The global Coronavirus pandemic has been a constant focus for Florida residents this month, but not so for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which has launched yet another lawsuit to stop responsible growth in Collier County. Collier Enterprises filed today to intervene in the Conservancy’s new lawsuit against the County. This time, the Conservancy’s focus is Rivergrass Village, recently approved by the Collier County Commission and designed by Collier Enterprises in its mission to craft a better environmental future for Southwest Florida.
The Conservancy is attacking not only Collier Enterprises’ proposed village but also the Rural Land Stewardship Area, one of the greatest planning achievements in the community in decades and one that is widely supported because of its commitment to balanced growth and preservation. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, a founding partner in the Rural Lands Stewardship Area, has shocked the community with its about-face and is now moving to shut down any growth in the carefully crafted RLSA, and to undo the years of hard-won consensus that created the program.
Collier Enterprises has been a helpful partner in designing a thoughtful growth strategy for the county because of its demonstrated 100-year history of highly regarded preservation efforts and dedication to the public trust in the family’s namesake county. The Collier family has conveyed over 260,000 acres for public use, including: Collier Seminole State Park, Everglades National Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, National Audubon Society Corkscrew Sanctuary, Nature Conservancy Rookery Bay Conservation Tracts, the J.A. “Ding” Darling Refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Naples Botanical Garden, among many others.
By intervening in the Conservancy lawsuit, Collier Enterprises will join forces with Collier County to mount a strong defense to protect Collier County’s 21st Century vision of naturally balanced growth in the RSLA. The RLSA was created to respond to the mounting challenges caused by continuing unplanned, sprawling development in Collier County, potentially detrimental to the environment, including local water quality.
Here’s why Rivergrass Village and Collier Enterprises’ design has drawn support: Rivergrass Village will be located consistent with the RLSA program on approximately 1,000 acres of re-purposed agricultural land to be dedicated for up to 2,500 new homes, 30 minutes outside of Naples at Oil Well Road. The important distinction in this new planned community is that it will be balanced with an additional contribution by Collier Enterprises of 5,243 acres of valuable, environmentally sensitive lands for future preservation. Fifty-two hundred acres is equal to the size of approximately six Central Parks in New York City. The Conservancy’s lawsuit threatens to halt the RLSA program’s ultimate objective of preserving 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands in Collier County. This is the kind of preservation the Collier family has long-championed. Over 571 acres of the Rivergrass Village will be open space. Existing homeowners in greater Naples have registered additional support for the planned community because they see Collier Enterprises as an important voice in addressing future expansion plans for Oil Well Road.
Additionally, Rivergrass Village answers a pressing need for moderately priced housing in Collier County, as a rising number of families seek to make their homes and careers in the area. Similar to trends across the United States, Collier County continues to see the children of local residents want to return home and be closer to family. Collier Enterprises has planned Rivergrass Village with an eye on accommodating these needs.
“The Colliers are committed to preserving the environment and balancing good growth to meet the needs of Collier County residents,” said Sonja Eddings Brown, director of government relations for Collier Enterprises. “Thoughtful and reasonable planning is the secret to maintaining the next generation of families and seniors while achieving environmental preservation in Southwest Florida. The protection of water quality and wildlife is critical, and it is also important to prepare for the next generation of those who are essential to the future of our community – families, extended families, seniors, caregivers, first responders, health care specialists, and returning young professionals – and to do it in a careful way.”
Representing Collier Enterprises in the Conservancy of Southwest Florida staff’s lawsuit will be the Florida law firm of Stearns Weaver Miller.
“We feel very confident that the court system will reinforce the county’s approval of this crucial environmental approach to strategic community planning,” said Brown. “We must get to work implementing plans for environmentally protective growth. It’s not something to be delayed.”