Today, the challenge has turned into a serious threat. Charlotte County Commissioners have adopted revisions to their Comprehensive Plan, and proposed ordinances changes that open the door for density increases from 3.5 to as many as 65 units per acre at the Mercabo and Fishery properties at the entrance of Boca Grande.
GICIA and Friends of Cape Haze (FOCH) strongly agreed that such high density development of this area would have a substantial impact on residents and would dramatically increase the already inexcusable emergency and evacuation times. In fact, evacuation times in the County are already well in excess of the 16 hour level of service set by the state for category 5 storms. The regional evacuation studies show times of over 70 hours for anything over the lowest level of evacuation.
The southern end of the evacuation route at the Boca Grande causeway is already shown as a chokepoint on evacuation maps. Transferring additional density to that area is irresponsible, contrary to the statute, and must be stopped.
It is also clear that such intense development would change the character of both Placida and Boca Grande.
In 2010, Friends of Cape Haze were successful in reversing changes Charlotte County had made in the Comprehensive Plan. The current legal action seeks to protect the 2010 result by reversing the revisions Charlotte County has recently made. The GICIA Board of Directors believes that such an extreme increase in density in the coastal high hazard area will impact our evacuation protocols, will do irreparable environmental damage to the Charlotte Harbor estuary, and will have a significant impact on Gasparilla Island, its residents and small town character.
GICIA has already committed $20,000 to Friends of Cape Haze’s legal efforts. Contributions have also been made by other supporters of FOCH. Of course, litigation is expensive. It will be critical for Friends of Cape Haze to have a financial war chest filled, ready to proceed.
Reversal of the comprehensive plan changes is critical in insuring appropriate development of the sensitive Placida area. Protections against the transfer of unreasonable density into the coastal high hazard environment are crucial to reasonable development of the area and evacuation protection. Therefore, GICIA in a show of support has committed up to an additional $50,000 to be granted to Friends of Cape Haze on an “as needed” basis as this matter proceeds to trial.
There is no doubt that intensive development of this sensitive, low-lying area of the Cape Haze Peninsula would have dire consequences to Boca Grande and its residents. GICIA is proud to stand strong with Friends of Cape Haze and will continue to support them in their legal efforts to protect against high density, high-rise development of the southern tip of the Cape Haze Peninsula.
Misty Nichols is the executive director of the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association, Inc., P. O. Box 446, Boca Grande, Florida 33921