Post-Ian Rebuilding Requires Vigilance & Resilience
By Matt DePaolis, SCCF Environmental Policy Director
As our communities continue to focus on rebuilding efforts, an important consideration is resilience in the face of future storms. In Lee County, we need to ensure that development pressures are not taking advantage of the chaos following Hurricane Ian and using it as an opportunity to rush unwise development that could be damaging to the current communities and future residents.
Last week, the Lee County Board of Commissioners instructed staff to develop proposed amendments to county regulations addressing height, setbacks, and other development limitations that are potentially restricting residents’ ability to rebuild their homes and businesses in a manner that reduces potential flood threats. It is important that this be conducted in good faith to actually address flood risk and not as a guise to increase density in the coastal high-hazard zone and other sensitive areas.
This request is of special interest to those of us on the islands because, in addition to an included review of proposed amendments to provisions of the Land Development Code, it would also be applicable to additional development in South Seas Island Resort on Captiva.
Thanks to the foresight of the founders of the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel Plan guides the island’s development. The Plan, which was originally enacted in 1976 following the incorporation of the island, restricted overdevelopment and requires native plantings, two factors that may have lessened Ian’s impact on our community. By incorporating, the City took control away from Lee County regarding development.
The resulting large amounts of native plants and conservation lands on Sanibel were able to absorb water and remain standing through the forceful winds and waters of the storm. Ian highlighted the importance of retaining wetland areas to act as a buffer against increasingly strong storms.
With the rebuild currently underway, it is important that South Floridians make sure to build back intelligently with the future in mind. Ian has given us an opportunity to evaluate what has been working well and what could be improved. On Sanibel, that will entail highlighting which parts of the Sanibel Plan are working well to serve our communities and evaluating whether any parts need to be strengthened.
In Lee County, it will involve monitoring proposed amendments to the Land Development Code that are detrimental to future resilience. SCCF will be submitting comments on any proposed changes if we feel that they are not in the best interests of human health, safety, and the environment of Southwest Florida.