The Town of Fort Myers Beach's planning department is hoping to update the town's language on density.
In the world of planning and development, there exists the legal possibility of transfer of development rights (TDR). This allows a landowner to sever the development capabilities of a parcel of land and sell those rights to someone else who would like more density on a different property.
For example, if a parcel on Fort Myers Beach has development rights of six units per acre, the owner could choose to cut the development rights and sell those rights to someone elsewhere in the county, who is looking to put more density on a parcel they already possess.
A Transfer of Development Rights program allows Owner 1 to sell development rights to Owner 2, thereby preserving Owner 1's property with an environmental easement and giving Owner 2 additional density.
"Usually raw land is where this happens," said Matt Noble, the town's planner.
Noble used to work for Lee County, which does have TDR program. What this program does is allow for the limitation of density in one area while increasing density in another area, usually land with a central urban use in the Lee Plan.
Municipalities can share TDR programs with the county, negotiating a "receiving" zone - an area that increased density is desired.
Once the development rights are transferred, the "sending" parcel no longer has those rights to develop, thereby limiting density in that area, and replacing the development rights with a conservation easement.
Of course, there aren't many pieces of raw land on Fort Myers Beach - but there is a privately owned group of parcels behind Town Hall currently home to mangroves and wetland.
But the number of open parcels on the island is not entirely what Noble is going for - he wants the town to have this program in place as an alternative to development.
"It's about a community making a judgment call," he said. "Does it value property staying in its indigenous state or does it want it to be developed?"
With the frequent grumblings about traffic, tourists and too much strain on the barrier island, it wasn't a tough sell for most of the town council - as long as the TDR program would transfer density off the island, and not allow more density to be received on the island.
"Transferring density off-island can really benefit our community," said Council Member Joanne Shamp at the Jan. 23 meeting. "We really need to look at serving the public interest."
Town attorney Dawn Lehnert said the TDR program could provide an incentive to property owners to protect environmental areas - if it's a location that is full of mangroves, for instance, the permitting and work required to develop it may not be as profitable as just selling the rights and leaving it in its natural state.
"It doesn't cost the town anything, except the staff time to create the program," she said.
Since Lee County already has a TDR program, the town could probably use it as a model to develop its own, she said.
Noble hinted that having a program, in the very near future, might be advantageous as the town "might" be getting an application to develop with a variance on the number of hotel rooms. He would not specify more about the pending application, since it has not been submitted. However, the Times Square Resort project, built by TPI Hospitality, would be seeking a variance from the town's Land Development Code that would allow the resort hotel to have 330 rooms. Noble said Tom Torgerson, the developer, could use a TDR program in this instance to get the extra density his plan required if it were applicable. However, the council was not interested in any density shifting on the island.
"I don't think we need any more density transfers on the island," Mayor Dennis Boback said.
Shamp said she wanted the town to investigate the possibility of entering into an inter-local agreement with the county to set up a receiving zone, so any TDR density could go somewhere off-island.
Lee County already has receiving zones set up to snap up TDR parcels: any areas designated intensive development, central urban or urban community in the Lee Plan can add "bonus" density through a TDR program.
Noble said he will work with the county to see if it would be interested in accepting TDR density from the town and get an inter-local put together. The town does not get a say in where the density is transferred to once the density is transferred out of town jurisdiction.
"That would be up to the county on where they're extinguished, consistent with their rules," he said.