Developer wants taxpayers to pay for two new sprawling villages in primary panther habitat

Written by Senior Environmental Planning Specialist April Olson

Collier Enterprises is planning for two more villages in primary panther habitat, and they want us to pay for some of it. How can this happen, you ask? Well, it can and will happen if the Collier County Board of County Commissioners approves two new 1,000-acre villages, Longwater and Bellmar, within the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA). In addition to causing devastating impacts to the endangered panther’s last remaining habitat, the developer proposes to pass on to the County many of the costs necessary for providing the new villages with the required infrastructure and services.

How does this affect all of us?

Collier County taxpayers and residents will be stuck footing the bill for Collier Enterprises’ economic shortfall, which will be in the tens of millions of dollars, or perhaps more.

What can be done?

The public has an opportunity to voice their opinion on plans for both Longwater Village and Bellmar Village. The hearing for Longwater is scheduled to begin Thursday, Feb. 18 at the Collier County Planning Commission meeting. Bellmar’s hearing will be on March 4. If you are able, please participate in both hearings. If you can only make it for one of these dates, please do so.

Thank you in advance for your participation. You may choose to participate virtually or in person. Instructions are found HERE.

How will Longwater and Bellmar impact us financially?

Growth is supposed to pay for growth in Collier County. This means that the costs associated with new development should be paid for by the developer and not passed on to existing residents and taxpayers. However, this is not the case with Longwater and Bellmar. Here are a few of the many reasons why:

(1) Collier Enterprises has plans to add the villages to the Collier County Water Sewer District (CCWSD), but the impact fees to be paid by the developer would cover only a small fraction of the costs necessary for providing water and sewer service to residents of the new villages. The deficit is over $43 million. Who will end up paying for this?

(2) Because the projects are not designed according to the RLSA’s rules, traffic from the 11,000+ new residents will pour out of Longwater and Bellmar and head west towards Naples to seek out goods, services, entertainment and employment opportunities that the villages will not provide. The additional traffic will not only exacerbate the county’s existing traffic congestion issues, but the developer’s plans show that they are not paying their fair share for the traffic impacts that the villages will cause or for their part in making failing roads even worse. We all may pick up the tab through higher taxes when the County is forced to make improvements to the failing road network, or perhaps other priorities will go unfunded.

(3) The costs to provide Longwater and Bellmar Villages with fire and emergency medical services (EMS), sheriff protection, and schools and bussing are all underestimated in the developer’s economic assessments provided to the County. Yet again, the deficiency in impact fees for those services will be passed on to the County, that is — all of us.

(4) As soon as Longwater and Bellmar Villages are approved, the developer may conglomerate the villages, along with Rivergrass Village, to create an even larger Town. Collier Enterprises and Collier County are currently negotiating terms of a Town Agreement with hopes that it would be signed by the Board of County Commissioners at the same time Longwater and Bellmar are approved. What is extremely troubling is that this agreement would bypass the normal public process that requires the developer to submit a formal application for a Town. In a nutshell, what this means is that there are fewer opportunities for the public to have a voice in creating the Town plan and there would be no opportunity for the Planning Commission to review and comment on the Town Agreement before it is signed. Even worse, based upon a draft of the Town Agreement, many of the developer’s supposed “commitments” are completely discretionary, meaning they can and will have no legal obligation to implement key aspects of their Town proposal.

Please do not miss your opportunity to provide your input on the way Collier County grows.

If we do nothing, soon we will all feel the effects on our wallet, in our daily commute, when we visit our favorite places, and, tragically, the panther will lose an essential piece of their home.

Click here to find out how you can take action.

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