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Real estate developers are already trying to buy valuable tracts of land that Hurricane Charley has cleared of mobile homes and old houses, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Faced with the expense of rebuilding, lack of contractors and demands of new building and zoning codes, some landowners could be enticed to sell, though none are admitting it as yet.
Others, such as the owners of a Fort Myers Beach RV park who turned down a $30 million offer, have vowed to rebuild, no matter how enticing the offer to sell.
“It’s all I’ve been doing is looking around,” said Ed Bonkowski, a Fort Myers real estate asset manager and contractor. “We’re ascertaining what the development opportunities are.”
Bonkowski quickly points out that victims of Hurricane Charley won’t likely be pressured to sell as were victims of Hurricane Andrew. In that 1992 storm, landowners feared they would not get paid by overwhelmed insurance companies. Some sold thinking it was their safest and quickest option.
That’s not the case here.
“If someone thinks they are going to buy these properties at a distressed price, they are wrong,” Bonkowski said.
Even so, Charley’s Southwest Florida victims face their own particular problems.
Some tracts, like mobile home and recreational vehicle parks, existed as “grandfathered” developments in areas where newer zoning restrictions will hinder rebuilding.
Meeting new hurricane codes and elevation restrictions in these areas would be costly — for good reason, judging from Charley’s devastation.
Still, landowners do have a variety of protections built into particular municipal and county zoning plans.
“Maybe people are thinking, ‘Oooh, now I can go in and build a high-rise,’” said Mary Gibbs, Lee County’s head of building services. “I think there’s pretty good safeguards against that.”
Public hearings and special-use permits and exceptions may protect many properties, she said. Plus, the mood here is to be respectful of storm victims. “We don’t want to penalize people because there was a disaster,” Gibbs said.
Even so, she pointed out, those who rebuild will likely face new restrictions, especially on density — the number of lots or uses allowed on a tract — and on the structures permitted at certain flood elevations.
While property owner assess damage, developers keep searching for a mutually beneficial deal. Along U.S. 41 north in Charlotte County, prospective buyers have erected dozens of signs claiming: Will buy your property at pre-Charley market value. Condominium and resort developers are also looking around Sanibel Island, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach.
“We get offers all the time. The last one we turned down was for $30 million,” said Fran Myers, who with her husband, Tom, owns Red Coconut RV Park on Fort Myers Beach.
The Red Coconut, an island landmark since at least 1933, has special protection written into the town of Fort Myers Beach land-use plan. The park has 250 sites, including 60 RV sites that front the Gulf of Mexico. The rest of the sites have mobile homes of varying permanence.
Bonkowski said it’s only natural for owners to reconsider the use of their land in a crisis such as this and for developers to assess the opportunity for acquisition.
“After all,” he said, “the value is in the land.”