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The Collier County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted in favor Tuesday for the Isles of Capri mixed-use planned development project with proposed amendments.

The proposed development created controversy with some community members who made their voices known for many hours at September’s Planning Commission meeting, which resulted in the board voting 6-1 to deny the major project.

Since that meeting, developer Aubrey Ferrao, who also owns Fiddler’s Creek, worked with city staff to create a more desirable proposal for the land that is currently zoned for commercial C-3 use. Land use attorney Rich Yovanovich explained that they are reducing the height limit of the building from 168 feet to 122 feet and reducing the number of stories from 14 to nine. The number of units were also reduced down from 108 to 80. The development also includes a restaurant of up to 10,000 square feet with 200 seats and a marina with 64 wet slips and a 258-unit dry boat storage facility.

Planning and Zoning Director Mike Bosi explained that staff still cannot agree that the project fits with the county’s growth management plan because of workforce housing impacts. The County Commission also agreed that there should be an affordable housing component to this project.

“I think moving forward, we all have to understand as a community that [workforce housing] is probably going to be something we’re going to look at and we’re going to probably require from a lot of developers in the future and we’re going to hold them to it,” Commissioner Daniel Kowal said. “Because it is an issue, we’re all going to deal with it. And every time we build any commercial property, any restaurant, anything, it’s creating more jobs, but we have nowhere for people to live.”

Yovanovich, representing the applicant, offered to contribute $5,000 per unit of the Isles of Capri development to be put toward the county’s affordable housing fund, which could amount to $400,000 toward workforce housing.

Additionally, the developers offered to construct two culverts to enhance water quality and to support the local effort to convert septic to sewer, which would impact all island residents. If that commitment is not made, the money attributed toward that cause would go toward affordable housing, amounting to about $3.2 million.

Despite these changes, hours of public comment from those opposing the project ensued. Residents like Ronald Helsel and his wife who have owned properties on the island for more than 10 years said this decision could set a precedent for future zoning changes. His two homes are less than 400 feet away from the proposed development.

“We stand to be personally the most directly affected both in terms of loss of our retirement, sense of value and our personal investment,” Helsel said. “We spent a lot of time making our retirement home a little piece of Old Florida, which will be wiped out by the proposed change in zoning. I don’t think anyone on this board is naive enough to believe that if you pass this through and change the zoning, the rest of this business isle is going to be condominiums in the next 10 years.”

Mike Bosi said that this island out of the four that make up Isles of Capri is the one best suited for a development of this size.

“It’s the island that’s designated for this type of activity. I think substituting commercial for mixed-use residential is an improvement,” Bosi said.

The commissioners and staff started looking at the project in the perspective of saving the property from what it could become if it stayed C-3 zoning.

“There could be an arrangement of retail on the bottom, office on the second, third, fourth floor and parking underneath. As I said, it’s got to be zoned. You’re allowed to put two floors and parking within your principal structure. So, that typically gets raised to 75 feet,” Bosi said. “You could have a 70-foot building with retail on the first floor, an office on top of that, upwards of 80,000 square feet. I don’t know if there’s a market for that, but that would be allowed.”

Commission Chair Rick LoCastro, who has Isles of Capri within his district, said it’s important to not let that land remain C-3 zoning because then the residents will truly have no say in what gets built.

“I’m very concerned about leaving Isles of Capri unprotected with a large parcel that’s zoned C-3 because I’ve seen the damage that having that type of amenity in your backyard, the uncertainty that it brings and the ability we don’t have at this level, to adjust, to attack, to fight it, to adjust it,” LoCastro said.

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