Are luxury condos in high-rise towers the answer to SWFL’s housing affordability crisis? That’s the question at the center of the controversy over changes happening at City Hall.
The City of Fort Myers has proposed changes to its Comprehensive Plan: the bureaucratic blueprint for our city’s future. The changes were proposed in September by local developer Robert MacFarlane at a Planning Board meeting, and aim to help developers of high-rise apartment buildings by reducing rules and simplifying costs for them, and also make the process faster and more predictable by removing public hearings.
The vote on these changes has been postponed til August 7th due to growing local opposition.
The City says these changes will create the housing Millennials desperately need: it’s no secret that many local young adults here have to live with family, even with a steady job. But a growing coalition of local citizens say that’s not true.
Local community group OurTown: Positive Growth Coalition of SWFL says the changes will not deliver any new housing that will be affordable for most local young adults — and worse, will likely shut them out of living downtown entirely. They point to decades of prior developer-led changes, and the broken promises that accompany them.
OurTown say that the primary beneficiaries of the changes to the Comp Plan will be downtown land owners, whose land will jump in value when development allowances increase. They say the increased land value after up-zoning shuts out other kinds of development: the land is now priced for a high-rise, so developers of smaller buildings cannot afford it, and land sits vacant until there’s sufficient demand for another tower.
Fort Myers has no demand for high-rise towers: there are hundreds of condos on the market right now, selling slowly. By zoning as though we were Manhattan, we may instead cause our city to slowly rot. Cities grow incrementally: they do not leap from here to Manhattan in one change. Fort Myers’ natural next steps are to fill the many vacant lots here with ‘more of the same’, i.e. modest, low-rise homes and small commercial buildings.
In response to citizen opposition, the City promised to hold a series of meetings to listen to community concerns before voting on the Comp Plan changes.
Fort Myers needs affordable homes for locals — not just more vacation condos we can’t afford.