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An extension of the Orange Blossom Ranch community, totaling 400 multifamily units on Oil Well Road, was unanimously approved by the Collier County Planning Commission on Thursday.

The 44-acre vacant parcel, east of Palmetto Ridge High School, is zoned for commercial use, but developer Quarterra sought to change the zoning to mixed-use to accommodate the proposed housing units that will span 17 acres. The remaining 100,000 square feet will stay commercial for a planned grocery store-anchored shopping center expected to open in the next 18 months.

“We think adding a concentration 17 acres of multifamily apartments provides for housing diversity which we know we want to promote with it within the county,” Planning and Zoning Director Mike Bosi said. “We also think that it’s a good example of good transportation planning and land use planning complementing each other.”

A road between the residential and commercial parts of the parcel will be constructed, along with a frontage road extending to Hawthorn Road and connecting to a signalized intersection. “One of the advantages to the frontage road is that the residents can come out of their gate at Hawthorn, come over across the frontage road and to the lighted intersection,” said Wayne Arnold, who represented the developer at the meeting.

The proposed apartments are projected to be three-story buildings. Arnold said the location is a prime spot for apartments.

“You have location here with schools; you have Arthrex just down the road and Ave Maria. You have a lot of reasons that people want housing of this type,” Arnold said. “ … I know that our clients are very excited about it and think it’s a home run market for them.”

Of the proposed 400 apartments, 10% will be income restricted to provide affordable housing. Initially, the developer proposed a rent cap of 120% of the county’s average median income of $98,600 annually for a family of four. However, the planning commission requested a cap decrease to 100%, putting the monthly rent at approximately $2,200 for a two-bedroom. City staff agreed the reduction would be a beneficial adjustment.

“When you lower from 120% to 100%, you’re really providing opportunities for folks who are being displaced and being priced out of this market to find housing choices within close proximity within the county,” Bosi said.

Traffic jams on Oil Well Road during drop-off and pick-up hours at Palmetto Ridge, along with further development in the surrounding areas, cause concern for residents in the Orange Blossom Ranch community like Michael Stein.

“Where are these cars going to go, we don’t have a clue,” Stein said. “It takes our residents over 20 minutes on some mornings just to get out of our community off of Hawthorn Road to make a right. I feel bad for the people on the southbound side because they have to make the left on Oil Well and they cannot. The cars have backed up that badly because of the school.”

Collier County’s transportation team is aware of the increasing traffic on Oil Well Road and assured planning is in the works to accommodate for the new developments.

“We have started to look at some of the occupancies and some of the actual impacts on Oil Well, and that’s why we’re looking at some of the relieve network,” Interim Manager of Transportation Planning Lorraine Lantz said. “We’ve looked at Randall [Boulevard], we’ve looked at Everglades [Boulevard], so these are all coming online. What we’re having a problem with is Oil Well right at the school. It’s kind of constrained. So that’s why we have to look at the entire network and looking at other relievers.”

It’s proven difficult for the county to fix the morning traffic jams on Oil Well caused by school drop-off, creating long commute times for surrounding residents. “Not being a transportation engineer, I would say that if there was a temporary relief that was available the transportation planning department would have identified it,” Bosi said. “At this time, there are no identified solutions to deal with that morning commute time.”

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Joe Schmitt thinks Palmetto Ridge’s traffic effects are caused by too many students being dropped off by their parents rather than taking the bus.

“There’s buses, there’s ways to mitigate the traffic, but parents choose to take their kids in the car, whether it’s one or a carpool. But the way to mitigate it certainly would be putting the kids on the bus and using that as an alternative,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt said traffic impacts of these new units won’t be as bad as some residents say.

“I think assuming that 400 additional cars are going to be on the road at any given time because of 400 units is a misnomer,” Schmitt said.

This project must go before the Board of County Commissioners for final approval.

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