A major development by Barron Collier Companies is in the works for eastern Collier County. The project, known as Brightshore Village, is a primarily residential development allowing 2,000 housing units and a maximum of 120,000 square feet of neighborhood-scale retail. The almost 700-acre property is just northwest of the intersection of Immokalee Road and Everglades Boulevard.
The project is part of the Rural Land Stewardship Program established in Collier County in the early 2000s. The program protects environmentally valuable land through the creation of Stewardship Sending Areas, where development rights are taken from environmentally sensitive properties. In return, the owner gets the rights transferred to a Stewardship Receiving Area. This will be the sixth Stewardship Receiving Area development in Collier County, joining communities such as the developing Hyde Park Village and the established Ave Maria.
A unique part of the RLSA is each development has a requirement to provide for affordable housing. Barron Collier is proposing 170 units either within Brightshore Village or at an offsite location that must be identified before a certificate of occupancy can be issued for the village.
The entirety of the 2,000-unit residential neighborhood will be surrounded by 121 acres of lake for stormwater runoff and as a deterrent for wildlife. Although entrance to the housing part of the project will be gated, there will be a publicly accessible 2.75-mile-long linear park system around the perimeter of the development that will include restrooms, fitness stations and a recreation trail along the east, north and west perimeters.
Planning board commissioner Joseph Schmitt wants to make sure Barron Collier is held accountable for developing an actual park.
“I love the idea of a nature park all the way through the habitat stewardship area into the flowery stewardship, it’s great,” Schmitt said. “I just want to make sure that it isn’t just a wink and a nod, in five years from now it’s just vegetation along the lake.”
Commissioner Robert Klucik, who lives in Ave Maria, agreed more details about the park should be in place before approving the final project.
“I would say that, in Ave Maria for instance, we have some nice walkways around a lake,” Klucik said. “It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar, and it’s a very popular thing. And I would say though, that it’s very important that it be specified exactly what it is and when it would be put in place. And I just say, you know, we’re still waiting out and Ave Maria after 15 years for some of what is planned, which is frustrating and one of them is more nature trails that we’re hoping for.”
During conversation between the applicant and planning commission, the issue of permitting the use of golf carts became a lengthy discussion. Based on the current plan, golf carts will be allowed on the multi-use pathways except for the park on the perimeter of the development. Klucik views golf carts as a constant issue in similar communities like Ave Maria.
“I think there’s a minimum age, but people who aren’t the minimum age because there’s no licensing requirement, it’s very easy for no one to really care,” Klucik said. “And then the law enforcement doesn’t come in because they’re not really concerned about it, and then there’s really no mechanism to crack down on a violation. That’s all I’m saying is it’s a huge problem, and if we were going to address it now would be the time.”
Certified planner Norm Trebilcock agreed the issue of unsafe and underage golf cart driving could be fixed with more strict enforcement.
“Golf carts are a challenge, they’re a challenge in Ave Maria, they’re a challenge in any community,” Trebilcock said. “In the community I live in the golf carts are a challenge with people, but it’s not necessarily a lack of regulation, it’s sometimes a lack of enforcement. That’s the big thing with traffic calming in general, you know, engineering enforcement.”
The planning commission expressed it would like to give responsibility to the master association of Brightshore to clearly identify and enforce requirements for driving a golf cart, and potentially create a fining committee for those who violate the rules.
“I believe that we need to specify that the enforcement of the rules and regulations, if there are going to be golf carts and there’s going to be shared paths, that that’s clearly identified,” Schmitt said. “Who will be the enforcement arm to make sure that we don’t have I think what I’m hearing is chaos out in Ave Maria?”
Environmental concerns were a main topic of the public portion part of the discussion, particularly about the Florida panther. As more people join the Southwest Florida community, the Florida panther continues to lose habitat. Although there have been no recordings of panther activity on the land where Brightshore Village is planned, there is increasing concern for the species as development in this critical area continues.
The Florida Wildlife Federation sees the future of the panther largely dependent on how the land in the Rural Land Stewardship Area is around Immokalee Road is utilized.
“The federation recognizes the vested rights that these landowners do have for potential development across the region that’s not within the RLSA overlay, but their underlying rights for development,” said Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “And since growth and development will continue to occur, the future of our charismatic Florida panther really depends on the land use decisions that we’re making here today.”
Matthew Schwartz is the executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association and spoke during public comment about the detrimental future of the panther.
“The fish and wildlife service spent 10 years reviewing your RSLA, this has not been discussed with the commission, and what they found was jeopardy for the Florida panther,” Schwartz said. “They said that based on the cumulative impacts of 45,000 acres of development, not the 600 acres of this project which is which it’s a part of, but the 45,000 acres that are anticipated to habitat loss, loss of prey, but especially roadkill and at least an additional 10 Panthers killed on roads per year, this project will cause jeopardy for the Florida panther.”
Klucik expressed discontent with the concerned comments, mentioning the multiple steps developers must go through to get approval of building on land that can be seen as environmentally sensitive.
“These issues, the environmental issues, have been dealt with at length and have had more than a fair hearing,” Klucik said. “And it’s frustrating to hear people come and say the same things over and over again that smear and ignore the good work that’s been done. And the developer didn’t go at length about that issue because it’s not an issue. It’s already been covered. And there’s nothing else to say about it that’s going to impact our decision.”
Klucik reassured that, according to the RLSA map, the project is going to be on the least sensitive area of the RLSA and the commissioners have thoroughly questioned the petitioner about environmental concerns, ensuring Brightshore Village is planned on the appropriate spot.
“It’s just frustrating to hear people come in to actually state that it was given short shrift, it was not given short shrift,” Klucik said. “As matter of fact, it was the very first thing that I asked about, and one of the first things that the petitioner told us about because we all are very concerned about the environment. And that’s kind of why I decided to jump in as soon as the petitioner and our panel was impugned by, at least my impression was that he had impugned this process, as not being concerned about the environment. And I think the record needs to reflect that that’s absolutely not the case.”
The planning commission voted unanimously in favor of the Brightshore Village development. This Village project will go to the Collier County Board of Commissioners for final approval.