Incorporation Update and Meeting

Is the Time Really Right to Incorporate Pine Island?

During the November meeting of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association (GPICA), attendees heard summaries of two development proposals. One was three-plus acres at the corner of Maria Drive and Stringfellow Road; the second was focused on 19-plus acres south of Judith Road and north of Sweeney’s SOS at Birdsong Lane.

Although it wasn’t entirely clear from the presentation, it appears that the developer of the 19-acre parcel plans to build 20 single-family homes with another 17 duplexes on 30 lots and would likely sell the two commercial properties along Stringfellow Road. According to the project engineer, the proposed density and uses are already approved by the County and the developer is seeking a development order, which will allow construction to begin.

While the GPICA is still fact-finding about this development and where it stands in the approval process, it nonetheless raises the question of whether incorporation is the correct next step to protect Pine Island’s unique coastal-rural character.

This is a question that the GPICA has been grappling with since at least 2016, when, after challenges by developers and worries of costly lawsuits, the Lee County Commission revised the Pine Island Plan to allow greater building densities than under the earlier Plan. Later that year, the City of Cape Coral moved to annex six parcels covering 5.47 acres in Matlacha, including D&D Tackle and adjoining properties. Under Cape rules, the annexation would have allowed them to add additional boat ramps, a marina and buildings up to eight stories tall.

Until then, the Greater Pine Island Civic Association (GPICA) had been opposed to incorporation. However, fearing the loss of support by the Lee County Commission for protecting Pine Island and worried about the Cape’s encroachment, the GPICA board began discussing options; ultimately, the Board asked its membership whether it wanted to investigate incorporation. In a standing-room only meeting at the Elk’s Club, the membership voted overwhelmingly in favor and the Board moved forward to develop a feasibility study and undertake the other steps necessary to learn whether we were positioned to incorporate.

In addition to commissioning a feasibility study, the Board polled residents on whether they supported incorporation, created a draft charter and polled members of our legislative delegation as to whether they would support bringing the issue to a vote in the Florida House and Senate — all steps that are required for incorporation under state law. (You can view more on this background on our website

While our poll indicated strong support for incorporation, the issue was not wholly embraced by the community and those in dissent eventually drowned out other voices. The once-collegial discussion devolved into accusations, name-calling, physical threats, distorted facts and so much dissension and derision that the GPICA board eventually tabled the idea.

Ultimately, the Cape’s move to annex the Matlacha properties failed, and the community moved on. The GPICA Board focused on other community issues — including working on development issues through more direct communications with county staff and our District Commissioner, septic-to-sewer conversion, traffic and water quality concerns.

Fast forward to 2022.

Development has continued on the Island and residents have had little ability to oppose it. The Lee County Commission is in a pro-development phase and, even if it weren’t, thousands of island parcels were approved for development even before the original Pine Island Plan was put in place.

The Cape has also come back — this time annexing eight parcels on the east and west sides of Veterans Memorial Parkway at the intersection with Pine Island Road. Owners of parcels on the west side of Veterans are planning a massive development that will include a hotel, homes and businesses valued at more than $200 million.

The lots that the Cape annexed also fall within the boundaries of the Matlacha-Pine Island Fire Control District and the Greater Pine Island Water Association, potentially impacting services that both provide. The annexation had the potential to cause an increase in rates to those remaining in the water and fire districts, as those of us who remain will pay costs already incurred by the districts for financing capital projects that allow them to provide services to the now-annexed properties.

  • The Greater Pine Island Water District has their franchise to provide services to the properties in place through 2050, which provides protection for the next 27 years.
  • In September, the Matlacha-Pine Island Fire Control District signed a 10-year interlocal agreement with the Cape about the properties already annexed and about future voluntary annexations. (Read the agreement).

At the time the Cape was annexing those properties, Pine Islanders once again worried about protecting our community, and residents raised the idea of whether incorporating would protect us. Some of our members began urging the Board to take up the issue of incorporation again.

With trepidation, the Board agreed to invite a representative from the Florida League of Cities to discuss the incorporation process with our membership during our October 2022 meeting — basically starting from scratch. With Ian hitting us at the end of September, that meeting never took place, and the GPICA Board rightly redirected its focus on post-Ian recovery.

More than a year later, the drumbeat of incorporation is sounding again.

The GPICA Board has discussed the pros and cons of the issue at length, and while all members of the Board serve because we want to protect Pine Island, at this time we are skeptical about even beginning the incorporation discussion again.

Perhaps the biggest reason is the weakening of Home Rule in Florida this past legislative session. In Florida, Home Rule is enacted through our state Constitution and allows cities and counties to enact local laws and rules without approval of the state.

One of the biggest arguments that GPICA has made for incorporation in the past has been the need for self-governance — particularly for the right to implement development rules in our community that balance the rights of property owners to develop their land, while also keeping Greater Pine Island as the coastal-rural community that drew many of us to the Island. It’s the reason we led the development of the Pine Island Plan in the first place.

During the 2022 Legislative session, however, Florida’s lawmakers passed numerous laws weakening the ability of local governments to set their own destinies by having control of their zoning regulations and land use.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Home Rule and Smart Growth was SB 540/HB 359 — which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis and took effect on July 1, 2023.

It allows winning parties in a lawsuit to recover attorneys’ and other legal fees. This law effectively stifles residents’ and even small local governments’ abilities to oppose development (or perhaps even implement zoning regulations) for fear of multi-million-dollar judgements if they lose their cases. In fact, it’s the reason the GPICA did not join as a party to the Chiquita Lock Lawsuit being waged by the Matlacha Civic Association (even though our membership voted to support it in a limited financial way). A judgement against GPICA could effectively bankrupt us.

Friends of the Everglades called this law the worst environmental law in the 2023 session and “a death knell for smart growth in Florida.”

Then there is SB102/HB627, which also took effect in July. While it’s designed to expand affordable housing opportunities in the state by providing incentives and tax breaks, it also came with a measure that preempts local governments from limiting building heights and densities for affordable housing projects.

Another bill — SB 170/HB 1515 — that took effect Oct. 1 dictates that local governments must halt the enforcement of an ordinance if a single lawsuit challenges that law or ordinance until the court case is decided.

The GPICA has other concerns with moving forward on incorporation as well:

  • It would be a costly effort. In 2017, we spent more than $50,000 and other incidental costs on mailings and the feasibility study. That price would likely be even higher today. To our north, Save Siesta Key has been working for more than three years to incorporate Siesta Key and has raised at least $250,000 for the effort.
  • It requires human capital. Currently, the GPICA Board has seven members, including some who are able to take a more active role than others. (Our bylaws call for up to 11 members). While we’re working to recruit new board members, we just don’t have the capacity to take on such a huge effort right now, especially when the issue is not embraced wholeheartedly by the community. Not only would we need donors to help raise funds for incorporation, we also would need more active and engaged volunteers.
  • Pine Island today is very different from Pine Island prior to the storm. Our previous feasibility study showed that we were a donor community to Lee County — that is, we pay more tax revenue than we receive in services. Would that hold true today, post Ian? It’s a question we would have to explore more.
  • Incorporation requires the support of our own legislative delegation and then passage by both the Florida House and Senate and the Governor’s signature before the issue would come back to Islanders for a final vote. State lawmakers don’t seem supportive for more incorporated communities at this time. For instance, the straw poll conducted by Save Siesta Key of their residents cost $30,000, and while it showed overwhelming community support for incorporation, the issue did not move out of committee during the 2023 legislative session — even though their local delegation supported it. That effectively killed the possibility of an incorporated Siesta Key until at least the 2024 legislative session.
  • Lee County could actively stand in the way. To create a “government light” form of governance, an incorporated Pine Island would be required to contract for services from Lee County or private providers. What would happen if Lee County declined or if they increased cost-for-services beyond the town’s budget? During our last conversation with former Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais in 2019, he indicated that contract services would be more costly for us than what Lee County’s most recently incorporated community — Estero — paid. He also suggested that the county could try to force us to take over the island’s recreation facilities at our own cost.

For these reasons and others, the GPICA Board is reticent to take up the issue of incorporation at this time. However, we feel that our role as the Island’s main venue for civic engagement means that we should continue to provide a forum for discussion of all issues affecting Islanders.

That’s why we’ve invited Lynn Tipton, Director of FLC University for the Florida League of Cities, to join us for our December meeting. Lynn will provide an overview of the incorporation process and discuss the current climate in the state for incorporation.

We hope you can join us for the meeting.

  • When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5
  • Where: The Pine Island United Methodist Church

Nadine Slimak, Vice President, GPICA Board of Directors, with Deborah Swisher-Hicks, President; Michael Sweeney, Treasurer and Board Members Sue Dahod, Connie D’Alessio, Tim Heitz, Shari Perkins and Scott Wilkinson

You Can Help Protect Pine Island’s Coastal-Rural Community

Did you know that there are some 13,000 properties on Pine Island that have been grandfathered in under old development rules that existed before our current Pine Island Plan was put into place? And that new developments are also being proposed?

The GPICA has been advocating at the county level for ways to sunset these old development orders. We also try to track all Pine Island-related developments.

But this is a big task and we need more help.

We want to develop a strong committee of GPICA members that can help us track development through the county approval process so that the GPICA can ensure that all Pine Island Plan rules are being followed and that our community has a say in local development.

We need more people to help us advocate for the Island!

Would you like to help? We’re looking for Committee members who:

  • Are computer savvy with the ability to conduct online searches of Lee County development records (we will show you how!);
  • Have attention to detail;
  • Willing to work as part of a team focused on protecting Greater Pine Island’s coastal-rural character;
  • Willing to take direction and work closely with the GPICA Board to track development;
  • Are willing to commit 5-10 hours a month to this work;
  • Are GPICA members in good standing.

Other helpful background would include expertise in building/construction/development and business communication, but if you don’t have experience, don’t worry! We can help train you!

If you have these skills and are interested in putting them to work to protect Pine Island, please send us an email with:

  • Your contact information: First and last name, mailing address, email address, phone number;
  • A couple of sentences about your interest and any relevant background;
  • Email it to us at: and put “Development Committee” in the subject line.

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