This is a reprint of Craig Woodward’s column, Coastal History. It first appeared in the February 24, 2012 issue of Coastal Breeze News. We know many of our readers, whether residents or seasonal visitors, enjoy learning more about the area. We will reprint an array of Coastal History columns in the coming months.
The one single document with the greatest impact on the growth and density of Marco Island is, without a doubt, the “Deltona Settlement Agreement.” This document created the current developed and undeveloped “eastern” Marco Island, as well as much of Rookery Bay and also contributed to the growth in the “951 Corridor” south of U.S. 41. The Agreement was not a normal arm’s length negotiated “deal” but was, in fact, the end result of years of complex litigation between the Deltona Corporation, the developers of Marco Island and Marco Shores, and a multitude of governmental groups including the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida including a number of its sub agencies – the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (the “DEP”), The Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (which consists of the Governor and his Cabinet), South Florida Water Management District, as well as many environmental groups including the National and Florida Audubon Societies, the Environmental Defense Fund, Collier County Conservancy, etc. The Settlement Agreement immediately settled nine separate lawsuits, five of them with the DEP and one with the federal government, an off-shoot of a case that had been denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court a few months earlier. It is not an exaggeration to say that this one document, dated July 20, 1982, created the Marco Island we know today.
Over the years newspaper articles continue to report controversies whose historical roots lie in this now 36 yearold Agreement. For instance, one story reported that the DEP had filed suit against a number of property owners who had constructed boardwalks to gain access to Barfield Bay, but why was the State objecting? Because, the development rights to all of the lots Deltona then owned abutting Barfield Bay were given up in the Settlement Agreement. The Agreement rezoned a strip of land along the bay as being “Environmentally Sensitive” cutting off future owners’ riparian rights to the bay.
Additional stories have appeared over the years about the dead mangrove areas near San Marco Road and the cost to restore them. A contributing cause probably lies in the terms of the Agreement which allowed the development of the adjacent “John Steven
Creek” (the location of condos of the same name, Stevens Landing), “Barfield Bay Multifamily Area” (where Estuary and Vintage Bay Condos now are) as well as “Horr’s Island” (Key Marco Development) to be constructed without having to meet the full requirements for surface water management.
But, there are far more reaching provisions of this Agreement: it carved out “specific developable areas” that were deemed high and “upland” enough to build upon. These include the now completed areas of the Goodland Marina (now called the Calusa Island Marina), Horr’s Island (The Key Marco development), the Barfield Bay single family area (streets behind the “Big Publix”), the Barfield Bay multi-family area (condos mentioned above) and a small parcel of land referred to as “Isle of Capri” – at the corner of Capri Blvd. and S.R. 951 (Collier Blvd.) which was later developed by Collier County into a canoe and kayak park. All of these projects were possible because of this Agreement and, in fact, parts of each property continues to be constrained by the Agreement; for instance, the approval to develop Key Marco (the formally named Horr’s Island) permitted only the higher ridge of the island to be developed, while many adjacent mangrove and preserve areas were placed under the protection of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. This has made news in recent years regarding the extent to which the vegetation could be trimmed without environmental approval.
Deltona amassed and owned 24,962 acres of land on or around Marco Island. However, by the date of the Settlement Agreement in July of 1982, they had only developed and improved less than a fourth of it, only 5,518 acres, leaving 19,444 acres yet to be developed; with almost 70% of which (13,500 acres) were now being classified as “wetlands.” Where were these thousands of undeveloped acres? Two large parcels, which Deltona had already totally presold, were known as the “Big Key” and the “Barfield Bay” areas and located to the north and south of San Marco Road as one heads toward the Goodland Bridge – 5,889 planned residential units planned and sold were never built there. Meanwhile, a third area, and even larger tract, the controversial “Unit 24,” also known as “The Collier-Read Tract,” consisted of 3,564 acres, platted for 6,604 units was located due west of SR 951 and projected directly into the middle of today’s Rookery Bay (now a National Estuarine Research Preserve). In total Deltona planned 12,493 potential single family and condominium dwelling units in these three developments. Deltona had presold all of the lots located in the Big Key and Barfield Bay areas and sold over half of those in Unit 24, none of which were ever to be completed, putting a huge financial stress on the company to repay its customers. In addition, the southern large Kice Island project (which Deltona envisioned connecting via a bridge from Horr’s Island) located north of Cape Romano, with its two miles of pristine gulf front beach, was never constructed and Deltona transferred title to 4,032 acres to the State of Florida.
Meanwhile, some of the lands located to the east of S.R. 951 and north of Marco Island were deemed less environmentally sensitive. This included Marco Shores where Deltona had constructed its airport, a country club and adjacent multi-family parcels. To the north of that was the huge parcel known as “Unit 30” – now incorporated into the current “Fiddler’s Creek” project. As a strategic move Deltona started acquiring the parcels after 1976 to create Unit 30, during the time when the Corps of Engineers announced their denial of the development of the Big Key and Barfield Bay permits. The remainder of Deltona’s undeveloped 19,444 acres, included in the Agreement, were hundreds of mangrove islands located in and around Addison Bay (to the east of the Jolley Bridge), and in the areas of MclIvaine Bay, and to the south of Horr’s Island, all of which were deemed environmentally sensitive.
In a stroke of a pen thousands and thousands of acres of land were designated for transfer to Rookery Bay, to the DEP, or set aside with conservation easements never to be developed. In addition the Settlement Agreement cancelled virtually all of Deltona’s existing permits and approvals. So what did Deltona obtain by signing it? Obviously the end to expensive litigation (which was not looking promising as the U.S. Supreme Court had just refused to hear their case), but also all of the ten agencies who signed the Agreement gave immediate approval for the completion of the “developable areas” and established an expedited procedure for any other approvals needed. Deltona was given 50 acres owned by the State near the Miami International Airport and also the ability to quickly develop or sell off as “fully permitted projects” the following: Horr’s Island, John Stevens Creek area, Goodland Marina, the Barfield single family area and multi-family areas, and the Isles of Capri parcel. But what else did Deltona receive in the Agreement? An enormous concession, and clearly the largest single impact on modern day Marco Island, they received the right to transfer their remaining vested density of 14,500 dwelling units (reduced by the units which still remained permitted to be constructed on Marco Island) to the north along the 951 corridor. So when you drive north and see the large high rises of Hammock Bay or the scope of the Fiddler’s Creek project, know that, but for this Agreement, some of the units you are seeing were once planned to have been built on Marco Island.
The Mackle Brothers and Deltona took the high ground, repaid all of their customers and refused to file bankruptcy. Despite the Settlement Agreement the company never fully recovered from these financial setbacks nor from the repercussions of the prolonged litigation, and in 1986, The Deltona Corporation was sold for its assets, primarily its water, sewer and other utilities it had retained in various developments around the State, including those on Marco Island. This sale led to private resales of Marco’s water and sewer franchises, resulting in the later purchase of them by the City of Marco Island, which in turn led to more controversy during the STRP (septic tank replacement program) years, much of which has now subsided. Without a doubt, the events of today are impacted by the decisions of yesterday, and only those who take the time to analyze the history can fully understand it.
Footnote: Since this article was first written, Marco Island and other local coastal communities face an even a larger challenge: the approval and transfer of literally hundreds of thousands of future dwelling units from agricultural and vacant lands in northeastern Collier County to be constructed due east of S.R. 951 (northern Collier Blvd.). The number of projected future residents (370,000 plus) equals or exceeds the total of today’s current population, in essence doubling the number of residents in Collier County. This proposed growth will ellipse, in magnitude, the density transfers encompassed by the 1982 Deltona Settlement Agreement described above.
Craig Woodward has lived on Marco Island for 50 years, since 1968, and has practiced law in Collier County since 1980. For many years Craig has led a day long history tour of the Island for the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Marco program. He has a weekend home in Everglades City and a deep interest in local and Florida history.