PUNTA GORDA — The battle over Punta Gorda building heights has some City Council members questioning how to move forward with planning firm Dover Kohl & Partners.
Dover Kohl representatives presented the first draft of new development regulations for the city on Aug. 31.
The presentation detailed multiple options for future development in the city, including potential building heights of 80 feet in the downtown area.
In 2018, when the height issue first came to light, residents were upset by the idea of buildings reaching 84 feet in that area.
Dover Kohl was then brought in to create the PLAN Punta Gorda 2019 Citywide Master Plan — a guide for future development in the area.
The consulting firm was then tasked with developing form-based codes for the city, which focus more on the physical form of the buildings, as part of Punta Gorda’s new land development regulations.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, both Mayor Lynne Matthews and Vice Mayor Debby Carey said it might be time to move on from Dover Kohl.
“I’m at the point where I’m very close to saying let’s pull the plug and hire somebody internally to finish this project,” Matthews said. “It is still very clear to me that they don’t get Punta Gorda. It was like we have had no conversations with them for the last three years.
“They had no intention of listening to anything the City Council has told them to do.”
Carey agreed saying that most taxpayers she’s spoken with said the city should fire the Coral Gables-based firm.
In the Aug. 31 presentation, Dover Kohl Project Director Luiza Leite said developers wanting to build above the city’s 50-foot minimum height in the downtown area could only do so through a community benefit program.
Examples of community benefits would be public improvements or waterfront recreation and boating amenities, among others.
One point could equal one additional dwelling unit per acre in residential density or 2 feet in additional height.
In the downtown area, that means 15 points would amount to 30 additional feet in building height with a base height of 50 feet.
At Wednesday’s meeting, City Council Member Jaha Cummings said the city has to consider taller buildings if they want to compete with growing surrounding areas.
“Because we have denied the reality that we (need to develop) downtown, we now have created a vacuum with North Port building a downtown in Wellen Park and West Port building a downtown in the Murdock area (of Port Charlotte),” Cummings said.
Cummings also referred to the development of Sunseeker Resort by Allegiant Air across Charlotte Harbor.
“We have never in 150 years had competition for our downtown for this tri-county area,” he said. “We’re here now and unless we build to match that level, we can lose a lot.”
City Council Members Nancy Prafke and John Miller thought it was too soon to fire Dover Kohl.
“I don’t think we can throw Dover Kohl out at this point,” Miller said. “We’ve gone a long way with them and they are the experts on FBCs.
“We have to break down and look at one issue at a time.”
Prafke said she is trying to keep an open mind about Dover Kohl’s suggestions.
“In some cases, I love the idea of the community benefit program and the idea of possibly creating a skyline that is articulated,” she said. “I see that there needs to be a lot of fine-tuning because this was the first we’ve seen this presentation.”
City staff suggested planning a workshop to go through the first draft with the City Council.
The date of that future workshop was not available.