Rivergrass Village: A vision for the future or business-as-usual?

At the end of 2018, Collier Enterprises withdrew their application with Collier County to build the Town of Rural Lands West. Rural Lands West would have been a sprawling 4,000 acre town spanning six miles of eastern Collier County. The town would have consisted mostly of single-family neighborhoods surrounding a 54-hole golf course, hardly a walkable design per the county’s requirements. The development also would have consumed over 3,000 acres of primary habitat of the endangered Florida panther. Thus, when Collier Enterprises replaced Rural Lands West with a proposal for a smaller development, called Rivergrass Village, the Conservancy was hopeful. We were hopeful that the applicant would design a better development plan consistent with principles of environmental stewardship and sustainable development. However, upon review of the project, we were greatly disappointed. Although scaled-down to 1,000 acres, Rivergrass still exemplified the same business-as-usual approach to development as Rural Lands West. The location of the project is still unacceptable and the design of the project continues to contradict even the most fundamental design requirements of the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA) program.

The proposed site for Rivergrass Village defies responsible environmental stewardship as over 700 acres of the 1,000 acre village would be built directly within Primary Zone habitat of the endangered Florida panther. This would be a great loss for the panther as studies show that the Primary Zone is critical to the species’ survival (Kautz et al., 2006 and Frakes et al., 2015). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concur. In USFWS’s , they state: “The Primary Zone supports the only breeding panther population. To prevent further loss of population viability, habitat conservation efforts should focus on maintaining the total area, quality, and spatial extent of habitat within the Primary Zone.” Even though impacts to Primary Zone panther habitat are both avoidable and unnecessary, since the applicant has other options for the site, Collier Enterprises chooses to look the other way. By shifting the site plan north of the proposed Rivergrass site to other acreage owned by Collier Enterprises impacts to Primary Zone panther habitat could be avoided.

Not only is the location of Rivergrass inappropriate, but the design of the village ignores numerous smart growth design standards that are a requirement of the RLSA program. The RLSA planning overlay stipulates that villages and towns must be compact and walkable, have an interconnected street system, and provide a gradient of densities. Also, the applicant must offer a variety of housing choices with the greatest diversity of multi-family homes located within walking distance to the village center. These requirements are aimed at creating self-sufficient compact-walkable communities rather than low-density sprawling and auto-centric developments, which are ubiquitous in southwest Florida. Even so, the applicant for Rivergrass Village chooses to disregard these basic design principles. Instead of adhering to the RLSA’s smart growth policies, Rivergrass provides no gradient of densities, lacks housing diversity as 90% of the homes would be single family, and includes a disconnected street network with 15 cul-de-sacs that would impede the flow of traffic.

Another extremely concerning design flaw of Rivergrass is that the project poses grave dangers to resident pedestrians and bicyclists. The village is planned so that it would be bisected by Oil Well Road, a 55 mph freight-arterial road, which the county has plans to widen from two to six lanes. Currently 800 trucks a day travel through Oil Well Road, carrying petroleum, coal, mining materials, agricultural products, and Arthrex medical products. Residents of Rivergrass who would live north of Oil Well Road cross the road to get to the Village Center to buy groceries, shop, or work. Not only is it completely irresponsible to plan a village bisected by a future six-lane freight distribution route, but the design is completely contrary to several RLSA policies requiring that villages are designed to facilitate safe travel for pedestrians and bicyclists.

If Collier County approves plans for Rivergrass Village, the Conservancy is concerned that a precedent would be established paving the way for approval of other projects within listed species habitat that do not comply with policies and principles of the RLSA program. The stakes are high because the applicant, along with ten other landowners, has formed a coalition to build 45,000 acres worth of towns and villages in the RLSA, 45 times the size of Rivergrass Village. Therefore, it is crucial that Rivergrass is not approved as is. Collier County must require the applicant go back to the drawing board to drastically modify the development footprint and the design of the project in order to uphold the principles of the Overlay.

Please make your voice heard that you want to see truly sustainable development in the RLSA, not business-as-usual type development. Collier County is accepting comments regarding the project now. The first public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, September 5 at the Collier County Planning Commission meeting starting at 9:00 am at the Board of County Commission Meeting Room. The date is subject to change so please check the following website to confirm prior to September 5: https://www.colliercountyfl.gov/your-government/divisions-s-z/zoning-division/zoning-services-section/collier-county-planning-commission-ccpc or contact April Olson at AprilO@Conservancy.org

For more information regarding our concerns of Rivergrass Village please visit the following link: https://www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/eastern-collier-county/proposed-new-towns



Ensuring that our region’s leaders have the tools to make informed decisions is a critical role of the Conservancy. The Policy team ensures the proper stewardship of Southwest Florida’s natural resources by actively taking on regional issues to make a difference.

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Protecting Southwest Florida's unique natural environment and quality of life...now and forever.