Limerock mining and Map 14
Expansion of limerock mining area being considered for Lee County’s Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area (DR/GR)!
Map 14 in the Lee Plan isn’t flashy. It’s simply a map with the title “Generalized Map of Existing and Approved Limerock Mining Areas”. Yet this one map for the past 6 years has identified the locations where limerock mining in the Eastern Lee County Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area (DR/GR) is allowed. This map was created by balancing the need for mining and compatibility with natural resource protection and residential neighborhoods. Now, Lee County staff proposes deletion of this map, along with regulations that govern and direct new mining operations.
Map 14 does not exist in a vacuum. It is an integral component of a series of maps and policies contained in Lee County’ comprehensive plan (Lee Plan) that govern the DR/GR. Since its designation in 1990, the DR/GR has constantly fought to find an identity. The intent of the DR/GR was to protect water resources and limit the overall development density in the County as the DR/GR provides approximately 70% of Lee County’s potable water supply and habitat for many threatened and endangered species including the Florida panther. The permitted uses and uses allowed with a rezone, ranged from agriculture to low density residential to limerock mining. No surprise, residents both within and outside the DR/GR began to express concern about the compatibility of limerock mining in the water resource area and adjacent to residential development.
In 2007, amid a startling number of applications to allow for future mining, Lee County proactively began an assessment of the various uses in the DR/GR. This happened through a public engagement process that utilized experts in planning, ecology, transportation, mining and more. The expert consultants assisted a citizens’ stakeholder committee as the committee and the community created a plan to direct these disparate land uses to the most appropriate locations. While nobody got 100% of what they wanted — no one does in a compromise — the result was a good plan that the Conservancy supported.
The highlights of the DR/GR plan, or overlay, included a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program. Specific areas along major roadways and outside environmentally sensitive areas were identified as appropriate for new Mixed-Use Communities. To get the necessary density to develop in these Mixed-Use Communities, natural lands and agricultural areas were identified, evaluated and ranked based on their ecological value. Intensification was not intended outside Mixed-Use Communities.
The second major highlight of the DR/GR plan was to identify areas that were most compatible for future limerock mining. These areas focused on the Alico Road corridor where mining has historically occurred and these areas are contained in Map 14. This overlay was adopted in 2010, challenged by mining interests, and upheld by an Administrative Law Judge in 2012.
Fast forward 6 years. To date, no developer has utilized the TDR program to intensify uses on their land. Land has been removed from the DR/GR and allowed to intensify. Landowners have created specific sub-overlays for their property to allow for intensification rather than use the TDR process. Lee County implemented another sub-overlay along Corkscrew Road, which allows for increased residential density in exchange for significant, quantifiable and measurable ecological benefits above and beyond what current permitting standards already require. A good concept, but the past several projects to be approved under this overlay have fallen short of meeting this standard, and have even succeeded in expanding the overlay. In addition, we’re now seeing commercial developments proposed along Corkscrew Road in the DR/GR — a use that was never intended.
What has been the remaining success of the DR/GR plan? To date, it has been Map 14. This provides Lee County with the ability to direct limerock mining to appropriate locations, and provides assurances to the community that a mine will not be proposed in their backyard. Map 14 and the other components of the 2010 DR/GR plan were years in the making through a very public process. Yet Lee County is proposing, with a little over 7 days’ notice, and no public meetings or workshops, to delete this map and its corresponding policies.
These issues are being presented and discussed at the Lee County Local Planning Agency meeting on December 17, 2018. There will also be two presentations to the Lee County Board of Commissioners in early 2019 where they will vote on whether to transmit and adopt these changes. We plan to ask Lee County to maintain the balance between natural resource extraction and other land uses including residential, commercial and conservation. We will also express to Lee County that Map 14 and its supporting policies need to remain as part of the Lee Plan.
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