Developer Requests Permission
to Build on Mangrove Land
The future of one of the island's last undeveloped areas may once again be in question as the owner is attempting to get the rights to develop it, despite the fact that part of the land was granted to the state as a Conservation Easement in 1989 and most of the property is covered in mangrove swamp. At issue are 40 platted lots along the unpaved portion of Chapel Street and adjacent to Mango Street. Last month, the owner, local real estate developer James Jamieson, went before the Town's Local Planning Agency to request a Minimum Use Determination (MUD) that would allow him to build one or more single-family dwellings on the property. The LPA denied the request. This week the Sand Paper learned that Jamieson is now planning to appeal the issue to Town Council.
The property borders Estero Bay and a canal that is a mangrove marsh. Part of the Seagrape Subdivision, the property was once part of a large parcel owned by Seagrape Corp., which in the 1990s built two condos and several houses on non-mangrove land, while the mangrove wetlands were deemed not buildable. In 2002, the non-buildable 3-acre portion was sold to Jamieson, who has made several attempts over the last decade to get the rights to build on the property only to be denied by Town Council in 2002 and 2004.
According to a memo written before the LPA meeting by Town Attorney Marilyn Miller, Joseph Jamieson purchased the property for $173,376 in 2002. At that time, the property was designated 'Wetlands'. In 2003, the Town zoned it as 'Environmentally Critical'. According to the Town's Comprehensive Plan, having the designated use of Wetlands means that the maximum density allowed is one dwelling per 20 acres, and no removal of native vegetation is permitted.
"In March of 2011, the applicant requested an administrative interpretation and correction of the Wetlands designation from the Town,” Miller wrote, adding that the Town's Comp Plan allows for such an interpretation if the Wetlands designation came from a factual error. "As the Town Attorney, I issued the determination that the designation was not the fault of an error. On April 6, 2010, Mr. Jamieson requested a formal determination from the South Florida Water Management District as to the extent of wetlands on the property, which it did on November 24, 2010. Since Mr. Jamieson never challenged that determination, it has now become final.”
The District, in its findings, determined that, out of the 6.25 acre property, 3.85 acres are wetlands, .81 acres are surface water and 1.59 acres are uplands. In May of 2011, Miller advised Jamieson that an area roughly equivalent to one platted lot is all that is potentially developable and that he could make an application for a small-scale land use map amendment to the Town, something he never did.
"At present, therefore, the Land Development Code (LDC) does not permit construction of a single family residence on any of this property that is the subject of this application,” Miller wrote.
In the marsh are mosquito control ditches that were dug as a result of action by a local citizens' group in 1949. The ditches are 20 to 30 ft. wide. At high tide they are 3 or 4 ft. deep, and there are several inches of standing water over all. The whole area is thick with black, red and white mangroves. Neighbors living on Tropical Shores Way, who view the area across their canal, are vehemently opposed to any development in the area.
"My late husband and I bought our place more than 12 years ago, loving it's location, privacy, quietness, and the beauty of it's outlook, as well as what we found inside what then became our winter home,” wrote Amy Gray, a seasonal resident who spends the summers in Michigan. "The conservancy across the canal and across from the homes on the other side of the street, were considered to be a permanent and treasured asset of the neighborhood and community...certainly the decision-makers of our community have a responsibility to protect our best interests and those, too, of the many species dependent on our consciences for their habitat.”
Alice Dickson, a local realtor who also lives on Tropical Shores, is equally concerned, telling the LPA that the destruction of wetlands would be 'a tragic mistake'. Jim Rodwell, another neighbor on Tropical Shores, told us that Jamieson knew what he was buying back in 2002, and is now trying to get one over on the Town.
"He paid $4,400 a lot at a time when other lots on the island were selling for $70,000 to $80,000,” Jim said. "He knew that he was buying environmentally critical land. Can you imagine what that would look like if he got permission to build? There are about 3,000 trees in there – can you imagine how many fill trucks would be going up and down Estero Boulevard at the same time we're trying to fix our water utility and refurbish Estero? And all the endless pounding when they put the pilings in – I'm sure a lot of people would want to come down here then. This is the last stand of this size of mangroves on the island and it needs to be preserved.”
In the fall of 1989, the previous owners of Jamieson's property – the Sea Grape Bay Development, Charles Kelley and Lerria Higgins, granted a Conservation Easement prohibiting any type of construction to the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (now known as the Department of Environmental Protection or DEP). The easement encompasses more than one half of the property and Miller said that she could find no record that the easement has ever been released by the DEP.
Last month, the LPA denied the request based on their concerns that Jamieson was planning to build on each of the 40 platted lots and that he intended to vacate the Conservation Easement. We spoke with Community Development Director Walter Fluegel this week and he told us that the Town intends to stick with their position that the property does not qualify for a MUD.
"He wants 40 buildable lots, and we just don't think that's possible,” he said. "Staff is going to hold to what we said at the LPA meeting.”
Town Manager Terry Stewart agreed, saying that while Mr. Jamieson is a very nice person, the Town has a responsibility to all its residents.
"The Town is very firm on this,” he said. "I understand someone who has an asset and wants to recoup value from it, but we have a responsibility to the community as a whole.”
Efforts to reach the property owner were unsuccessful.