Estero Village Council approved the Genova luxury community’s request for a zoning amendment for the 3.6-acre undeveloped portion of its 17-acre property. The community at the corner of Corkscrew Road and Via Coconut Point requested construction of single-family and villa townhomes.
The undeveloped parcel sat vacant for years as developer Barron Collier Cos. was losing money with its original master concept plan.
The original plan was for 205 units and six condominium buildings. Now, the two remaining undeveloped buildings are going to be 20 single-family homes and 11 two-story townhome units, reducing the number of units to 162.
Barron Collier initially acted as a silent partner in the project while the first four buildings sold at a rapid pace. However, the cost of construction was underestimated.
“What was discovered is that every unit that had been sold in Genova was sold for a lower price than what it actually costs to build that unit, approximately $100,000 to $150,000 below cost,” said Jaime Lopez, vice president of acquisitions for Barron Collier.
The prices the units sold for resulted in no profit for the developer, in addition to losses around $10 million, making the original plan no longer an option.
Barron Collier then brought in a third party to conduct market research, finding that the market is in need of townhomes and villas, as it’s easier to sell mixed units rather than one type of product.
Staff recommended approval of the project with two conditions related to a proposed pocket park, bus stop and timeframe.
An internal pocket park and an external public amenity of a bus stop was one initial incentive offering for Genova, but has been deleted due to space issues and LeeTran not planning for a bus stop at the proposed location.
Staff suggested it be replaced with an area of equivalent size and amenities, subject to the staff and planning board’s approval, which was satisfied by the applicant providing a park area of equivalent size for residents.
The external amenities were later satisfied by the addition of benches on Via Coconut Point.
Staff’s condition on timeframe was tweaked for language by the applicant, but ultimately stated there must be active pursuit of the project, with significant construction having to be completed no later than five years of the date of approval. Significant construction will include the amenities, as well as 50% of the residential buildings.
“We have every intention of getting this project completed as expeditiously as possible,” said Chris Scott, planning manager from Penninsula Engineering. “Every day that this project remains vacant is costing Barron Collier money. So, we have every intention to be done as quick as possible.”
Despite compliance with the village’s codes and comprehensive plan, the new project was still met with some opposition, as it is a different plan than what residents bought into.
“This developer has left you and our community with a heck of a dilemma,” Genova resident Hal Korbee said . “If you approve this, then can an Estero resident ever again rely on this city’s approval of a development plan when looking at purchasing residential units in this community?”
Council member Jim Boesch, who served as the only vote against the zoning amendment, said the approval would set a precedent for other developers.
“We’re saying if you build the project now in Estero, but if it doesn’t work out the way you’d like, you’d go back and we’re going to change it and we’re going to make a new project there,” he said. “This project, we changed the amendment and the precedent to do it. I am totally against it.”
Village land use attorney Nancy Stroud reminded council on what it needs to consider when presented with this type of application.
“What you need to consider is whether the application complies with the land development regulations and the comprehensive plan,” Stroud said. “It’s also a case that applicants always have the ability to comment and ask for changes to their plans and the council needs to consider those changes in light of the land development regulations. What the council cannot do is require the applicant to build a development that he doesn’t want to build.”
Susan Majka, president of Genova Two Homeowner’s Association, said existing Genova residents were surveyed, with 65% of residents being in favor of the new project.