Collier County Government News for January – June 2023

Jan-Jun Collier County Government News

This post begins with a report about a Bill of Rights Sanctuary County ordinance that the Board of County Commissioners will be asked to vote on at their Aug. 22 meeting.

Following that is a recap of some important policy decisions and appropriations of taxpayer funds made by the Board in the first half of this year. There are links to the board meeting materials and transcripts of board discussions for most of them. I took the time to find and make them more easily accessible because I hope you will dip in for an understanding of how Board decisions are made, which is more than just what was decided.

The post closes with a summary of some of the significant rezoning decisions taken by the BCC in the last six months that will affect life in our communities and on our roads, again with links where you can read more. It’s not complete, by any means; just some things I noted in local media. But they do, I think, provide additional examples of why elections matter.

It’s been a while since my last county government update. Catch up on what you missed: Collier County & Local News for May–December 2022.

2022 Collier Board of County Commissioners
Collier County Commissioners

Bill of Rights Sanctuary County Ordinance

At the Jul. 11 BCC meeting, Commissioner Chris Hall stated his intention to bring forward a Bill of Rights Sanctuary County ordinance for a vote of the Board at the Jul. 25 meeting.

The Board had defeated by one vote what is thought to be the identical ordinance when it was proposed by Commissioner Bill McDaniel in 2021. According to my summary of the proposed ordinance at the time:

  • The proposed ordinance would nullify (invalidate) in Collier County any federal law that is deemed to be contrary to an individual’s constitutional rights. 
  • It would then make it a violation for any county employee to participate in carrying out such laws. 
  • If they did, they could be sued and punished with a fine, jail time, or both. 
  • The Sheriff would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.

See The Proposed Collier County Sanctuary County Ordinance, Sparker’s Soapbox, 7/10/21, and Proposed Sanctuary County Ordinance Fails on 2-3 Vote, Sparker’s Soapbox, 7/14/21.

Hall at 3:05

“I’m bringing this up because, in case things ever twist off in Washington, DC, in case things ever twist off, God forbid, in Tallahassee, we’re going to have a Sheriff that’s going to back and honor the Bill of Rights that were given to us in the Constitution of the United States of America,” Hall said. “We’re going to have the right to bear arms, we’re going to have the right for due process of law, we don’t have to take soldiers and put them in our house. Every one of those Bill of Rights.” (Video recording at 3:05)

Since then, two of the three commissioners who voted against the ordinance (Andy Solis and Penny Taylor) have been replaced by Hall and Commissioner Dan Kowal.

While Hall intended to have the item on the agenda for a vote on Jul. 25, he acceded to a request for “professional courtesy” from Commissioner Burt Saunders to defer it to the Aug. 22 meeting. Saunders explained that he will miss the next two meetings and while “I think the issue will pass,” he wanted to participate in the discussion.

The draft ordinance will be included on the agenda for the Aug. 22 meeting and, according to County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow, will also be publicly noticed.

This was a highly controversial issue two years ago and is likely to be so again this year. If it is something that interests you, be sure to email the commissioners and share your views.


While the U.S. Congress and state legislatures pass laws, county governments legislate by adopting ordinances and rules of procedure, and signal direction by passing resolutions that state the board’s consensus opinion on a matter.

In the past six months, the BCC made several significant policy decisions. Some of them were controversial, if the number of public speakers on a topic is a valid measure. I think it is.

Encourage Affordable Housing

3/28/23 Agenda Item 9B; Discussion Transcript; 8 registered speakers

Commissioners considered amendments to the county’s Growth Management Plan crafted by county staff to encourage affordable housing.

“The changes are just part of our continued county plan to make building affordable housing more attractive to developers,” Chairman Rick LoCastro said in a constituent newsletter.

The changes that were approved:

  • Increase the density allowed within the County’s Activity Centers from 16 units an acre to 25 units an acre when providing for affordable housing.
  • Allow commercially-zoned properties that are not within the County’s Activity Centers to transition to residential use (16 units an acre) without a public hearing.
  • Allow higher density (up to 25 units an acre) along transit bus routes when providing for affordable housing.
  • Allow high employment centers such as corporate headquarters and other job creation centers to add up to 25 units an acre when providing for affordable housing.

The changes were among those recommended for the county by the Urban Land Institute in 2017. (More on the ULI study here.) Combined, they make possible the development of upwards of 20,700 additional affordable units in the county.

Speakers supporting the amendments included David Bumpous, VP of Operations for Arthrex, Lisa Lefkow, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, and Joe Trachtenberg, former chairman of the Collier County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

Commissioner Bill McDaniel was successful in having one of the proposed amendments excluded from consideration, but unsuccessful in excluding the amendment tied to transit routes. He said he fears it could result in high-density residential development in unwanted or undesirable places.

Commissioner Burt Saunders shared his concerns but still voted to move the amendments forward, saying the Board could discuss whether to omit the provision tied to bus routes at the final hearing.

The changes must be reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity before coming back to the BCC for a final adoption hearing and vote.

The motion passed, 4-1, with McDaniel voting no.

Cancel Federal Grant for Farmworker Healthcare; Return Funds

2/14/23 Agenda Item 10A/11A; Discussion transcript; 15 registered speakers

At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Board considered a recommendation to reimburse a federal grant and direct staff to find an alternative funding source.

Read award-winning article by Naples Daily News/The News-Press journalist Janine Zeitlin here

At issue was a $1.2 million, four-year pass-through grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the COVID-19 Extra Mile Migrant Farmworker Community Grant). The action was proposed by Hall because, he said, “the three-letter agencies in this country don’t run it. The people do.”

Before considering Hall’s recommendation, the Board heard a presentation from the county’s interim director for Community and Human Services about how the grant was used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jamie Ulmer, CEO of the Healthcare Network, the pass-through recipient of the grant funds, also spoke and answered questions from the Board.

Karen Kingston, who we were told from the dais had come to the meeting from California, was the first member of the public to speak. She made a lengthy presentation claiming that the COVID vaccine was experimental and a bioweapon, and said that “People have been deceived. People have been harmed.” (Naples Daily News; video beginning at 1:11)

That presentation quickly became publicity for Kingston’s anti-vaxx cause. “While she made the case that the COVID-19 injections are bioweapons more than a hundred times over the past 22 months,” according to a blog post I found online, “February 14, 2023, was the 1st opportunity she had to present these claims to government elected officials in a public government setting.”

Public speaker Beth Sherman told commissioners that the Healthcare Network had used Partners in Health in its community outreach efforts during the pandemic. “The Partners in Health website lists the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CDC, Open Societies (which is George Soros), Facebook, Google, Pfizer and nearly every other pharmaceutical company that there is….,” she said. “Is that really an organization that we need in our county?”

After agreeing to cancel the grant, which had some years remaining, commissioners discussed whether to return the $167,000 that had already been spent. McDaniel said his main concern with the funds “is the strings that are attached to the federal government through the CDC or HHS with regard to imposition of a mandate that was unconstitutional.”

After discussion, the Board voted unanimously to cancel the grant and find an alternative funding source to replace it, as well as to return all funds spent.

Replace Canceled Grant with Alternate Source of Funds

5/23/23 Agenda Item 11A; Discussion Transcript; seven registered speakers

At their May 23 meeting, commissioners considered whether to continue funding the Collier Health Services Community Health Worker Outreach Program and approve alternate funding to support it.

As previously directed, staff identified funding to replace the canceled farmworker outreach grant. Specifically, staff proposed allocating existing federal grants totaling $440,625 to enable the Healthcare Network to retain the six healthcare workers previously hired to do outreach in Immokalee.

The workers’ efforts will be redirected to focus on mental health and substance abuse issues, consistent with Priority #6 on the County’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Strategic Plan..

Public speakers at the meeting echoed concerns about the safety of the COVID vaccine and other concerns raised at the board meeting at which the farmer worker outreach grant was canceled.

Despite that input from the public, after discussion, the item passed unanimously.

Repeal 60-Day Rent Hike Notice Requirement

1/10/23 Agenda Item 9C; Discussion Transcript; nine registered speakers

At their Jan. 10 meeting, commissioners considered repealing the county’s 60-day notice requirement for rent hikes of more than 5% that had been adopted last year before the elections at their meeting.

Hall, who was not on the Board when the ordiance was adopted, championed the effort. “I wanted to repeal this ordinance because I wanted to get government out of your life,” he said. “If you’re a tenant, that government involvement helps you. If you’re on the other side of the fence, it’s not a burden; it’s just government telling you what you have to do.”

His motion was seconded by Kowal, the Board’s other newcomer, who expressed concerns about the requirement’s constitutionality.

LoCastro and McDaniel, who opposed the ordinance previously, joined in the vote for the repeal.

Saunders, who voted for the ordinance last year, voted no. Describing the ordinance as “largely symbolic,” he said he liked that the issue came back up again because he believes it highlighted the need to address the larger housing crisis.

Danielle Hudson, vice president of public policy at the Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR) spoke in favor of the repeal. All other speakers spoke against it.

The repeal of the ordinance passed 4-1.

Ban Medical Marijuana Treatment Dispensaries in Unincorporated Collier County

2/14/23 Agenda Item 9C; Discussion transcript; 17 registered speakers

Commissioners considered a proposed ordinance that would ban the establishment or location of medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities in unincorporated parts of the county at their meeting on Feb. 14.

According to Florida law, a county that does not ban medical marijuana dispensaries cannot place a limit on how many dispensing facilities there are in the county.

This item drew considerable public interest, most supporting the ban.

Collier County Steve Brooder St Matthews House

Steve Brooder, CEO of St. Matthew’s House, said that “about 80 percent of the people that come to our program for drug recovery report using marijuana. That’s the gateway drug.” Moreover, he said, “Research shows that children living near marijuana dispensaries are more likely to use marijuana and drugs, and the density of these shops and the delivery services was positively correlated with a frequency of child abuse and neglect.”

A letter supporting the ban from Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk was also read into the record.

Speaking against the ban were Nick Garulay, founder and CEO, and Chad Taylor, General Manager, of My Florida Green.

After discussion, the proposed ban passed unanimously.

Negotiate “Aggressively” on Conservation Land Purchases

1/10/23 Agenda Item 12A; Discussion Transcript; one speaker

At their Jan. 10 meeting, commissioners discussed the policy of paying the full appraised value for properties acquired under the Conservation Collier Land Acquisition Program. The policy was established by Board Resolution in 2003 and updated in 2007. (More here.)

Brad Cornell, on behalf of Audubon Western Everglades and Audubon Florida, owner of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, opposed changing the current Resolution. He said offering property owners the appraised value is “fair, right down the middle.”

Saunders said he had always thought the intent was that the county did not pay more than the appraised value.

LoCastro said changing the resolution to allow paying up to the appraised value is a “more dynamic approach” that “doesn’t shoehorn us into looking for all of the cheap deals.”

McDaniel said the proposed change would give staff the “opportunity to negotiate” but that it “does not preclude us from making purchases.”

After discussion, the motion to revise the ordinance passed unanimously. The amended resolution will come back for a public hearing at a later date.

Eliminate BCC Summer Recess

1/10/23 Agenda Item 10A; Discussion Transcript; two registered speakers

For many years, after the Board’s first meeting in July, it would not hold a Regular Meeting until September.

McDaniel has tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the summer recess in each of the six years he has served on the BCC. “I believe that the community deserves an opportunity to reach your elected officials on a far more regular basis than what we have been doing,” he said.

Saunders pointed out that the BCC has always had the opportunity to meet if something needs to be done. The reason for the break, he explained for newly-elected Hall and Kowal, is not because commissioners are unwilling to work. It is to give county staff a break from putting together a 2,000 to 2,500-page agenda every two weeks for Board meetings.

A break from semi-monthly meetings gives staff the opportunity to work on special projects and master planning, County Manager Amy Patterson agreed when asked. It also gives those who are very involved in the agenda process time away without having to delegate that responsibility to someone else. But “We’ll make it work,” she said.

Public speaker Daniel Zegarac supported the change. “This isn’t a little municipality,” he said. “This is major league stuff.”

Rae Ann Burton, from Rural Golden Gate Estates, opposed the change. She is concerned development projects will be approved without input from affected communities because so many residents are away for the summer.

“The goal is not to do anything nefarious,” McDaniel said, to reassure the public. “We wouldn’t be hearing any real contentious land-use items during that period of time, but just conducting the business of the community.”

A vote was taken on adding meetings in July and August while continuing the current practice of holding just one meeting in November and one meeting in December.

The item passed 4-1, with Saunders voting no.

Spending Decisions

Pay $800K to Incent Mixed-Use Building in Golden Gate

5/9/23 Agenda Item 11C; Discussion Transcript; no speakers

This item was moved from the Consent Agenda at Saunders’ request “so we could talk a little bit about it, especially for the new commissioners who were not part of the initial process to create that Economic Development Zone, and some of the projects and things that we’ve been working on for a number of years.”

“One of my objectives as a new County Commissioner in 2016 was to assist in promoting positive redevelopment of Golden Gate City,” Saunders wrote in his June newsletter.

In 2018, he proposed and the BCC unanimously supported the creation of a four-square-mile Golden Gate Economic Development Zone (map here). Through the county’s Innovation Zone program, commissioners create a zone, set a base tax year, and any tax increases collected in that zone are deposited into that zone’s Innovation Trust Fund.

The zone’s primary goal is to attract and retain businesses that would offer higher-paying jobs, including headquarters, with a focus on the “redevelopment and renewal of the commercial district along Golden Gate Parkway.”

Centro Golden Gate City
Centro Golden Gate City

At their May 9 meeting, commissioners took a significant step toward that end. They unanimously voted to reimburse Pikus Properties, a real estate investment firm, nearly $800,000 it had incurred to date for a new development, known as Centro, the first to qualify for incentives. The reimbursement will come from the trust fund created to support the zone.

A question by McDaniel about the return on this investment to the county led to discussion. County Manager Patterson pointed out that the funds would facilitate a $4.5 million increase in the county’s tax base (the project cost, before infrastructure and other fees), which will be realized over time.

In addition, the developer will provide a sewer line to the project that will also benefit other commercial and residential properties in the area, helping eliminate runoff and seepage from septic systems that are currently polluting the Santa Barbara Canal.

“That rate of return is not the sole issue that we’re concerned about here,” Saunders said. “It’s the impact on the overall community that we’re trying to improve.”

The item passed unanimously.

Read more in the Naples Daily News here.

Escrow $30MM to Incent VA Nursing Home

3/14/23 Agenda Item 10A; Discussion Transcript; no registered speakers

For many years, Collier County has wanted the U.S. Veteran’s Administration to build a Nursing Home here, and it was one of the designated uses for the One-Cent Sales Surtax voters approved in 2018.

The Board previously approved spending $30 million of the fund to match state funds for the construction and development of the nursing home project. To further improve the county’s chances of being chosen as the site, Saunders asked commissioners at their Mar. 14 meeting to escrow the previously authorized and segregated $30 million with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Clerk Crystal Kinzel

Collier Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Crystal Kinzel had previously made known to each of the commissioners that she had concerns about the proposal, and Saunders offered her the opportunity to address the Board on the item. She began by stating “on the record” that she supports the project. She then outlined her concerns and asked if “something like a letter or resolution of our determination” would suffice, rather than turning the funds over to the state with full authority to the VA to withdraw them.

“I think that to move this project forward,” Sanders said, “we need to move this on today.” He said that he trusts the state and that “there are provisions in the agreement that give me complete comfort.”

Attorney Klatzkow agreed. “If this was anybody but the state, I would completely share the Clerk’s concerns,” he said. “But this is the State of Florida.”

McDaniel, Hall, LoCastro, and Kowal said they shared Kinzel’s concerns.

John Mullins, the county’s director of Communications, Government, and Public Affairs, told commissioners that placing the funds in escrow would move the county up on the list from its current rank of No. 36 to third on the list.

The funds will be maintained in an interest-bearing account, and funds plus interest will be returned to the county if the project were to fail to proceed.

After discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

Commit an Additional $10MM to Proposed VA Nursing Home

6/13/23 Agenda Item 10B; Discussion Transcript; no registered speakers

At its meeting on Jun. 13, the Board discussed a recommendation by Saunders to commit an additional $10 million to the VA nursing home project. The purpose is for additional square footage to be used to provide adult day health care and outpatient therapy services for veterans.

The funds would be allocated from projected “excess Infrastructure Sales Surtax Funds” for this purpose.

While outpatient therapy services and adult day health care are covered by the VA as a benefit for veterans, neither the state nor the federal government will pay for construction to host them, Saunders said. “The only way we’re going to get those services” at this facility, he said, “is if we pony up and put some money into” it ourselves.

The Board authorized Saunders to work with the county’s state legislative delegation to obtain a match of this $10 million from the Legislature during its next session. The total $20 million “should be adequate to cover the costs” to add the additional square footage to the skilled nursing facility for these outpatient services, he said.

After discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

Zoning Decisions

There is always tension between the property rights of landowners and the desire to protect the County’s environment and avoid crowding and overdevelopment. Local government is charged with maintaining the proper balance.

They are often asked to change existing zoning laws that regulate density (number of units per acre), height, setback, or other characteristics of a development.

While there are several steps every rezoning request goes through with county staff, ultimately, the BCC is the ultimate decider regarding changes to zoning laws.

In the first half of this year, the BCC or the Planning Commission (the step prior being heard by the BCC) approved a number of significant changes, some of which are:

Most of these changes allowed increased density for residential development; some included affordable housing as an incentive for the zoning change. Read more about them here:

That’s it for my recap of County Government news for January – June 2023. Enjoy your July!

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