Lee County has taken several steps over the last few weeks to streamline the development permitting process and improve the regulatory "climate" for new businesses and development.
Land Development Code Amendments
On February 12, the Lee County Commission approved a series of amendments to the Land Development Code (LDC) that were recommended by the Horizon Council, the County's economic development and business advisory board. The changes include streamlining the "sufficiency review" process for projects undergoing rezoning, providing greater flexibility to the zoning director to administratively approve changes to approved projects that formerly required a public hearing for approval, and eliminating the 5-year lifespan for planned development master plans, making these plans valid in perpetuity. The amendments were approved unanimously by the County Commission, and received support from Lee County staff and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
At its Management & Planning meeting on March 4, the County Commission continued its recent discussions on suspending or adjusting impact fees charged on new development. As previously reported in this blog, the Commission initiated discussions earlier this year with consideration of a 2-year suspension of all impact fees in an effort to spur development and economic growth. During public input at a workshop and public hearing, issues arose regarding the effect of such a suspension on municipalities, the school district, the fire districts and the holders of impact fee "credits" that had been issued by the County for previous improvements and land donations. In light of these concerns, the Commission reviewed its options on March 4, and a majority of commissioners appeared to reach some consensus that a significant reduction of current fees, perhaps by as much as 80%, would ameliorate some of the concerns of a complete suspension and still have the desired effect on development. Fire and EMS impact fees would be exempt from this reduction. The Commissioners requested additional information prior to the next, and possibly final, public hearing on this matter scheduled for Tuesday, March 12 at 9:30 a.m. in Commission chambers.
Plan Amendment Cycles
On March 5, the County Commission approved a change to its administrative code to remove the "once per year" cycle for amendments to the Lee County Comprehensive Plan. Plan amendment applications will now be reviewed and processed by Lee County throughout the year as they are submitted. Previously, plan amendment applications were processed only once per calendar year beginning on September 30, potentially causing delay for those projects that required a plan amendment and missed the September 30 filing deadline. This change follows statutory revisions enacted by the Florida Legislature in recent years to loosen the plan amendment process.
As always, we will continue to update you as developments in Lee County occur.