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Matlacha annexation ‘facilitation’ begins
February 17, 2017

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Once representatives from the city of Cape Coral and Matlacha got their emotions out in regards to the annexation of city-owned land on the island, things started to go more smoothly Thursday.

That was the feeling from both sides during the first facilitation session between the two parties held in regards to the contested annexation.

After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, both sides agreed to return to the table in 90 days in come up with the framework for a compromise that can be approved by the parties.

The agreement would address safety and traffic on Pine Island Road between the two fire districts while addressing "involuntary annexation" by the city for an undetermined number of years.

There will also be triggers in any agreement that would go off depending on the kind of development that occurs on the land. That would bring everyone back to the table.

If facilitation doesn't work, the two sides will go to mediation. If that doesn't work, the next step would be litigation in court.

Representatives from Cape Coral and Matlacha met for the first time since the Cape Coral City Council announced its plan to bring six individual lots that the city purchased in 2012 as part of a $13 million land deal into the city limits on Dec. 12, 2016.

Matlacha was represented by Michael Dreikorn, vice-chair and commissioner of the Matlacha Fire Control District, attorney Beverly Grady and fire chief Benjamin Mickuleit.

On the Cape Coral side was Fire Chief Donald Cochran, and attorneys Steve Griffin and Dolores Melendez.

Facilitator Derek Rooney had trouble getting both to agree in the beginning, as Grady claimed Matlacha received no correspondence from the city and that there was no public purpose for the land.

Matlacha was worried it would be turned into housing, which would further clog entry onto an already busy Pine Island Road and Cape Coral officials did state the city did not yet know definitively what it will do with the property.

The parcels that could be annexed currently serves as a parking lot for the boat launch ramp at D & D Bait & Tackle. The city wants to add the property to its parks plan and improve the ramp access points.

Griffin, who said there are private citizens also taking the city to court, said Cape Coral wants to do all it can to avoid having to go to court, while Cochran said that the ability of the fire districts to work together was paramount.

After Rooney called a recess, both sides started reaching an accord as the emotions settled down despite Matlacha officials contention the community had been bullied. Both sides agreed that safety has to be paramount, so Matlacha put out a proposal that both sides liked, but that will need work.

Dreikorn said the small piece of land means a lot to Matlacha because it represents the "top of the bottle," and, if you cork the bottle with people getting on and off the island, things will stagnate, which could be disastrous if they need to get someone out who has had a heart attack.

"We were very concerned about safety of the people on Pine Island and Matlacha. The zooming differences between us are significantly different. Cape Coral can do things to increase the density on that property," Dreikorn said. "Our concern is that traffic would become so difficult we wouldn't be able to get our emergency vehicles out in time."

Dreikorn added that this could open a Pandora's Box which would allow the city to buy its way onto the island through voluntary annexation.

"If that happens, shame on us. That means we've done something wrong. I would like to think that island life is better than city life," Dreikorn said.

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