Neighbors of an empty lot along U.S. 17 say they fear worse flooding if the site is developed for storage units.

About six residents spoke about their flooding problems at one of several public hearings on housing and commercial development this week at the Planning and Zoning Board. The board unanimously approved a reccomendation for the storage unit project. They also approved recommendations for a dramatically reduced subdivision plan in Englewood and 25 townhomes in Babcock Ranch. All the proposals must now go before the County Commission.

Flooding has become a problem ever since the state widened U.S. 17 from two to four lanes around 10 years ago, neighbors said.

“That area they want to build in is a swamp,” said Brian Gibbons. “So if they want to build in it, where’s all the water going to go to?”

Aside from flooding, residents of the rural and agricultural neighborhood near the DeSoto County line said they do not object to commercial development.

Owners Robert and Sharon Helphenstine of Punta Gorda have asked for a rezone of about seven acres from residential to commercial.

“Nobody wants to build a house out there on U.S. 17,” said their lawyer, Michael Haymans, in arguing for the zone change. Like much of Charlotte County, the land along the major highway is still zoned residential from the days when it was a two-lane country road, Haymans said.

Board member Paul Bigness assured residents that development rules governing commercial development would prevent further flooding.

“They’re not allowed to drain onto your property,” he said.

Owners of property to the east of San Casa Drive in Englewood asked for an unusual zone change. They want to reduce the number of houses they could build from 41 to three on 20 acres near Oyster Creek Golf Club. Development consultant Robert Berntsson said a canal running through the property has prevented development of the high-density 2006 plan.

County planners said the rezoning fits in with the newer goals of reducing coastal zone hazards. Since 2006, the county has adopted guidelines that seek to limit further high-density development in areas near the coast. According to the county’s comprehensive plan, most of the population already lives near coastal areas, which are considered high risk due to severe storms.

Board members also approved without comment, the next phase of the development of 18,000-acre Babcock Ranch development. This is the first phase with attached housing, 25 townhomes, to be built on seven acres, by Banroc Corporation.

email:ecalvert@sun-herald.com

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