OUR POSITION: We see no way around some type of compromise to allow taller buildings in downtown Punta Gorda.
Punta Gorda residents — at least the most vocal ones — have made their choice clear for years. They don’t want tall buildings spoiling their downtown or their waterfront.
We understand and respect their opinion.
Punta Gorda has thrived despite the lack of a strong commercial tax base. Its hometown feel is addictive. Its waterfront one of the more picturesque in Florida.
But, for all the demands to keep it serene and deny developers the option to go above 45 feet, there are repercussions that are catching up to the city.
While some residents might even declare they’re willing to pay more in taxes to keep things small, there are likely a majority of residents who believe taxes are high enough — especially as inflation grips their budgets. The question we would ask those who don’t see higher taxes as an incentive to build higher, we would ask just how much are you willing to pay in taxes?
The city has been divergent in its quest to expand its commercial tax base. Annexation has been, and continues to be, a strong option. But the targets for commercial properties to annex are few right now — even as plans call for more commercial and residential construction in areas adjacent to city boundaries.
Property inside city limits where commercial construction can happen is rare.
All this leaves the heavy lifting on residents who pay property taxes.
A millage rate increase went into effect this year with full-time residents paying 16.8% more in property taxes. The last time such a large increase was passed was 18% in 2013.
That means taxes on a $300,000 homesteaded residential property increased by $146, or from $858 to $1,004. Homesteaded property owners can deduct $50,000 from their property assessment.
That may be pocket change to some of the city’s wealthier retirees but those costs, even on homes valued at much less, add up. And, with inflation gnawing away at budgets, that tax hike might not be the last residents see.
The stance against raising the height of buildings has also resulted in a huge hole in the middle of some of the most valuable property in Charlotte County — often referred to as city marketplace.
The vacant property that borders U.S. 41 North, has been a valuable asset for those who enjoy concerts, festivals and the like. We like that the city can offer such entertainment and festivities too. But the occasional use of that venue brings very little into city coffers compared to the potential of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in property taxes that are being missed.
City Councilman Jaha Cummings has penned a guest column you can read on our op-ed page today that makes a strong argument for raising building heights.
He points out that a recently completed study shows Punta Gorda is missing out on as much as $180 million a year in money directed to other communities because the potential of its downtown business district is not being fulfilled.
The city is involved in passing new regulations for building and height is the sticking point.
We would point out that the courthouse is 65 feet or more in height and two hotels are near that height. We would argue that height is a good starting, or ending, point for a compromise between factions for and against tall buildings.
With allowances made for flooding, etc. that could mean a building as high as 80 feet.
A decision falling somewhere between those two heights seems reasonable.
The county is changing and it will drag Punta Gorda along with it. Compromise is needed and clear thinking about what lies a decade or two down the road is a must.
We believe Punta Gorda is ripe for explosive growth that can be controlled to maintain the city’s charm while, at the same time, easing the tax burden on residents.