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A Ft. Myers development proposal may be the first gauge of the Gulf Coast's post-Ian approach

 A man looks for his houseboat amid the storm-surge wreckage along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Fla., last week after Hurricane Ian.
Kinfay Moroti
/
WGCU
A man looks for his houseboat amid the storm-surge wreckage along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Fla., last week after Hurricane Ian.

Most of Hurricane Ian’s destruction on Florida’s Gulf Coast was caused by water and storm surge — and that’s made many residents more wary of the coastal development plans that have become so common there, including one that officials will vote on next month.

For the past few years, Fort Myers residents have debated a 36-acre coastal development proposal on property known as Eden Oak. The re-zoning would allow for clearing mangroves to make way for more than 50 homes and a dock facility.

The project provides new housing for Lee County — which is among the ten fastest-growing counties in the U.S. But many people who live near the Shell Point site say it will strip the area of the sort of storm surge buffer they needed a lot more of during Hurricane Ian.

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

That’s evident now as streets in and around the Shell Point community are strewn with furniture, carpeting and dry wall from retirement and other residential units ruined by storm flooding, mostly from the Caloosahatchee River.

Even before the hurricane, the Lee County Examiner in August recommended against the Eden Oak re-zoning plan. But next month, on November 2, the proposal is up for a vote in the Lee County Board of County Commissioners — and environmentalists, including the local Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation — worry commissioners may still approve it.

Either way, Eden Oak may be the first gauge of how Ian’s destruction has — or hasn’t — changed the Gulf coast’s relatively unbridled approach to development.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.