Public Participation in Village Development Review Committee Hearings

Estero’s tradition of widespread citizen participation in the land use approval process has contributed greatly to the outstanding appearance of developments throughout the community.

Now that the responsibility for these decisions has switched from the Lee County Board to the Village Council, the public needs to know how the new review system will operate so that they can continue to participate effectively.

What follows is a layman’s recap of the Development Review Process now being implemented by the Village of Estero.

Village Advisory Boards

The Village Council has created two Boards to review development proposals and project plans prior to any consideration by the Village Board.

PLANNING AND ZONING BOARD (PZB) – In addition to its community planning responsibilities,  the PZB conducts Public Hearings and makes recommendations to the Village Council regarding comprehensive plan amendments, future land use map amendments, land development code amendments, zoning district regulation changes and most often, rezoning of properties.

DESIGN REVIEW BOARD (DRB) – The DRB conducts Public Hearings and makes decisions subject to appeals to the Village Council after reviewing plans and specifications for all development orders and major building permits.

Florida law establishes a multi-step process prior to any permits being issued to implement a development. The property must comply with the Village’s Comprehensive Plan or obtain and amendment to that document, be zoned or rezoned and later each project within the development must obtain a Development Order.

Public Information Meeting (PIM)

In addition to the State requirements the Village of Estero has added another step. Prior to any request for development or project approval the developer must first make a non-binding  PUBLIC INFORMATION PRESENTATION to the  Board having  jurisdiction over the type of application being sought prior to the application being found sufficient (complete) by the Village staff.

When the PZB holds a PIM public workshop the developer is required to provide a detailed overview of the development and shall provide the PZB with documents and information supporting that overview as required by rules to be adopted by the PZB.

When the DRB holds a PIM public workshop on a development order or building permit, the developer must provide a detailed overview of the project and shall provide the DRB with documents and information supporting that overview as required by rules to be adopted by the DRB.

The minutes of each PIM for either Board must contain a summary of the concerns or issues that were raised at the meeting. Thereafter the developer shall provide the reviewing Board with a proposal for how the developer will respond to the issues raised at the workshop prior to the application being considered sufficient (complete).

Two purposes are served by the Public Information Meeting requirement:

  • The developer is able to receive unofficial feedback from the respective Board before he has spent lots of money on planning and design, and
  • An opportunity for affected Estero residents to become aware of the proposed development or project early in the review process and to raise their concerns about the proposal in time for the developer to respond early in the development review process.

Comprehensive Plan Changes

When Estero became a Village it inherited the Lee County Comprehensive Plan, including the Estero Community Plan, which is part of the Lee Plan. Florida law requires that all new municipalities update its Comprehensive Plan within three years of incorporation.

In addition the Village can initiate other Comp Plan changes, with the help of the PZB, at any time. In April the Village Council contracted with Spikowski Planning Services to prepare amendments to the Village’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code that would expand and refine the proposed mixed use regulatory framework; prepare an overlay map that could be used to identify the areas where mixed use planning standards would apply such as the proposed village center and the healthcare village; prepare a second map that might be used to identify additional areas where the new standards might be available, etc.

Each of these Comp Plan changes are subject to a PIM Workshop and subsequent PZB hearing, review and recommendation before going to the Village Council for final action. Before the Village can approve, deny or approve with conditions, any Comp Plan change it must be reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Developers seeking certain major changes in the zoning of their development will need to seek a Comprehensive Plan change from the Village prior to their effort to rezone the property. Once again the developer will need to work with the PZB at a PIM Workshop, followed by a PZB Hearing, review and recommendation before the required State review and the final decision of the Village Council

Rezonings

The next step in the land use approval process is typically an effort by a developer to have the Planning and Zoning Board (PZB) recommend approval of an application to rezone a parcel of land located within the Village.

After the PIM Workshop has been held, the developer’s response has been accepted and the application deemed sufficient (complete) by the Village Planning staff, the PZB will conduct a Public Hearing and make a recommendation to the Village Council regarding approval, approval with conditions or disapproval of the rezoning. Upon receipt of the PZB recommendation the Village Council shall take final action on the rezoning.

The major issues that the PZB must consider, among others, in the typical rezoning of a development are:

  • The maximum amount of development to be permitted on the property e.g. how many housing units and/or how many square feet of office, retail or other commercial or industrial development,
  • The maximum height of the buildings and how they look from adjacent properties,
  • The location of the development and the internal roadway of the site,
  • The location of the entrances to the property and the development’s impact on surrounding traffic and traffic safety,
  • The compatibility of the development with the surrounding occupants or planned developments,

The PZB Board members are knowledgeable about this step in the process and are very specific in their investigative questioning of all aspects of the proposal. Questions and comments from the community, especially those potentially directly impacted by the development, are vital to this step in the process and are an official part of it.

In order to encourage Community awareness and participation in each PZB meeting addressing Comprehensive Plan and Rezoning matters, the ECCL issues ALERTS to our sizeable membership list to make everyone in the community aware of upcoming PUBLIC INFORMATION  MEETINGS or PZB ACTIONS.

If a proposal involves property close to your community it is especially recommended that you come out and be heard.

Development Orders

The next step in the typical Estero development approval process is the review of a Development Order (DO) for each project within a previously rezoned development.

Some developments have only one project within their boundaries but most of them contain more than one project. For example, the Coconut Point development consists of 500 acres extending from the northern boundary of Bonita Springs to Williams Road with US41 on the west and the CSX railroad tracks on the east. The Hertz site is just one of the many projects within the Coconut Point development.

When a property is rezoned the developer typically does not know exactly how each parcel of land within the development will be used. As a consequence there is, at that time, no architectural, landscape or other plans available for review.

That’s where the Development Order and the Design Review Board (DRB) come in. When these detailed plans are complete for each project within a development, the developer must file an application with the Village for approval of a Development Order authorizing the developer to proceed with the plans for the project.

The DRB shall review every application for a development  order that has any impact on building appearance and design, landscaping, hardscaping, pedestrian and vehicular connectivity, open space  and certain administrative project decisions.  The DRB may require such changes as may be requisite and appropriate to the maintenance of a high standard of architecture, beauty and harmony as established by the standards adopted by the Village Council earlier this year.

The decisions of the DRB are final subject to an appeal being filed by the developer specifying the aggrieved action of the DRB and the action that the developer would like the Village Council to take. Thereafter the Village Council shall hold a Public Hearing on the appeal and affirm, reverse or affirm with modifications the decision of the DRB.

Once again the ECCL supports the Village by using its extensive communication capabilities to encourage the citizens of Estero, especially those residing nearby, to attend and participate in each of these DRB meetings.

Certain Building Permits

The final step in the approval process before construction can begin on a project is Village approval of the necessary building permits.

Building Permits for the construction or addition to any building, except most single family homes, may be issued only after the DRB has reviewed the building plans for satisfaction of the standards established by the Village Council for such reviews and the Chairman has signed each set of plans and specifications for the project.

If the DRB has insisted on some changes over the objections of the developer, the developer may appeal this change to the Village Council Thereafter the Village Council shall hold a public hearing on the appeal and affirm, reverse or affirm with modifications the decision of the DRB.

Once again the ECCL will advise all the households and community leaders on its email list about these DRB meetings.  

Village Council Review and Appeal Decisions

As indicated earlier the Village Council will be making the final decision on all Comprehensive Plan and Rezoning changes after the PZB has made their recommendations. All Village Council meetings welcome comments from all interested members of the public on each agenda item, including these important land use decisions.

Thus, the residents of Estero will have more opportunity for public input on rezoning matters than they had with Lee County, where only those who testified before the Hearing Examiner could testify when the BOCC took final action on the case.

Also as stated earlier most of the decisions of the DRB are likely to be final. Only those that are appealed by the developer will come to the Village Council for action. On appeals of DRB Development Order and Building Permit decisions, the Village Council will hold a Public Hearing where all citizens can participate prior to deciding the appeal.

Whenever the Village Council will conduct a Public Hearing or schedule a Major Development or Project for final approval, the ECCL will advise all the households and communities on our extensive email list about the key issues that will be publically debated at the Hearing or Council meeting.

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