TO: Local Planning Agency

FROM: Bill Spikowski

DATE: January 27, 1998

SUBJECT: Building Heights



In the fall of 1996 the Local Planning Agency began discussing a new cap on building heights for Fort Myers Beach. At that point the LPA decided to investigate the use of "height districts" rather than a single island-wide height limit.

This concept would create two or more districts (encompassing all of the island) with different height limits. The purpose would be to ensure that new buildings on most of the island will not be high-rises, but to allow some taller buildings in delineated areas where a high-rise pattern has been firmly established. Two reasons for doing this would be to allow older tall buildings to be replaced once they become obsolete, and to provide a measure of fairness for a few remaining parcels that are virtually surrounded by highrises. The public policy behind these height districts would be clearly articulated so that they wouldn't be characterized as illegal "spot-zoning." (The level of vesting for tall buildings outside the more lenient districts would also be made explicit.)

Bill Van Duzer agreed to inventory the height of existing buildings along all of Estero Boulevard to provide the needed base data. A sample of this inventory is attached. From that inventory, Spikowski Planning Associates has created a map identifying all buildings along Estero Boulevard that are four stories or more above ground, and illustrated each with their shapes and relative heights. The LPA will review this map at the regular meeting of February 3 and begin to decide whether tall buildings are sufficiently concentrated to justify height districts.

In August of 1997, the Town Council adopted an interim height cap of two stories about the lowest habitable floor:

"No building or structure shall be erected or altered so that the height exceeds two stories above the lowest habitable floor; however, in no case shall a building or structure be erected or altered so that the highest point of an exterior wall, exclusive of the roof system, exceeds 25 feet above the base flood elevation."

The council was aware that the LPA might recommend "height districts" or some other type of more sophisticated regulations, but chose to adopt this interim regulation so that new highrises wouldn't be permitted while the new comprehensive plan was being completed.

Now the LPA needs to return to this subject and begin formulating the direction that the Future Land Use Element will take regarding building heights.

In addition to the height district approach, there are other possibilities that could be used to deal with the complexities of Fort Myers Beach:

Regardless of the exact means chosen, the success of this program would depend on only very few sites being eligible for new tall buildings. Its success would also depend on closing several loopholes in the current regulations that would use the extra height to continue past practices of overbuilding:

When visualizing the effects of new height regulations, at least four different situations (besides legal vesting) must be considered:

  1. Totally new development on one of the few vacant sites
  2. Replacement of existing buildings to increase intensity on a site
  3. Redevelopment of a deteriorating or obsolete structure (perhaps to the same intensity)
  4. Redevelopment that actually reduces intensity in some way

In any of these situations, your regulations could also provide the bonus of extra height in exchange for public amenities, for instance for providing a view corridor to the water, or a beach access point, or a trolley stop (if one is appropriate there). Extra height in exchange for public amenities has been allowed in Manhattan for decades, although the program there has amounted to a much greater giveaway of density than was needed, and often the public only gained poorly designed and little-used plazas.

These thoughts are meant to illustrate the wide range of possibilities and stimulate the discussion on February 3. If no consensus arises out of that discussion, Spikowski Planning Associates will formulate a specific proposal in the Future Land Use that the LPA can respond to.