Phil Fernandez | Naples Daily News
Last-minute changes, interpretations and emotions are at the center of numerous projects from one of the most monumental weeks in Collier development history.
For months and longer, government officials, citizens and advisory committees had all been scrutinizing plans for the Vanderbilt Beach area’s One Naples luxury towers that County Commissioner Penny Taylor had termed as “the most controversial (issue) in many, many years.”
But much of that effort and a big part of the county staff’s planned presentation at Monday’s public hearing became largely worthless when Stock Development blindsided many involved with significant alterations as the gathering began.
“There were several changes, (a) lot of changes,” County Planning Manager Ray Bellows said later in the week.
However, except for Taylor, the County Commission decided it wasn’t required to put the newfangled iteration through the same level of analysis the earlier version had had. It signaled approval, the latest development-friendly decision by commissioners like Bill McDaniel, who’s open about his alliances.
“I’m proud to be supported by the development community,” McDaniel said, as his campaign last year was partly fueled by contributors like mammoth landowner Collier Enterprises. “I’ve never denied that the development community is in support of how I do and how we go with what our community does.”
Later in the week, Collier Enterprises stepped to the plate at a planning board hearing with a pair of mega undertakings totaling 5,350 homes to tie into a third similar one in the largely untouched Rural Land Stewardship Area of east Collier.
As Collier Enterprises lawyer Rich Yovanovich referenced a county decision two decades ago that allows massive housing complexes in the RLSA, Planning Commissioner Karl Fry asked him a question Thursday.
“What exactly was approved in 2002? Was it the 16,000 and some acres or was it the 45,000 acres?”
Yovanovich: “It was the entire program that’s in the Growth Management Plan today. The words you have in front of you today was the program that was approved.”
In other words, about 45,000 acres, the size of Washington, D.C. or about two Fort Lauderdales. How about more than four cities of Naples? Take your pick.
What do Yovanovich and Collier Enterprises honchos consistently leave out of their RLSA history lessons when it touts transparency and the support it had in community meetings held back in the day?
As In the Know first reported last year, the County Commission in another one of its last minute changes quietly opened the door to almost triple the amount of land that the company and others could develop in the RLSA.
“Only a few days prior to the adoption of the plan by the (county commission) in 2002, policies (were) added to the final draft,” planning board chairman Edwin Fryer said, as he researched last year what happened. “The workshops, the stakeholder sessions, the public meetings had all unfortunately ended. So the public was not aware that these policies had been added nor had it been informed.”
And that’s part of what Patricia Forkan of the League of Women Voters of Collier County was trying to get at when recent McDaniel appointee Robert Klucik Jr. kept interrupting her with a fervor reserved for members of the public, not Collier Enterprises.
It was a 15-minute flashpoint that symbolized what’s at stake and the passion that at times ran high Thursday as the following bits and pieces taken from the exchange illustrate.
“There has been a lot of moving the goalposts,” Forkan said. “While the Rural Land Stewardship Area is not in the public’s immediate view, like One Naples, the decisions made now will impact all county residents if you do not require more stringent development rules for the RLSA, as originally agreed to.”
“Excuse me. That was well developed with all sorts of input from the public and that’s what’s being implemented,” said Klucik, who was one of the first residents to move to Barron Collier Companies Ave Maria in 2007 after approval of the original RLSA. “The rules are well-established.”
As she tried to respond, Klucik, an attorney by trade, went right back in.
Whatever the outcome of what’s left of the landscape, a final board decision will have to wait at least another two weeks as more presenters will continue to address the panel on the developments east of Golden Gate Estates.
The hearing adjourned until March 18, but not before 20-year Collier resident Susan Novotny had the final word as the day’s last speaker:
“This feels like the beginning of the end for our state mammal, the endangered Florida panther, and all the many other animals that are affected by losing this essential protected habitat,” Novotny said. “If we don’t think ahead now how these sprawling developments will forever change our environment, there will be no going back.”
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