A Coral Springs urologist has revived his efforts to build an oceanfront eco-resort in Islamorada, In May, Bert Vorstman submitted a downsized site plan for his 8.8-acre property, located at 83000 Old Highway. Islamorada Ecolodge, as the project is called, would have 49 units spread over a main lobby building and seven smaller villas. The lobby building would also house a restaurant, while a pool would sit next to one of the villas.
The plan is the first Vortsman has submitted since the Islamorada Village Council effectively rejected his proposal for a 70-unit hotel in July 2013. That plan garnered heavier than normal publicity for a project of its size, in part because of the many features put forward by Vorstman and his design team from the Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA planning firm. Among other items, developers promised to rehabilitate a degraded wetland near the water’s edge, clean out exotic foliage from a hardwood hammock closer to the highway, and to re-vegetate the property’s sand berm. They also planned to build a water re-use system and to generate solar power onsite.
The proposal, however, proved to be too ambitious, largely because no zoning district in the village allowed for 70 units on a site of that size. This time around, Vorstman’s less grand proposal would meet the density rules of Islamorada existing Tourist Commercial zoning category, he said. However, the property would still have to be rezoned from its current status of Native Residential, which allows for no commercial development and just two homes on the property. Vorstman said that during a June 5 meeting, Islamorada planners told him they would oppose the proposed zoning change. “I must say that I was absolutely floored, but they were not too understanding,” he told TRD.Islamorada biologist Sandy Sprunt did not return calls to TRD. But a document obtained via a public records request appears to back Vorstman’s assertion that planners view the Ecolodge proposal with skepticism. Among the development policies that planners highlighted for emphasis were ones related to habitat fragmentation and the clearing of native vegetation. Vortsman said the site is so heavily disturbed with exotic vegetation that it is not a working ecosystem. But in 2013 Sprunt disagreed, saying that the property’s ecosystem was not in decline.