Analysis by James Williams, CCDEC Legislative Liason
Over the past few months, the Sunseeker Resort development project gradually found its way into the news in Charlotte County. Not surprisingly, as it has been unveiled, a number of opinions have surfaced about it, the two clearest sides being those opposed to changing the “old Florida” character of the Charlotte Harbor shoreline and those seeking to improve the economy of Charlotte County. The project also has generated a fair share of rumors, some accurate, some not so much.
The Charlotte County Commissioners have come under fire for “fast-tracking” the development. It is said one commissioner sold a property to Sunseeker for around $1 million – a conflict of interest? Accusations have been leveled against the Commissioners for not taking due diligence in studying the development proposal and being too eager to push it through.Sunseeker Resort Perimeter Wall Master Plan – Click the photo for a larger image
Construction of a parking garage on a small portion of Bayshore Live Oak Park, actually proposed by the Commission and not the developer, has caused an outcry among some citizens. Seemingly linked to this concern, some citizens also have inaccurately claimed that the waterfront of the proposed resort would be closed off to the general public. Other concerns include permitting 90-foot structures right on the shoreline and how these structures foundations should be engineered to handle being built in a “floodplain.”
Because developer-driven hype about the project has been commingled with real news reports, it is not surprising the facts have been muddled. Yet, this is certainly not because of “fake news,” as Commissioner Bill Truex, District 3, implied at the March 27 Commission meeting. The rumors and complaints from citizens, he said, were the result of “constant misinformation” presented by the press (read Charlotte Sun).
In reality, Charlotte Sun coverage has been pretty balanced, and in an editorial preceding the Commission’s March 27th meeting, the Sun struck what I believe is a fair position: yes, we’ve concerns about traffic and such, but the project’s economic worth for the county is good. The problem seems to be that the county and developer partnership has not been really “conducive to sharing ideas and give-and-take.”
So, where are we now?
At the County Commissioners’ March 27th meeting, they took two actions. The first one vacated the old plats that comprised the properties purchased by Sunseeker Florida, Inc. and Charlotte Point Properties, LLC, making it a single 22+ acre plat. The second action was the signing of a Developer’s Agreement between Sunseeker Florida, Inc. and Charlotte Point Properties, LLC; Charlotte County and the Charlotte Harbor Community Redevelopment Agency.
These actions allow Sunseeker to consolidate the properties it had purchased and begin the process to “develop a mixed-use resort project with commercial and retail space.” As a part of this, Sunseeker will widen and make improvements to Main Street while maintaining a walkway access from Highway 41 to Bayshore Live Oak Park, construct a landscaped security wall with a 12-foot setback around the Sunseeker site, and begin work on the resort. The agreement also establishes impact fees, based on existing county fee structures.
As a part of the agreement, Commissioner Chris Constance, District 2, noted that Sunseeker plans include reclaiming submerged portions of the site by filling in behind a seawall and also that the parking garage is to be pushed back onto Bayshore Road, so only a little will take away from Bayshore Live Oak Park and the reclaimed submerged land will offset that.
Sunseeker will still have to go through site review process for building permits, according to Charlotte County Communications Manager Brian Gleason. This is largely administrative in nature, but if Sunseeker wants to amend the agreement, such action would require public hearings.
Only two or three citizens spoke up about Sunseeker at the comments session, raising issues previously mentioned here. One other, Clark Keller, made a particularly interesting suggestion related to the fact that most of the jobs Sunseeker Resort will provide are low-wage ones. He challenged the Commission to negotiate with Sunseeker a promise to pay a living wage to its workers (reminding me of the $15-per-hour campaign for fast-food workers), and argued that, if agreed to, this would push businesses all along the 41 corridor to raise their basic wages. I doubt the present Commission will take this up, but it certainly seems worth exploring.
We can expect to see a lot of work on the site in the coming months.