There is a tried, but true saying regarding growth. “A community can’t stay still. It is impossible. You either grow or decay. There is no stopping in the middle.”
Today, growth in Collier County is unprecedented due to our vibrant economy and the migration of folks from northern states to Florida. Collier County has an abundance of vacant land ripe for development. But it seems as if we can’t build new roads fast enough. Traffic is simply awful! Our roads are congested and our stores crowded. Rooftops are springing up everywhere in areas that were once woods and open fields. The fear expressed by many of the taxpayers I speak to is that we are losing our quality of life - forever. Collier County is becoming like the East Coast, they tell me
I share those concerns. However, as your Commissioner, I am faced with a stark reality. About fifty years ago, this vacant land was zoned for either residential or commercial development through a process that is protected by law. Florida is a ‘property rights’ state. This means that an owner of property has the right to develop that property based on the ‘rights’ or zoning of that property. The present-day Board of Collier County Commissioners must by law honor the zoning on a property, no matter how many years ago the property was zoned, and no matter how crowded the roads are today. However, we do have control over the density of a property. And this is what we have failed to address in many instances.
In 1985, the State of Florida passed the Growth Management Act that required fast-growing cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. Collier County developed a comprehensive plan and the plan outlines a density per acre standard that is generally four units per acre. In some areas of the county, the density is much higher because the plan has been amended with the concurrence of a super-majority vote (four votes) of the commission. Recently, this amendment process has become the routine rather than the exception.
The development industry has devised a way to increase the density of development. Their strategy is to request increased density, one development at a time, by amending the comprehensive plan for each project. This Board of Commissioners has agreed to do this – again and again. An astounding 44% of the land use items recently coming before the Board of Commissioners seek to amend the Comprehensive Plan to achieve greater density!
Today, the developer justifies asking for increased density by arguing that building more units will bring more competition to the market and rents will be adjusted downward. What a self-serving argument! Increasing the density of a project means that the developer will make more money from that project. In some cases, however, an increase in density is justified if it is in the public good. For example, the inclusion of affordable housing within the project.
There is nothing wrong with making money. That is the business of development. What is wrong, in my opinion, is that we are losing our quality of life by acquiescing to the developer’s request for more density. The comprehensive plan is a document that provides a “box”, or a framework for growth. If commissioners want to increase the density of future development in Collier County, then we should amend the comprehensive plan as a whole. This process would involve public meetings where our residents would have an opportunity to voice their concerns on increasing the density of future development. Increasing the density, project-by-project, must be stopped until we understand the will of the voters of our community.
Collier County will grow but we don’t have to sacrifice our quality of life for that growth. Sprawling, crowded development can stay on the East Coast, not in Collier County. I support the density as outlined in our current comprehensive plan and vote accordingly. Let’s stop this ‘back-door approach’ to increasing the density in Collier County. Let us face you, the voters of Collier County, about this very important quality of life issue.
We need your input.