The issue that will not go away
DR/GR stands for Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource. The DR/GR is a large parcel of land (80,000+ acres) east of Estero in Lee County sitting atop groundwater that supplies drinking water to local communities. It was established in 1990 by the State of Florida and Lee County with the specific purpose of limiting development to one home per 20 acres of land (“density reduction”) so as to protect the principal water supply for most of southwest Florida (“groundwater resource”). It is also a preserve for wildlife habitats.
In 2015, the county amended our Comprehensive Plan to allow increased construction in this area, claiming that more development will not harm the groundwater resource. While a number of developer-funded scientific studies support this position, other independent studies, including one from FGCU, predict that denser development in the DR/GR could cause permanent damage to our water supply.
In 2019, the Commission chose to further open up the DR/GR to mining and even more development by eliminating Map 14, the area specifically designated for mining in the county, thereby allowing it to take place anywhere in Lee.
Since the change in 2015, residential and commercial development in the DR/GR has boomed. Thousands of homes have been permitted and the one home per 20 acre density is now being replaced in some areas by as many as 12 homes per acre (or 240 units per 20 acres). Add impervious surfaces such as parking lots and roadways, sure-to-follow schools, strip malls, emergency services and other amenities, and one soon realizes that this once pristine area and home to many wildlife habitats will be overrun, presenting a real threat to our drinking water.
Why should we care? There are a number of reasons but perhaps first and foremost is our need to safeguard an abundant and safe water supply into the future.
Development in the county is to be expected. Problems arise when our county commissioners, showing little respect for our Comprehensive Plan, the concerns of residents, or recognition that our wetlands are essential to preserve water quality, accede to the wishes of developers who clear the land, build without providing needed infrastructure, and move on.
Our county commissioners claim that the increased density will not matter because 55% of the newly-developed DR/GR land will be put aside for conservation and the natural flow of water (now diverted for agricultural purposes) will be restored. But who knows? In reality, the county is playing Russian Roulette with our future. Today, our water supply is plentiful; tomorrow, with the approved development and expanded mining, maybe not so much.
And, as Commissioner Frank Mann said following the 2019 vote to allow new mining, “I think a decade from now people are going to say, ‘What were they thinking?’” Indeed, what were they thinking?
Since the change in 2015, the following developments have been approved:
- Verdana and Pepperland Ranch: 2,138 acres; 2400 homes
- The Place at Corkscrew:1,361 acres; 1,325 homes
- Center Place: 886 acres; 1,950 residential units; 250 hotel rooms; 245,400 sq. ft. commercial retail space; 100,000 sq. ft. office space
- Corkscrew Shores:721 acres; 800 residences
- WildBlue: 2,960 acres; 1,100 residences, 40,000 sq. ft. commercial marina with 332 unit permits
- Corkscrew Crossing: 396 acres; 625 housing units (developer later modified plan to increase development by 14 acres and an additional 130 homes)