Revisiting Incorporation — July 2022
Recently, there has been renewed interest among Islanders on the issue of incorporation. There have been several alarming annexations by Cape Coral, including one at Pine Island Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway that is expected to become a huge, new development with a five-story hotel, residences, and parking for more than a thousand cars. The water quality surrounding our islands has worsened. Traffic jams are a seasonal nightmare.
Some are thinking that incorporation would allow us greater control over our own destiny.
At the June meeting of the GPICA, about 50 people out of about 70 raised their hands when asked by an attendee whether they were in favor of incorporation. None were against. Outside of our meetings, numerous residents have urged the GPICA Board to be more proactive on the issue, and other residents have mentioned that the current annexations are causing them to re-think their previous, anti-incorporation stance.
Over its 65-year history, the GPICA has been in favor of protecting our island from overdevelopment and preserving what is left of our fragile land and water ecosystems. The first step, taken years ago, was creating the Pine Island Plan and seeing it adopted as Lee County law. Next came legal challenges. And when it became clear that the Plan’s regulations were being disregarded and weakened by the County, support for incorporation grew. In 2020, the effort to incorporate was put on hold due to vocal objections from some members of the community, the pandemic, and the difficulty in finding legislative support.
The current GPICA Board recognizes that revisiting the incorporation process is not a step to be taken lightly. During the last push for incorporation, passions were raised on both sides, facts were distorted, and personal accusations eroded trust throughout the islands.
We do not want to repeat this scenario. Much of what residents and visitors love about our islands is our friendliness — the feeling that we are good people working together. The GPICA Board believes it is possible to discuss ideas, facts and opinions without rancor. In this spirit, and in the light of the current annexations, we’ve been thinking seriously about trying for incorporation again.
But it won’t happen quickly or easily.
At our July GPICA meeting, we explained the incorporation process, which can take years before registered voters on Greater Pine Island would be able to cast the final definitive yes or no vote on the issue.
During that time, the GPICA would need to hire a professional consultant to do a new feasibility study, which, we hope, would settle the issue about whether incorporation is affordable for most Islanders. We would also have to update the draft Charter for the new town. Throughout this process, we would also have to inform Islanders about the feasibility study findings and the latest information about the draft charter — with the goal of inviting everyone into the process..
To truly gauge Islanders’ interest in incorporation, we would also likely ask Lee County to conduct a non-binding referendum as part of a regular election. If the results showed that the great majority of registered voters were in favor of incorporation, we could then confidently request our state senators and representatives to support it by introducing an incorporation bill in both houses of the Florida legislature. Once that law passed, it would come back to Islanders for a final, binding vote on incorporation that would appear on the ballot during the general election.
Then — and only then — would Greater Pine Island voters make their final decision on incorporation.
Before the Board decides whether to reengage in this process, we’re exploring some preliminary questions. Right now, we are:
- Looking into the cost of developing a new feasibility study and charter.
- Looking at whether all of the Island’s enclaves want to come together to be part of a new town.
- Asking when we might be able to get a straw poll on the ballot.
- Considering the pros and cons of incorporation.
- Working to share all of the information we gather with the community as widely and broadly as possible.
We will report back on our findings as we go along. We understand that this is a momentous decision for the Island. We invite the community to work with us throughout this process.
Greater Pine Island Civic Association