Florida lawmaker Spencer Roach seeks to grant single-family home developer Neal Communities along with landowners Judge G. Keith Cary, Mary Povia and others a stewardship district like ones created in Ave Maria, Babcock Ranch and elsewhere across the state. This would aid them in attaining funding to develop more than 1,000 acres into a new community in Alva.
At 9 a.m. Monday at Florida SouthWestern State College, a delegation of five state representatives and three state senators will meet and listen to public comments on whether the stewardship district should move forward before voting. The meeting will be held in the Nursing Building, Room AA-177, at 8099 College Parkway in Fort Myers.
If approved, the local delegation will sponsor a special act to be considered by the Florida Legislature during the 2024 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.
So far, 344 of those acres have been rezoned to allow for 386 homes on land Neal Communities purchased for $5.5 million in May, under the name Takoda Land Group LLC.
The remaining 700 acres have yet to go through the rezoning process with Lee County government, a step that still would take place, regardless of what happens Monday, said state Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, who represents District 77.
Although this would be called the Duke Farm Stewardship District, the agricultural exemption would have to be dropped from the properties involved for it to move forward.
“All a stewardship district is, is a financing mechanism for infrastructure,” Persons-Mulicka said. “It has no impact on land-use approval whatsoever. All of that would remain with the county.”
Roach, who represents District 76, which includes Alva, submitted the legislation to be considered Oct. 4, 12 days prior to the Oct. 16 deadline, Persons-Mulicka said.
Roach, Neal Communities CEO and former state senator Pat Neal and Povia couldn’t be reached for comment.
Some residents in Alva, a community of about 3,000 residents, have spoken out against boosting land density from what traditionally had been one home per 10 acres to more than one home per acre on the 355 acres.
However, the meeting Monday isn’t about density. It’s about whether Neal Communities can govern itself.
Either way, Alva resident and land broker Darius Cochran isn’t in favor of granting Neal Communities a stewardship district, suggesting it would circumvent working with the agricultural community of Alva.
“[Patrick Neal] wants to bring city cookie-cutter housing to the country instead of an unbelievable equestrian community like Ocala or Wellington,” Cochran said. “… Alva is one big country club, as in real country.”
Alva resident James Kennedy plans to attend the Monday meeting to speak against creating the district. The public commenters will be limited in their time to speak. Mulicka-Persons said the public comment portion must take place within a 30-minute window. The speaking time will depend on how many people show up, she said, and she encouraged participants to arrive early.
“When I turned on my phone, I was just shocked,” Kennedy said of early Friday morning, when he learned of Monday’s agenda. “We had no idea this was coming. Am I surprised by it? Absolutely not. This is the pattern of this company.”
Kennedy said Alva residents bought their land because of its value in being one of Lee County’s last rural areas. A new, dense development would steal value, he said.
“You buy a house on the side of a mountain,” he said. “You build your house so you don’t obscure the view of your neighbors, but you can still enjoy the view that you bought. And then somebody comes in and builds a 20-story apartment right in front of your balcony. It’s effectively stolen value.”
Attorney Ralf Brookes has been working with a group of Alva residents on pushing back against dense development there.
“This is urbanization of a rural area,” Brookes said. “It contemplates that the developer would be able to use government funds to build the infrastructure that’s needed for the development instead of the developer paying for them.”
Brookes said he was surprised the legislative delegation prioritized this, given the continued recovery from Hurricane Ian.
“To make this Neal Communities project their No. 1 priority is shocking,” Brookes said. “I think the citizens of Lee County deserve better. We shouldn’t be here simply to serve developers. We should be here to serve citizens. And we shouldn’t be here to prematurely urbanize, Olga and Alva after we adopted community plans that are supposed to protect those areas.”