Requested building code changes spark pushback from environmentalists

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

The business asking one county to change the building code to allow them to go higher is seeing more pushback, this time from conservation groups.

South Seas Island Resort on Captiva is trying to get Lee County to change the building code to allow them to add more rooms by building up.

Seen from a birds-eye view, it’s clear that the tallest things on Captiva are the trees, and environmental groups are focused on keeping it that way.

Progress on Captiva Island is described differently depending on who you ask.

“There’s obviously progress to people who think that the bigger the building, the more development and the more money coming in, then that is progress,” Matt DePaolis, the Environmental Policy Director for Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, said.

DePaolis sees the progress in how healthy the water is and how much the wildlife in Southwest Florida is thriving.

If Lee County allows South Seas, the Captiva Resort, to build higher and increase density on the island, conservation groups believe that jeopardizes the goals they’ve worked towards.

“If we put massive new buildings out on Captiva, that’s going to increase light pollution out there, that’s going to have an affect on migrating birds, that’s going to have an affect on sea turtles that are trying to nest, that’s going to increase impacts on the beaches that might make nesting birds less like nesting shorebirds, less likely to come in and use those spaces,” DePaolis said.

In a Lee County commission meeting last week, a representative for South Seas said building higher allows them to be more resilient. They want to change the building height code on Captiva.

For the time being, it’s 28 feet above flood elevation, which is about two stories tall. The changes that could follow from this would raise those heights to 75 feet.

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge executive director Brigit Miller said the lower standard defines the nature of the Barrier Islands as more conserved land and less density.

“When you look at the differences between islands like Sanibel, and its ethic towards conservation and building codes, and, you know, controlling density and increased density, and then you look at other islands, similar to Sanibel in size, and they don’t have those codes, they’re very different. And ecologically environmentally, you can see the difference,” Miller said.

While discussions and a vote next week are only happening regarding the South Seas Resort, the fear is it opens the door for others to grow to new heights.

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