Concerns over sprawl dominate public hearings for eastern Collier

September 14, 2020

The Collier County Planning Commission, on September 3, concluded day one of two scheduled public hearings to discuss amendments to the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA), a 300-square mile planning area of eastern Collier County. Due to a shortened meeting on the 3rd, most of the public did not have an opportunity to speak. However, your opportunity to participate, whether in person or virtually, will be provided at the second hearing, which will be held on September 17, starting at 9:00 am.

Instructions on how to participate can be found here.

The decisive question is whether the planning commission will recommend the Board of County Commission adopt the currently proposed amendments, or will the planning commission recommend a rewrite of the RLSA program to protect taxpayers and wildlife?

Concerns Over Sprawl

At the September 3 hearing, Collier County Planning Commission Chairman Edwin Fryer warned Collier County planning staff that the proposed amendments to the RLSA will not protect taxpayers or wildlife from the negative consequences of sprawl. He asserted that the proposed amendments would further increase the development potential of eastern Collier; are not based on sound planning principles; and would not ensure “physical compactness” necessary to prevent urban sprawl.

Chairman Fryer further stated:

“Urban sprawl burdens county resources, it threatens our fauna and flora, and ultimately costs the taxpayers significant amounts of money for expanded infrastructure.”

He continued: “The more spread out or sprawling a development is the more infrastructure it will require. More fire and EMS stations and vehicles and personnel, more neighborhood schools, more policing, all of this translates in simple math terms is that more sprawl equals greater costs. That without smart growth, will be borne by the taxpayers of Collier County.”

The Conservancy is concerned about the proposed amendments to the RLSA program. These are the same concerns that we have been stating throughout the RLSA restudy process. The Conservancy is hopeful that the planning commission will vote to recommend denial of the proposed RLSA amendments or incorporate significant modifications to ensure smarter growth.

Specifically, the Conservancy recommends the following modifications to the County’s proposed RLSA amendments:

  • The RLSA amendments should require a more compact and smaller development footprint than is currently proposed, which will reduce costs for new and expanded roads, road maintenance, utilities, and services, such as school bussing, EMS, police and fire.
  • The RLSA amendments should strengthen policies for self-sufficient communities, so that the county is ensured towns and villages are designed to provide its residents with ample goods and services, schools, medical care, housing, and public recreational space. Otherwise, RLSA’s residents would be compelled to travel west, placing strains on existing communities along the coast.
  • The RLSA amendments should provide much greater protections for wildlife. Under the current plan primary panther habitat is being targeted by developers at alarming rates, and the amendments do nothing to fix this issue. Furthermore, developers provided a conceptual plan for a 200-mile road network, consisting of new and expanded roads, to accommodate the sprawling development pattern. The new road network threatens the survival of all wildlife that inhabit the RLSA, due to impacts from vehicle strikes. More compact development plans would reduce the need for miles and miles of new and expanded roads.

Next Steps

Day one of the hearings was very encouraging, as members of the planning commission provided compelling and insightful comments in support of a better plan for the RLSA. During the public comment portion of the upcoming meeting, the Planning Commission needs to hear informed and thoughtful comments from the public, in support of smarter growth for eastern Collier at the September 17 hearing. We believe that together we can change the course of history for Collier County and protect our community for generations.

Instructions on how to participate can be found here.