Collier planning commission delays vote on town concept near Golden Gate Estates
The Collier County Planning Commission has put off hearing about a new town proposed east of Golden Gate Estates.
The commission voted Thursday to kick an information-only presentation planned by the county's head of growth management down the road after the concept stirred up controversy.
The unanimous vote came after about an hour of debate by planning commissioners on how to handle the presentation, in part due to "last-minute" information they received from the League of Women Voters of Collier County and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which both vehemently oppose the town proposal by Collier Enterprises.
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The town would link the developer's three new rural villages.
The opponents have raised concerns about everything from how the town would impact traffic to how much money it would cost taxpayers.
Commission chairman Edwin Fryer led off the discussions, saying he wanted the advisory board to have a formal hearing and vote on the town agreement, not just to merely hear a presentation on what county planners and the developer ironed out behind closed doors.
Collier county commissioners are scheduled to vote on what's been dubbed a framework agreement for the town in April.
Fryer argued the planning commission and the public should weigh in on the "deal points" in the agreement — and that the agreement between the county and the developer is "quintessentially a planning matter" for the advisory board to formally take up.
He said he felt as though the planning commission had been circumvented in the negotiation process.
"It is our responsibility to hear this," he said. "Today is premature."
Other commissioners had their own ideas about how the issue should be handled.
Thaddeus Cohen, who oversees the county's growth management department, explained that there isn't a requirement for the planning commission to vote on the town agreement, and that it can go directly to county commissioners without its input, as part of the normal approval process.
With the presentation, Cohen said he was just trying to keep the commission informed about the negotiations.
The agreement that has been negotiated will benefit all of the county's residents, he said.
He also noted that after a formal application and plan for the town is submitted to the county for review, it would go to the planning commission for a public airing and recommendation before a final decision by county commissioners.
Naples land use attorney Rich Yovanovich, who represents Collier Enterprises, objected to the planning commission's discussions about some of the points in and objections to the town agreement, arguing that it was not officially on the table for a public hearing.
He urged the commission to move forward with its advertised hearings as planned for two of the three villages that would be melded together with the town.
The county has already green-lighted one of those villages, known as Rivergrass.
The commission agreed to follow the order of its agenda — and not to discuss the town agreement any further before separately hearing and voting on the remaining petitions by Collier Enterprises.
Yovanovich criticized the Conservancy and League of Women Voters for submitting their point-by-point letters of objection at the last minute, when they knew they were required to share the information with staff seven days in advance of the planning commission's meeting. He said it wasn't given to him, leaving him in the dark and forcing him to make a public records request to get it.
In a statement, Rob Moher, the conservancy's president and CEO, said its comments and concerns about the developer's town concept and two other villages — Longwater and Bellmar — were "timely submitted."
"Moreover, the conservancy’s analysis shows that Longwater and Bellmar will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and will severely exacerbate traffic congestion in Collier County," he said.
In their letters to planning commissioners, both the league and the conservancy accused Collier Enterprises of using the prospect of a town to gain favor on the two villages.
"Don't be swayed," they urged.
While planning commissioners intended to take up Longwater at Thursday's meeting, they ended up not hearing it, moving it to their next meeting after Yovanovich said he'd rather they do that than proceed because of the late hour.
The debate about the town proposal — and the subsequent hearing on an unrelated village proposal — took hours. Knowing that the Longwater presentation, discussions and debate would take hours longer, Yovanovich suggested that it be taken up March 4.
The developer's other petition, for Bellmar, is also scheduled to be heard on that date — and now possibly the town agreement.