Prospects for Southeast Lee County: Planning for the Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource Area (DR/GR)

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Location: Lee County, Florida, USA. Rural neighborhoods, limerock mines, active farms, ecological and hydrological features

Project Description
A special designation was applied to most of southeast Lee County, Florida in 1990 to protect the area’s shallow aquifers and reduce the County’s population capacity. The designated lands comprise the roughly 83,000 acre (approximately 150 square mile) project area. The project areas hosts rural neighborhoods, limerock mines, and active farms. The land also contains valuable ecological and hydrological features including panther habitat and public supply wells. Since the designation of the area, the pressure to mine and build new residences has been increasing. In the fall of 2007 the Board of County Commissioners initiated a 14-point Action Plan addressing critical mining, traffic, and land use issues in the project area. As part of the Action Plan, Lee County commissioned a major planning effort that includes four related parts: a mining truck impact evaluation, an integrated surface and groundwater model, detailed ecological mapping, and a major land use study to consider alternative futures for this sensitive areas. Incorporating broad public input, the submitted plan attempts to define the proper balance of uses for the future of the critical area. A two-week charrette was held in March 2008. Local residents, land owners, farmers, miners and the general public, most of whom resided in Fort Myers and obtain their drinking water from the study area, helped establish 11 conservation, mining, development and transportation principles to guide the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulation amendments. These principles were to:

• Restore and Maintain Large-Scale Ecosystem Integrity
• Maintain Viable Watersheds
• Retain and Improve Ecologically-Responsible Farming
• Create a Meaningful Map of Preferred Mining Areas
• Stick to the Traditional Mining Corridor
• Design Before You Dig
• Reallocate Development Rights; Create Sustainable Settlements
• Live Lightly on the Land
• Anticipate Higher Fuel Costs
• Manage Speed and Vehicle-Miles-Traveled
• Transportation Projects Must Follow Land Use Policy

Lessons learned: By designing at all scales - combining regional planning with simultaneous lot and block level planning and engaging all of the stakeholders, neighbors, policy makers and regulators of the region at the same time - it is far more likely that plans will be realized and not thwarted later on by a person or group whose input was not included in the process. Plans to utilize the TDR program and build the mixed-use centers and protect surrounding farmlands are underway. Over 6,000 acres of wetlands and farmlands would be preserved with the construction of the 500 unit mixed-use development known on Daniel’s Parkway, which was in large part designed during the charrette. We also found that using scenario planning and creating regional illustrative plans as part of a charrette was extremely beneficial. The charrette is typically associated with downtown or neighborhood planning and rarely used in natural resource planning efforts but we found that it is an effective tool that can be employed broadly and in similar efforts around the country. The hands-on design session of the charrette included hundreds of participants representing various interests and backgrounds. Participants placed dots to locate mining, land preservation, and residential clustering priorities. Each table of 12 people had a compendium of easy-to-read GIS maps showing each aspect of the study area in isolation including panther habitat, the location of wellfields, species richness, rock quality, land use, infrastructure, etc. Teams tested scenarios with different amounts of mining, preservation and residential uses with different colored dots. Single-issue extremism was not possible when one was required to locate every use, every dot, somewhere on the map. The synthesis of the public’s table maps presented a balanced approach to planning in the area. The end success of the session showed the public’s capacity to work together and make difficult policy decisions in the interest of the general public good. The process was declared a success by the participants, media and elected representatives and was very effective in generating public support and ownership of the plan. The input from the design session was used to create three different future scenarios. Scenario planning is most often used by planners to identify patterns to accommodate growing populations, but it is equally applicable to protecting endangered natural systems and agriculture. In this instance, the different scenarios were generated to visualize alternative futures and to analyze factors such as the effect of mine placement and quantities of limerock removed from the aquifer, the effect of land use patterns in residential qualities of life, the protection of sensitive native habitats on the ecostyem, the potential for public transit, and impact on traffic. The hydrological impacts of these scenarios were tested using MIKESHE and MODFLO groundwater models to evaluate the specific effects of the scenarios on surface and groundwater levels. The results of the modeling were displayed with hand-drawn, illustrative plans for the entire approximately 150 square mile project area - as a way to help the public quickly visualize the effect of large-scale policy decisions from an aerial view. The public and elected officials could then choose the large-scale scenario they favored. Once the large-scale planning goals were established, the public could follow the neighborhood-level designing that implemented larger goals as part of the same process. The design of each of the receiving areas for development rights transferred from farm fields, for instance, involved the neighbors of the new centers, who themselves helped decide that such a TDR program was beneficial. This lead to consensus and made approvals of compact development much more likely.

Transect Zone(s): T1 natural, T2 rural, T3 sub-urban, T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Plan Approved
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Bus transit, Live/work, Mixed uses, Rail/fixed guideway transit, Sustainable infrastructure, Transit oriented development.
Land area (in acres): 83000
Total built area (in sq. ft.): 1075000
Total project cost (in local currency):
Retail area (in sq. ft.): 540000
Office area (in sq. ft.): 535000
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 4400
Civic uses (type and size): Churches, schools, municipal buildings
Parks & green space (in acres):
Residential types: High-rise, Mid-rise/loft, Low-rise flats, Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette, Semi-detached, Small lot detached, Large lot detached, Live/work.
Project team designers: Dover, Kohl, & Partners
Project team developers: Lee County Board of Commissioners (Client), Spikowski Planning Associates, Berger Singerman, SDI Environmental Services, Inc., Daniel Cary, David Douglas Associates, Inc., Hall Planning and Engineering, Inc., DHI Water & Environment, Inc., Kevin L. Erwin Consulting Ecologist, Inc.

Previous site status: Redevelopment

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: 2010 -