EASTERN LANDS

The future of the County is being decided now. Help put Collier County’s future on the right path.

Save Collier County

Now is a pivotal time in Collier County’s history. A huge area of eastern Collier County is vulnerable to intensive development. If the eastern lands are developed as currently planned, the county could add over 300,000 residents! Collier County currently has about 390,000 full-time residents.

Think about it — what will multiple new towns and villages, additional mining, and thousands of sprawling 5-acre homesites in eastern Collier County mean for our rural heritage? Our daily commute? Our drinking water? Our wildlife? Our quality of life?

Together, we have the ability to guide the decision-making process so that future generations and our wildlife have a great place to call home.

Commissioners approve RLSA Amendments but agree changes may be needed sooner than later. Learn more here.

To learn more about the proposed towns and villages in Eastern Collier, visit our Policy Resource Center!

Policy Eastern Lands - Rivergrass Village
Play Video

Presentation given by Senior Environmental Planning Specialist April Olson at the RLSA Workshop on January 21, 2020.

Read a five-part series of compelling articles about the history of Collier County, how we got to where we are today, and the importance of our eastern lands as their future hangs in the balance.

Potential Impacts to Eastern Collier County

help put collier county's future on the right patch

“We have an obligation to make the best possible decisions for Collier County, so that our children and grandchildren are not financially burdened by our mistakes, so they are able to experience and enjoy Florida’s beautiful and unique wildlife, so they have access to clean and abundant drinking water and fresh food, and so they have the opportunity for a quality of life at least as good as ours.”  – April Olson, Senior Environmental Planning Specialist  

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Proposed Villages

RLSA Background

Collier County adopted the Rural Lands Stewardship Area program in 2002 to guide development of 182,000 acres of privately held lands in eastern Collier County.

The goals of the RLSA were to:

  • Protect prime agricultural lands and prevent premature conversion of agricultural lands to other uses.
  • Direct incompatible uses away from wetlands and upland habitat in order to protect water resources and listed species.
  • Create mechanisms to allow for appropriate conversion of agricultural lands to other uses while avoiding sprawl.

The current RLSA program contradicts the very goals it aims to achieve. When the plan was originally promoted to the public, we were told that less than 10% of the lands in eastern Collier County would be available for residential and commercial development, while 90% of the lands would remain in agriculture and conservation.

After a 5-year review of the program, it was found that 47% of the RLSA could be developed. The area equates to approximately 11 new towns the size of Ave Maria or two Fort Lauderdales! In addition, thousands of 5-acre homesites could be built clear to the Hendry County line!

What's at Stake

The current growth plan in eastern Collier County will transform a landscape of diverse connected ecosystems and agricultural fields into a sprawling hodgepodge of towns, villages, and low-density 5-acre home sites.

If eastern Collier is built as planned, many facets of our vibrant community and native wildlife will be affected. Substantial habitat loss due to expansive development will have direct impacts on the many listed species in the area, including the endangered Florida panther, wood stork, crested caracara, and Florida sandhill crane. Our water supply could be affected, as we do not fully understand the implications of the conversion of agricultural lands to 45,000 acres of new towns and villages.

The rural character of eastern Collier County will be altered forever. Furthermore, the cost of new roads and infrastructure to support the new towns could burden taxpayers in a time when the County’s current Needs Plan for bridges, roads, and other infrastructure projects already far outweigh available monies.

Panther Crossing Sign - Our Work

How You Can Help

Now is the time to act! The Conservancy needs your help. The public workshops have ended, but Collier County is in the process of drafting policies that will shape future planning in eastern Collier County. Throughout 2021 there will be opportunities to provide public input on those policies, which will help guide growth in the RLSA. Together, we have the ability to make a change so that development in the RLSA has fewer impacts on wildlife and natural resources and is less of a burden on taxpayers.

For more information on how you can participate, please contact AprilO@Conservancy.org.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

CONSERVANCY OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA FILES SUIT CHALLENGING COLLIER COUNTY’S APPROVAL OF RIVERGRASS VILLAGE IN EASTERN COLLIER COUNTY

The proposed development is unlawful, burdens taxpayers and negatively impacts panther habitat and quality of life.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has filed a lawsuit against Collier County in response to the Collier County Board of County Commissioners’ approval of the development of Rivergrass Village within the County’s Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA) in eastern Collier County.

Filed in Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit Court, the complaint contends that Rivergrass Village Stewardship Receiving Area (SRA) is inconsistent with the RLSA policies in the Collier County Growth Management Plan and Land Development Code.

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What is the rural lands stewardship area?

In 2002, Collier County adopted the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA) program to guide development of 182,000 acres of privately held lands in eastern Collier County. The goals were to protect agricultural lands, direct development away from wetlands and wildlife habitat, and to avoid urban sprawl.

Why is the conservancy opposing it?

Rivergrass Village contradicts the County’s own growth policies and sets the stage for approval of other large new communities that if approved, will result in urban sprawl the geographic size of Fort Lauderdale – times two. Additionally, the taxpayers will bear the burden of roadway, infrastructure and other costs. As one of the Collier County Planning Commissioners stated when voting against Rivergrass, “…this is the last clear chance for our County to get it right.”

WHAT ARE THE AREAS OF INCONSISTENCY WITH THE COUNTY’S PLAN?

The complaint addresses several areas of inconsistency with Collier County’s Growth Management Plan, including:

  1. Rivergrass Village is neither interconnected nor walkable; the project will be dangerous for pedestrians;
  2. Rivergrass is not fiscally neutral and will result in a drain on taxpayer dollars;
  3. Rivergrass Village will destroy endangered species habitat;
  4. Rivergrass Village fails to incorporate innovative planning strategies and will result in sprawl;
  5. Rivergrass will significantly increase traffic congestion to certain Collier County roadways.
Panther Crossing Sign - Our Work

WHO APPROVED IT?

The Collier County Planning Commission in November, recommended denial of Rivergrass Village by a 4 to 1 vote. Collier County staff rated Rivergrass Village a D- and stated that the project “does not fully meet the minimum intent of the policies in the RLSA.” Despite these findings, the Board of Collier County Commissioners approved Rivergrass Village on Jan. 28, 2020 in a 3-2 vote.

what's next

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has hired Arnold & Porter, an international law firm based in Washington, D.C. with nearly 1,000 lawyers and more than 100 years of experience including in environmental law, to achieve its desired goal of overturning approval of the Rivergrass Village development order.

The Conservancy believes that growth and preservation of natural resources can work together and urges that all new development follow RLSA policies and be located away from primary panther habitat.

This page will be updated once new information becomes available.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

AN EXPLODING POPULATION IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA HAS RESULTED IN UNPRECEDENTED INCREASES IN DEVELOPMENT.

The Gulf Coast area is nearly built-out and now growth is headed inland - toward our region's last remaining open spaces and more fragile ecosystems.

Why It Matters

Inappropriate development inland will have major consequences on our wildlife, our water and our quality of life.

The Conservancy believes that growth and preservation of our natural resources can work together. We endorse the use of strong planning tools and comprehensive plans so development is handled in a responsible, sustainable manner.

Members of the Conservancy environmental policy team work to ensure planning documents are created and used appropriately in each of the five counties in our region. Each county has a Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Maps, and overlays to help determine where, what kind, and how much development occurs. When new development, re-zones or land use changes are proposed, we will investigate its compliance with current regulations and convey our position to the appropriate stakeholders, developers, community members and decisionmakers to preserve our quality of life.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

As part of the development march eastward, a proposed Eastern Collier “Habitat Conservation Plan” is being considered that would permit more than 45,000 acres of rural lands to be destroyed – including lands relied on by endangered wildlife species.

A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) sounds like a positive thing, but the devil is in the details because it goes hand-in-hand with an incidental take permit. Such a permit would be needed because construction of these new towns and mines would incidentally harm these protected species by significantly impacting or degrading their habitat.

What is proposed by the HCP?

  • 45,000 acres of intense mining and residential/commercial development – the equivalent of nine new Town of Ave Marias!
  • Continued or intensified agriculture, oil exploration and drilling in the “preserve” areas meant to mitigate impacts

Our Concerns

Here are the Conservancy's concerns regarding what will occur of the HCP is approved as it is proposed:

  • Loss of habitat and impacts for several rare and unique species including the scrub jay, caracara, wood stork, red cockaded woodpecker, snail kite, indigo snake, bonneted bat, and the Florida panther.
  • Additional impacts from associated infrastructure and new roads to support tens of thousands of new homes in a currently rural and undeveloped area.
  • Unknown total development footprint (45,000 acre minimum, but there is potential for additional development), as adjacent development is likely to sprawl from these new towns.
  • Impacts to endangered species and their habitats not adequately avoided and minimized as required by the Endangered Species Act.
  • Transportation impacts are not accounted for in the assessment of impacts. There has already been a record number of Florida panther deaths on roadways and these deaths are likely to increase from the several new towns and developments proposed by the HCP.
  • The HCP will authorize the development Rural Lands West (previously known as Town of Big Cypress, and also known as Longwater and Rivergrass), which is proposed on a heavily-utilized Florida panther habitat.

The HCP proposes conversion of natural and rural lands to an urban area equivalent to that of Washington DC. There will be many impacts beyond that those to wildlife, including to water resources, sensitive public lands, and loss of prime agricultural lands.

The decisions made regarding lands within Collier County’s designated Rural Lands Stewardship Area will shape the future of Southwest Florida and determine the fate of the Florida panther.

Wood Stork
Gopher Tortoise (6)

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!