A New Perspective 4-17-01: Community Character

Golden Gate Gazette

April 17, 2001

It appears Collier County’s traditional style of sprawling development —  large gated communities, wide-swaled arterial roads and strip malls fronted with giant asphalt parking lots — could be winding down in Collier County.
After a year-long community character study involving world-renowned professional planners and a broad-based committee of citizens, developers, environmentalists and county planning staff, county commissioners unanimously endorsed a new vision for designing growth at their April 10 meeting.
The four-page resolution addresses mobility, greenspace and architectural design. It’s objectives call for balancing community character with ease of movement, keeping urban and suburban-style growth within the urban line (one mile east of Collier Boulevard) and linking neighborhoods throughout the county through a network of parks, bike lanes, trails and flow-ways.
Implementation is to take place through incorporation in the county’s comprehensive plan, land development code and Golden Gate Master Plan.
“Growth, change and development have been threatening the character of the community,” Victor Dover, the lead private planner for the $500,000-project, told attendants at the commission meeting. “As this plan is implemented, sprawl will recede and not dominate talk in the community.”
Dover said some of the hallmarks of the plan include: reintroducing walkable traditional neighborhoods with homes and commercial centers; balancing road networks by improving arterial roads and creating a secondary network of smaller roads that link neighborhoods; and making better use of remaining vacant acreage within the urban boundary before allowing new development to creep into the countryside.
“There’s lots of room to grow Collier County without paving the Everglades,” he noted.
“Thinking outside the box,” was the way District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala referred to “Toward Better Places,” the planning booklet developed by Shawn Seaman, Dover, Kohl and Partners Town Planning.
Citizen committee Chairman Jim Rideout told meeting attendants the goal of the plan is to address the concerns of Collier’s citizens which surfaced during the FoCOS (The Future of Collier Created by Us) meetings five years ago. Citizens polled at town hall meetings around the county voted growth and environmental preservation their two biggest concerns.
“This is an outgrowth of what the community told us,” Rideout said. “We’ve now come to the hard part. I don’t really know if there is the political will to implement this.”
Rideout blamed two philosophies in the county he said were not helping solve Collier’s planning woes: those who say you can stop people from moving here and those who say you don’t have to spend any money to insure the area’s quality of life.
Representatives of local environmental organizations, traditionally at odds often with county planning and development decisions, praised the Dover-Kohl plan for doing a better job to protect the environment and the health of county residents.
“I’m very, very impressed,” Brad Cornell of the Collier County Audubon Society said. “This is an opportunity for all of us to take the bull by the horns and look at what happens comprehensively. We see the health of wildlife connected to the health of humans.”
Conservancy of Southwest Florida President Kathy Prosser told commissioners the “area’s livability continues to be eroded by sprawl.”
She lauded the smart growth techniques described in the Dover Kohl plan, including guidelines that regulate golf course development outside the urban boundary.
To help move the county toward preservation of flow-ways in the rural area, including Golden Gate Estates, she said the Conservancy would be asking for a land acquisition referendum on the next county ballot which would allow citizens to tax themselves to buy natural lands.
One objective of the plan, “The Future of the Future Land Use Map, Clustering: Stealth Sprawl or Rural Preservation?” was narrowly endorsed by the community committee, but taken out by county staff. It was feared the whole plan might fail after some members of the development community showed their displeasure, according to county staff.
It was re-titled as Technical Memorandum 3 and filed on Dover Kohl’s website but was not included on the county’s own planning website.
Commissioner Fiala said she wouldn’t have even known about the objective to keep urban development west of the urban boundary if a news reporter had not called her and asked her opinion.
She said she was “troubled” by the deletion.
Commissioners Pam Mac’Kie and Jim Coletta also expressed surprise that the staff’s presentation had not included an explanation on the change.
“I am confounded to know about why that (language) would be inappropriate,” Mac’Kie told staff. “I want to understand why that had to come out?”
The intent of the deleted objective reads: “New suburban and urban development should be kept within the current boundary rather than being allowed to creep further into the countryside. Redevelopment and vacant acreage inside the urban boundary should be used to accommodate most anticipated growth.”
County staff and development attorney Bruce Anderson defended the deletion at the commission meeting. They said the objective addresses the rural fringe area (Northern Belle Meade and agricultural land off of Immokalee Road). It is already under study by a county assessment committee in order to come up with development standards in compliance with the Governor’s final order to improve protections for natural resources on Collier County’s rural lands. If the rural fringe committee came up with different criteria for development outside the urban boundary than the rural fringe committee, developers might feel an infringement of private property rights.
Mac’Kie said she understood how the entire objective on sprawl and clustering houses around golf courses might result in future litigation if discrepancies occurred between two plans mapping development for the same area. However, she said she thought the intent of the objective was a basic county goal.
The intent of the objective was put back in the plan and endorsed by the commissioners after County Attorney David Wiegold assured them there was no liability with that language.
 “I would be incorrect if I told you that everyone agreed with the report or if I told you that everyone agreed with what wasn’t in the report,” Rideout said.
 Set in motion by county commissioner support, the biggest hurdle will be whether the community is willing to make the financial and
 “Character-rich communities are more valuable
He said large gated communities are “at the root of your traffic problems.”