In the Know: Fitting Manhattan, Newark, Jersey City and Trenton together in east Collier County

In the Know: Barron Collier set the stage long ago as plans call…

In the Know: Fitting Manhattan, Newark, Jersey City and Trenton together in east Collier County 1
In the Know: Fitting Manhattan, Newark, Jersey City and Trenton together in east Collier County 2

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In the Know video: Lotus plans fastest road car ever Naples Motorsports, company’s biggest dealer, looks to sell

In the Know video: Lotus plans fastest road car ever, and Naples Motorsports, company’s 2020 biggest dealer on earth of its autos, looks to sell it.

Provided to Phil Fernandez, In the Know, Naples Daily News

The Barron Collier family usually gets its way with “friendly” help, and the paving of that path has continued in 2021 as more ventures and measures come up for consideration this month and next.

How did we get here?

Almost a century ago, Barron Collier returned from Tallahassee having convinced state legislators to concoct a county out of what had been part of Lee County, which opposed the move.

“I am anxious to do some big developing in Collier County,” said Collier, Florida’s largest landowner who possessed much of the region in what is now the state’s biggest county. “I felt that I could do it much better with a friendly county administration.”

Yes, friendly. It’s a theme.

For subscribers: In the Know: Due to ‘offensive’ math that helps developers, are Collier taxpayers paying too much?

More: In the Know: Moratorium on some Collier development? And what are you saying?

And: In the Know: Will 300,000 more residents cost Collier taxpayers $3.8 billion? And let’s help Addicted to Fitness

Heated encounters: In the Know: Monumental week for development, with projects in the rural lands area

Money talks: In the Know: Groundwork for explosive development; and two polar opposites, Ferrari and Ollie’s

Then about 20 years ago, representatives of companies tied to the late founder and others went to Tallahassee and persuaded the state to head off plans that would have limited big development to protect environmentally sensitive eastern areas of Collier.

“The baseline zoning is one unit per five (acres). In places it was proposed to go one unit per 20. In other places, it was proposed to go to one unit per 40,” Barron Collier Companies Senior Vice President Tom Jones said last year. “It made much better sense to the community and to us to put a planning process in place.”

Gatherings advocated by Collier entities were held, and mostly content citizens signed off on a plan for what is known as the Rural Lands Stewardship Area.

But by the time it got to the County Commission for approval, a last-minute provision was worked in that many of those participating residents didn’t know about, based on public records and meetings.

This quietly opened the door to almost triple the land Collier forces and others can develop as part of the RLSA, alongside Florida panthers, bears and other wildlife: About 70 square miles worth of massive construction.

“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 “Ned” Fryer has said. “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.”

Manhattan and the New Jersey cities of Newark, Jersey City and Trenton all could largely fit together within these future developments, totaling close to 45,000 acres.

Barron Collier Cos. is developing the town of Ave Maria in eastern Collier, which will have 11,000 homes and 1.7 million square feet of retail and office space on its 4,000 acres.    

On May 25, the County Commission is scheduled to consider a pair of villages by Collier Enterprises, another company with roots that trace back to Barron Collier. An initial village, Rivergrass, approved last year by the commission, has been tied up in the legal system, with appeals planned on court decisions.

To get Rivergrass through, commissioners had to conduct a historically rare override of the planning board, which had rejected what was devised.

The County Commission went on to replace three members of the planning board, which this year reversed course: It’s now recommending approval of the most recent iterations by Collier Enterprises.

Some mandates as part of planned rules for developing in the RLSA also were tossed out last year after the company and others lobbied county officials for removal. A County Commission vote of those is scheduled for June 8.

More: In the Know: County leaders debate mega developments in eastern Collier as taxpayer, traffic, water, panther concerns are raised

And: In the Know: Department of Interior says take a pause on some eastern Collier development

Worries for taxpayers?

Among previous planning board concerns during hearings had been how much all this will cost locals, whether now or later. Several national and Florida organizations studying the RLSA have issued reports expressing worries for taxpayers.

“Smart Growth America completed a study for Collier County quantifying the difference between sprawl and smart growth in the RLSA,” Fryer said at one of the meetings. “According to SGA, sprawl will cost the taxpayers $3.8 billion more than smart growth over the next 20 years.” 

However, the county has come up with a math formula that doesn’t follow its own typical protocol for some of its other government counts or that used by agencies such as the U.S. Census.

Its lower threshold allows the Collier companies and others to argue that growth is paying for itself through impact fees and other means and they are meeting rules dictating projects should be at least “fiscally neutral” and not burden those already living here.

Collier Enterprises lawyer Rich Yovanovich has defended the practice.

“They’ve gotten it right in Collier County for many, many, many, many, many, many years,” Yovanovich said. “I’ve been here 30 years and started out as an assistant county attorney doing impact fees.”

The plan for the RLSA would add 300,000 to the population, according to federal permitting data discussed in county hearings, not quite doubling how many currently reside in Collier.

But it’s a far cry from the number who lived here when Barron Collier made his promise as part of the historic land decision that removed oversight from Lee County: to develop the 215-strong Everglades City into a “splendid,” thriving, modern destination for future residents and tourists, the potential west coast twin version of Miami, with the help of the Tamiami Trail, as reported in the newspapers of the day.

“I do not blame the people of Fort Myers and the rest of Lee County for the attitude they have taken but want to assure them that the development that will be made in Collier County will help all the west coast of Florida,” Collier told The News-Press in 1923.

The Collier plan didn’t exactly work the way it was intended for Everglades City.

After the 1929 market crash, many Collier companies couldn’t pay bills in ensuing years. By 1933, Collier conceded he was at least $17 million “in the red”, which in today’s dollars amounts to about $354 million. Bankruptcy filings of numerous Collier companies continued into the 1940s after his death in Manhattan.

Now, in a new century, more promises, more assurances and more friendliness in a promotional video touting the RLSA.

“We have the ability to maintain and keep Southwest Florida among the most beautiful and pristine places in the country,” Barron Collier Companies CEO Blake Gable said. “The citizens of Collier County can be assured that this will be one of the most environmentally friendly regions in the entire country.”

More: In the Know: Naples keeps stretching south on U.S. 41 toward Everglades City, with new stores and developments

And: In the Know: What’s Elon Musk up to in Southwest Florida, your questions and more on eastern Collier development

In the Know: Fitting Manhattan, Newark, Jersey City and Trenton together in east Collier County 3

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In the Know video: Lotus unveils Emira, its final gas-powered car expected to be sold by its biggest seller, Naples Motorsports

In the Know video: Lotus unveils Emira, its final gas-powered car. Naples Motorsports, the company’s biggest 2020 dealer on earth, looks to sell it.

Provided to Phil Fernandez, In the Know, Naples Daily News

More European flavor for Mercato

Stevens Construction has completed construction of Bar Tulia at Mercato, 9118 Strada Place, Suite 8150, Naples, according to Daniel Adams, vice president/principal at Stevens.

The company provided a 3,200-square-foot interior renovation, which now houses a second location of Bar Tulia, led by chef Vincenzo Betulia.

In its new look, Bar Tulia, with a spot already on Fifth Avenue South in Naples, features a European farmhouse interior design with reclaimed lumber, brick flooring and built-in seating.

In the Know: Fitting Manhattan, Newark, Jersey City and Trenton together in east Collier County 4

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In the Know video: Prototype by Rimac Automobili, which has Naples Motorsports as a top seller

In the Know video: Prototype testing by Croatian car maker Rimac Automobili, which has Naples Motorsports as one of its top sellers on earth.


Provided to Phil Fernandez, In the Know, Naples Daily News

Anthrex hotel now open to others

Originally planned for use by Anthrex and visiting doctors from all over Earth, the new Innovation Hotel in Naples is going to open its doors to other companies.

An international slowdown in travel due to the pandemic has played a role in shifting focus for the 169-room complex that opened last year at Immokalee Road and U.S. 41, according to general manager Gary Hyre.

Built adjacent to the corporate headquarters of the global medical device company, the plan was to accommodate visiting surgeons and other leading medical professionals from around the world.

“Even as the industry struggles with ongoing concerns about COVID-19, demand for meeting space is beginning to grow, and we felt it was time to make our state-of-the art hotel and meeting facilities available to meeting professionals,” Hyre said.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (pfernandez@gannett.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.

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