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Collier County commissioners unanimously rejected a $23 million price for a 2,247-acre Immokalee property for possible affordable workforce housing, fire house and other uses, opting to continue negotiating.   

During a roughly hourlong discussion May 14, Commissioner Bill McDaniel Jr. called rejecting the offer a motion for failure, but added, “I will support you if you want to go down that road.” 

The sellers’ purchase agreement was conditioned on their right to rescind it if the county’s offer for Williams Reserve at Lake Trafford was less than $23 million. Four out of five commissioners are required to approve a purchase price above $20.77 million, the average of two appraisals. 

Two independent appraisers hired by the county valued the LSI Companies Inc.-listed property at $19.94 million and $21.6 million and it would be purchased using funds from taxpayer-funded Conservation Collier, the 1-cent infrastructure sales surtax, and Parks & Recreation and housing budgets. 

Commissioner Burt Saunders questioned the sellers’ price, saying it came out of “thin air.” 

But Commissioner Rick LoCastro wanted to counter.  

“We’ve discussed running the county more like a business … so I don’t think this offer is a chance to fail,” LoCastro said. “I think we’re making a business proposal. We’re making an offer to the seller, and if they don’t like it, they can walk … or they can come back to us with a counter. But we’ve said we will stick to appraisal price and my vote is only going to be for the appraisal price.” 

The county plans to use the land for parks and recreation, transportation, stormwater management, economic development and a possible co-location of the Immokalee Fire and Rescue District. Growth Management Plan amendments and rezoning would be needed. Three parcels totaling 1,117 acres would be set aside as conservation land, preventing further development. 

The county’s Rural Lands Stewardship Area Overlay protects agricultural areas, natural habitats, wetlands and flow ways, while directing growth away from those areas. The program, which uses credits, allows developers to build intense towns and villages on land considered less valuable for conservation in exchange for preserving environmentally sensitive land. 

McDaniel estimated the credits at $900 to $1,000 and suggested the county could benefit from stewardship credits by preserving some land and selling credits as development rights. 

Staff told commissioners the parcels could generate up to 1,100 credits for a traditional Stewardship Sending Area with active agricultural and conservation uses or 2,214 credits for an Agricultural Stewardship Easement. Several agricultural leases generate $300,000 yearly. 

Staff cited concerns over contamination from cattle, agricultural uses and a septic tank and recommended soil and groundwater testing, which is required for residential and commercial uses. The land is within panther habitats and other listed environmental species were found, so the county would have to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

If a park is built, the sellers asked that it be named James E. Williams Jr. Preserve, after the seller, for at least 20 years. Sellers also include Williams’ trusts, Williams Farms of Immokalee Inc. and The Williams Farms Land Assets LLC. 

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