery building is actually constructed of blocks made from sand from Gasparilla Island beaches that were shipped across the Sound.

The Fishery had its own ice plant when it was at the peak of its productivity, with more than 10 million pounds of fish moving through it yearly.

When the commercial net ban passed in 1994 and was enacted in 1995, the actual fishery fell to the wayside. It has since been owned by the Albritton family until recent years, when it became bank-owned.

Many of the buildings on the property need work, and some are simply falling down. While the historical aspect of the land is certainly recognized, others feel something needs to be done with the property soon because of its appearance.

Last week, Potomac Group LLC confirmed plans for a new development. The registered agent is Christopher Kiritsis of Sarasota. Port Charlotte attorney Robert Berntsson is representing the corporation.

A public workshop was held on Wednesday at The Fishery Restaurant to review a major proposal for the Placida Fishery. A brief presentation was given by Berntsson and project engineer Todd Rebol. More than 200 people attended, filling the restaurant to standing room only.

According to draft site plans, the proposal calls for:

  • A new 4,600-sq.ft. restaurant at the entrance of the property near Gasparilla Road.
  • Approximately 6,500 sq. ft. of retail space built with parking underneath, near the restaurant, a pedestrian plaza and public parking.
  • A hotel, referred to in the plans as a “guest lodge,” with 48 rooms and a total area of 27,720 sq. ft. The hotel would be three floors over a parking area.
  • A two-level, 3,700-sq. ft. clubhouse at the end of the point.
  • Three residential buildings totaling 134,200 sq. ft. and 148 units. Initial plans call for 39 units in one, 49 in another and 60 in the third. Each would have six floors over parking, including a penthouse.

According to Berntsson, the maximum height would be 65 feet.

Charlotte County’s coastal high-hazard land use regulations were put into place partly as a response to negative public reaction to large, tall condominium developments, restricting “habitable space” height to 35 feet.

The Potomac Group is seeking an amendment to the zoning code for the planned development on the site.

“The first step is to have a neighborhood meeting where everyone is invited and made aware of the project,” Berntsson said. “The current zoning code, adopted in 2010, requires that you have an equal amount of open space for every square foot of building space. And more than 50 percent of this project is open space, so that requirement will be satisfied.”

The waterfront section of the code states that if you are within 1,200 feet of the water, the building height is restricted to 35 feet, but it may be up to 65 feet if open space to match it exists.

Berntsson added that the mangroves would remain protected in the area. The plan also includes a kayak launch.

But according to Berntsson, planned developments of this type can build higher if more public space is made available.

It also may be that transfer of development rights also will come into play. Under that program, more intense development is permitted on one property if the impact is offset with fewer elsewhere, through the purchase of development rights on other property.

For example, a two-floor building that is 100 sq. ft. in area requires 200 sq. ft. of open air space.

The Fishery Restaurant will be relocated to the northern part of the property. The proposal states that the new restaurant will have 4,600 sq. ft. of inside space and an additional 1,320 sq. ft. for outdoor dining.

Berntsson took a couple of questions from the audience, but reminded the crowd that the development process is still in the early stages at this time, and more information will be available as the progression of plans continues.

Audience reaction to the proposal was mixed.

Real estate agent Brian Faro grew up in Englewood and feels there are pros and cons to the project.

“I can promise you that I will fight any change that would ever allow building over 65 feet,” he said. “We have major corporations building in our community, and I can guarantee that they will make us more like a city than this development will. If we had started this outcry and some fundraising nine years ago, then we could have made a difference in what will happen at this point, but it’s unfair to wait until the last minute to completely shut the idea down, without properly understanding the economic impact it will have.”

Social media have been buzzing around the Englewood area about a potential new development at The Placida Fishery.

One Facebook page in particular, “What’s happening in Englewood, Florida,” has been pulsating with opinions since October 7.

A resident posted: “One of our last authentic old Florida waterfront spots could be going away. What will become of Placida Art Market and all the quaint buildings?”

Many people voiced their opinion at the meeting as well, even though it was designed to be an information-only experience. A couple that moved to Rotonda West just last year were radically against the idea, and said it’s absolutely absurd to not protect the history of the property.

James Orr grew up in Cape Haze and has lived here most of his life. He said the idea of the project is bittersweet.

“I’d hate to see this area get developed, but I understand that change is going to happen and money talks,” he said. “I like to see progress, but I wouldn’t want it to eventually look like Fort Myers. I’d like to see a little piece of it kept pristine.”

Orr added that the saving grace is the passionate people in this area who support preserving land.

The Friends of Cape Haze, a non-profit community group, currently has an appeal pending in court against Charlotte County’s revised Comprehensive Plan, which allows transfer of rights flexibility.

Berntsson expects this group to pursue legal action regarding this project as well.

The Fishery Restaurant is currently open daily for business.

A public hearing before the planning and zoning board is planned for December and the project will be presented before the Board of County Commissioners in January.

Look for updates in the Boca Beacon.