Despite protests from resident preservationists, a 127-acre tract off Burnt Store Road in Cape Coral was rezoned from agricultural to marketplace residential at Monday's City Council meeting at City Hall.
The rezoning, which passed council 7-1, allows the property to match what the city had planned for the property, which will allow owner First Community Bank to market and sell the land.
And despite what those environmentalists claimed, Cliff Repperger, project manager of Avalon Engineering, said the project would help preserve the land.
"It was a good decision and will help protect the property instead of hinder it," Repperger said. "It gives the developers an assurance the comprehensive plan will be followed, and the city had the safeguards so the project will go through rigorous reviews."
The environmentalists were concerned that a residential development there would destroy the pristine nature of the property, where eagles call home on the southwest corner and where burrowing owls and gopher turtles have been spotted.
"Wetlands improve our ecosystem, they help control water flow and cleanse the system," said Beverly Saltonstall of the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. "Cape Coral is expected to reach a population of 450,000. Water quality will become a huge issue."
Dan Williams, a resident nearby, said the council should do an independent study before making a decision. It was a sentiment echoed by Katherine Hughes.
"People want to see birds, and we want to point them here and not in Sanibel," Hughes said. "They'll spend money in stores and the economy will thrive."
The need for more commercial property and the possibility of litigation if council did not agree to change the zoning prevailed.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail said with Burnt Store slated to expand, a zoning change was assured.
"That two-lane road is not going to look that way in the future. To expect it to stay rural and devoid of development isn't realistic," McGrail said. "To delay this is punitive to the land owner, and we run the risk of a claim against us."
Council promptly voted, with only Chris Chulakes-Leetz voting against the ordinance.
"Now the zoning matches what the city had planned. Now, if someone was interested in the property, they would feel confident they were on the right track," Repperger said.
Saltonstall didn't see things in such a sunny light.
"It had to be the decision. But we would have liked to see the land developed into an ecologically friendly area and not wall-to-wall houses," Saltonstall said. "Hopefully, the vision the bank has for the land will be in line with what we want."
In other business, the city council agreed to waive the permit fees for Elizabeth Rodriguez as a result of the Chinese Drywall found in her home.
The snag was that Rodriguez originally owned the property along with her father. When he died, it changed the ownership, which would have meant the original resolution regarding fee waivers for those with Chinese drywall would have been voided, according to city attorney Dolores Menendez.
Council decided to waive the fee by a 7-1 vote (Councilmember Nesta voted against), but the resolution would have to be amended to reflect that it was a family member who was owner, and the ownership passed to another family member upon passing.