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Cape at a crossroads: To be or not to be?

March 15, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

For most of us, living in Cape Coral is, indeed, living the American Dream:

Suburban housing - that classic three-two with a two-car garage and - Florida bonus! - screened lanai or pool, tucked on a tidy little lot in a neighborhood of similar homes.

Code restrictions that work to protect housing values and have, in fact, made the Cape almost exempt from the type of blight that too often infiltrates "older" or "poorer" neighborhoods.

Throw in an abundance of seawalled waterfront and add a dock and boat and you have more than the American Dream - you have a little slice of paradise, perfect for raising a family or enjoying a nice retirement, all for a lot less than those high-tax states "back home."

Every Eden has its downside, however, and here in the Cape it's a lot more serious than an annoying lack of sidewalks and the everlasting UEP.

Unfortunately, no matter how much we baby boomers might love it, citywide suburbia is not sustainable no matter its attributes.

Let us be blunt:

It is not sustainable for the largest city between Tampa and Miami.

It is not sustainable for a city expected to top the population mark of 200,000 this year.

It is not sustainable for a city that is expected to be home to 450,000-plus individuals once all those four-lots-to-the-acre homesites have that traditional dream home.

And it is not sustainable for those of us who don't want, or can't afford, those "back home" tax rates.

While we are being frank, let us add two frowned-upon concepts - "commercial development" and "high density multi-family."

What the heck, let's break all of the local taboos and add "affordable housing" to the discussion.

Cape Coral needs all three, and most would agree.

But not in our like-rooftops-only backyard, please.

This is the conundrum faced by municipal staff, which has drafted a proposed citywide rezoning initiative potentially affecting 9,800 total acres of various sized parcels throughout the city.

This is the challenge faced by Cape Coral City Council members who already are being bombarded with opposition from neighborhoods that don't want change - that don't even want status quo zoning if that land use allows vacant acreage to be developed into multi-building apartment complexes that "bring renters" or destination-type multi-use projects that "bring traffic."

The city needs that developmental diversity, though - somewhere.

Consider:

The city of Cape Coral is about 90 percent residential.

From a tax revenue perspective, 70 percent residential to 30 percent non-residential is the ideal.

With the Cape's commercial development at about 8 percent, city officials would be happy with 20 and are working toward that goal.

Expanding the Cape's housing options is a priority goal as well.

According to the city's most recent housing analysis report, single-family homes comprise 79 percent of the Cape's existing housing units. Eighty-eight percent of the owner-occupied houses have three or more bedrooms.

This not only limits options, it has a direct affect on workforce housing affordability, which the Cape is rapidly losing.

"Challenging housing costs and shifting preferences among Millennials have caused residential rental vacancies to tighten strongly over the last three years (2015 through 2017); price pressures continue to build," a recent staff presentation to Council states.

The city estimates it needs an additional 1,500 multifamily units per year through the next few to meet the growing need.

And market-driven multi-family construction does not even touch the lack of housing for those looking to live where they work.

This Council has a difficult task ahead as our city is at a to-be or not-to-be crossroads:

Does Cape Coral remain the largest municipal suburb in the state with Council often forced to act as a glorified homeowners association board and the latest chain restaurant is applauded as "economic development?"

Or do we break out of the pre-platted mindset - which is a much greater hurdle than the actual original platts - and find a place for the type of development options a growing city demands?

Our choice would be the latter, with a strict eye on the proper allocation of any resulting infrastructure costs.

Not because we don't love Cape Coral's small town sense of community.

Not because we believe in "unbridled growth" or indiscriminate upzoning - or downzoning, for that matter - in neighborhoods.

But simply because the cost of remaining a sea of single-family rooftops simply will be too high for our children to bear.

And because we believe they, too, should be able - and proud - to call Cape Coral home.

- Breeze editorial

 
 
 

 

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