In an effort to pump the brakes on accelerated growth and redevelopment in Naples, government leaders are addressing city regulations involving density and intensity issues and reassessing the site plan review process.
“I don’t think anyone would disagree that this community is changing,” said Naples City Manager Jay Boodheshwar. “The older structures — both single-family homes and commercial properties — are turning over. Their lifecycle, their lives here, have ended. Redevelopment needs to happen. This is a built-out community. The question is what does that new development, what does that redevelopment look like and how would it affect quality of life? Of course, everybody wants Naples to continue to be a great place and there are different ideas on how to do that.”
Hurricane Ian and the COVID-19 pandemic, which attracted more people to live in Naples and work remotely, accelerated the regional growth and the dire need to stay atop redevelopment, Boodheshwar said.
“They want a place that’s beautiful and safe, but that puts pressure on the existing environment and infrastructure. You can’t sit on your hands because the change will happen to you,” he said, noting that part of the recent discussion is how the city should deal with the change. “How do we deal with it to make sure it doesn’t just happen to us? We actually get a say in what that change looks like so we can protect what’s been so special about this area.”
The renewed interest in getting a better handle on local growth and development also began with the March 2020 election of Mayor Teresa Heitmann and council members Ted Blankenship, Mike McCabe and Paul Perry, who have less than a year ticking on their four-year terms. Heitmann, whose campaign slogan was “It’s time for a change,” has made smart growth and development a priority.
“We just have to make sure we’re addressing it, what we see is coming, and try to somewhat manage the growth and the redevelopment,” she said. “Lot coverage for residential obviously is a concern and was a concern before Ian and now is even more of a concern. The density and intensity come from the commercial areas.”
On March 1, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance amending the city’s site plan review process to give council members and the city’s Planning Advisory Board the opportunity to review more development projects, many of which were being reviewed only by the city’s planning staff and Design Review Board. Approved changes from the second reading included revisions to the required contents submitted for plans that are part of a planned development or larger project and requiring that site plans for new structures or additions to buildings that exceed 5,000 square feet obtain City Council approval.
The amendment came about because of issues encountered after a new site plan review replaced the general development site plan process that the city used to have, said Planning Director Erica Martin. “It was very narrowly focused. It was only on projects of a certain size and in certain zoning districts. So, that was replaced,” Martin said.
This recent action was retroactive in that the ordinance took effect immediately upon adoption and applies to any site plan application that has been submitted for review but not yet approved as of March 1. That includes 25 site plans that have been submitted for review but have not yet been approved either administratively or by City Council.
The many projects now subject to the new standards for review include a mixed-use building and parking garage that are part of the Naples Square planned development along Goodlette-Frank Road; the redevelopment of the former Mansion House condominium co-op on Gulf Shore Boulevard for the Rosewood Residences high-rises; and the proposed downtown addition of the Prime Social rooftop restaurant and bar atop 837 Fifth Ave. S.
It also includes the recently proposed redevelopment of nearly two blocks on Fifth Avenue South for a Whole Foods Market, Restoration Hardware, luxury condominiums and underground parking. Mayor Heitmann is particularly concerned about that significant project, providing a glimpse of the discussion ahead.
“I think issues facing that are we don’t have the infrastructure. We don’t have the roads. We don’t have the capacity for the roads. We have stormwater issues. That’s one of the largest flooding areas in town,” said Heitmann, who also is concerned about a proposal there to vacate interior alleyways. “Taking away the grid is the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard because that’s how we do our services. That’s how we go to the back of the house. That’s how we do our garbage, our recycling. Nobody wants to drive through areas that look like that.”At a special meeting of City Council on Monday, March 20, the agenda included other new business items tackling density and intensity issues. Council discussed specific parking regulations and incentives provided in areas such as the Fifth Avenue South Special Overlay District, the D Downtown District and the C2-A Waterfront Commercial District, and the use of public on-street parking spaces. The board also discussed signage and outdoor dining regulations as well as the city ordinance amending the site plan review regulations.
During the March 22 regular meeting of City Council, the board heard first readings for ordinances amending the setback and landscaping regulations in front yards, amending the authorized street trees, amending lot coverage regulations for single-family residences constructed in multifamily districts, establishing maximum density limitations for transient lodging and amending signage regulations for gas stations.
These topics also were discussed earlier in March during two days of “listening sessions” with community residents and business owners. Fifteen tables with eight people at each presented opinions and comments about land development code issues to city representatives during evening and morning sessions at the Norris Center.
“These are pretty important topics. These aren’t easy things. These are topics that affect a range of people from residents in single-family neighborhoods to commercial interests and business owners. Of course, Council has a long list of things we’re working on,” Boodheshwar said.
“The consultant that we’re working with strongly recommended and Council quickly agreed that we needed to pump the brakes a little bit and create some opportunities to get all of the different opinions and perspectives from the community, and that’s where the listening session idea came from.”