Appellate Court Agrees with Conservancy: Rivergrass Must Comply with Fiscal Neutrality and Traffic Impact Laws

December 15, 2022

In the Second District Court of Appeal State of Florida

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Collier County, Florida

Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Plaintiff-Appellant vs. Collier County, Florida and Collier Enterprises Management, Inc. Defendants-Appellees

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is pleased to share that the Second District Court of Appeal (DCA) confirmed our legal right to present evidence against the Rivergrass Village Development Order with regard to traffic impacts and fiscal neutrality.  

In reaction to the DCA decision, Conservancy President and CEO, Rob Moher, stated, “Collier County and Collier Enterprises essentially argued that they could ignore the impacts of traffic and the financial burden to taxpayer resources associated with Rivergrass Village. The DCA clearly stated that this assertion was wrong. While they wanted to disregard these issues, the Court of Appeal disagreed and has sent Rivergrass back to trial at circuit court.” 

In our 2020 legal challenge against Collier County’s approval of Rivergrass Village, the Conservancy asserted our legal right, under Florida’s Community Planning Act, to bring forth a lawsuit to reverse the Board of County Commissioners’ approval of Rivergrass.  

The Conservancy was prepared to provide evidence to the circuit court that Rivergrass will create significant traffic issues and will require taxpayer subsidies to cover costs for needed infrastructure, services, and facilities to support the population of Rivergrass. Collier County and Collier Enterprises claimed in circuit court that the Conservancy, and the public, could not challenge a development order based on traffic issues and a development’s cost burden to taxpayers. 

Ruling in the Conservancy’s favor, the panel of appellate judges stated that the circuit court was incorrect in siding with Collier County and Collier Enterprises because the community does have a right to bring forth claims related to a development’s traffic and fiscal impact. The Second DCA’s ruling allows the Conservancy to bring forth these claims against Rivergrass Village in circuit court.

According to Moher, “The Conservancy is eager to show at trial the impacts of traffic and the financial burden associated with Rivergrass to the people of Collier County.” 

In their written opinion, the Second District Court of Appeal stated,

The question we address here is whether the Conservancy’s claims concerning the traffic and fiscal impacts of the Rivergrass Village development could be brought within the ambit of a section 163.3215 action. The circuit court concluded that they couldn’t. . . .  We disagree.

Therefore, the Second DCA opined: We are compelled to reverse that aspect of the judgment below and remand for further proceedings.

The Conservancy is very pleased that the appeals court confirmed our legal right to challenge a development order based on traffic and taxpayer costs. We are pleased to finally be able to show how Rivergrass Village will impact the community and the people of Collier County.

We thank the thirteen civic and environmental organizations who filed an amicus brief in support of our appeal, including: Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club Florida, Strong Towns, League of Women Voters of Collier County, Florida Rights of Nature Network, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Cypress Cove Landkeepers, Stone Crab Alliance, Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association, and Friends of the Everglades and Tropical Audubon Society represented by the Everglades Law Center.  Furthermore, we remain grateful to our supporters and members who continue to stand with the Conservancy, as we continue our long and distinguished 59-year history of advocating for sustainable development and finding solutions that balance the needs of our growing community with preservation of our natural resources.