The Future Face of Collier County: Mega Development vs. Smart Growth

By April Olson | Conservancy senior environmental planning specialist

One of those pivotal fork-in-the-road decisions that will forever change the face of Florida is confronting Collier County. This year, the Collier County Board of County Commissioners has an opportunity to improve plans for 300 square miles of eastern Collier County.

The plan is currently set up to transform 195,000 acres of agricultural and environmentally important lands to a low-density patchwork of new towns and villages. At build-out, the development area for eastern Collier would be the same size as 20 Pelican Bays or two Fort Lauderdales! Thus, decisions the county commissioners make this year for eastern Collier will have far-reaching effects on the entire county for many generations. The good news is that right now the public has an opportunity to weigh in on growth plans.

On Tuesday, March 5 you can help decide whether eastern Collier should continue on a current path of mega growth, resulting in dramatic increases in traffic, tremendous impacts to wildlife and high economic costs; or if the plan should be amended to incorporate smarter growth principles that save tax dollars and natural resources.

The time to get involved is now because development pressures for eastern Collier County are heating up at both the federal and local levels. On the federal side, 11 major landowners have applied for a mega-permit lasting 50 years to develop 45,000 acres. The landowners’ desire is to maximize the total development potential for eastern Collier… and then some. The new towns and villages that are proposed would accommodate approximately 100,000 new homes and 300,000 new residents, nearly doubling Collier County’s current population.

With the federal mega-permit under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review and no longer open for comment, the place for the public to share concerns and recommendations is at the local level. The stakes are high for Collier County, both financially and environmentally, and substantial revisions are needed. As an example, Smart Growth America estimates that if the growth program for eastern Collier is not modified to curb sprawl, the net cost to the county will be $3.3 billion over 20 years from costs associated with new roads, emergency medical services, school construction, staffing and school bus transportation. The 200 miles of new and expanded roads that the landowners propose to reach the new towns would cost over $7.8 billion. Another outcome could be the demise of the endangered Florida panther because over half of the areas available for development within eastern Collier are located within primary panther habitat.

The Conservancy recommends that the plan is redirected back to its intended goals of conserving habitat for listed species, retaining agricultural lands and avoiding sprawl by creating compact communities. Improving plans for eastern Collier County must incorporate smart growth principles that direct development away from important natural resources and optimize infrastructure, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.

The link to our plan can be found here: Conservancy’s 2019 RLSA Report.

We may never get a second chance to weigh in on decisions affecting this much growth in Collier County. Please attend the workshop on growth and future land use to have your voice heard. Critical decisions made this year will affect your traffic, taxes, wildlife and quality of life in Southwest Florida. Once the new towns and villages are built, there is no going back.

“The Future Land Use and Build-out Workshop” will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at the Board of County Commissioners Chambers, 3299 Tamiami Trail East, 3rd Floor in Naples.

For more information, visit the Conservancy’s website at conservancy.org/eastern collier.