Collier County & Local News for May 2021

May Collier County and Local Government News
News mentioned in this post was reported by the Naples Daily News unless otherwise noted.

Board of County Commissioners

Collier County residents are represented by one of five elected county commissioners.
Find Your County Commissioner

The BCC considered several issues of significance at its meetings on May 11 and 25. See agendas here, minutes here, and video replays here.

Development / Redevelopment

Eastern Collier County

This month, Collier Enterprises and three environmental groups negotiated protections for land and wildlife in the environmentally sensitive Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA). The negotiations were in connection with Collier Enterprises’ proposed development of the villages of Longwater and Bellmar.

Audubon of the Western Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife have been working with Collier Enterprises to reach a compromise on how the RLSA is developed.

On the other hand, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida opposes Collier Enterprises’ plan.

On May 25, after a marathon hearing lasting into the evening, the BCC put off its decision on the two villages, in part due to the absence of Commissioner Rick LoCastro due to a family emergency. “A couple of weeks to think about the impacts of this is not going to hurt anybody,” said Commissioner Burt Saunders. “But more significantly, I think we need a full board to make that decision.”

Saunders and Commissioner Andy Solis have each characterized votes on these villages as among the most important the commissioners will ever make, as they will shape the future of growth out east.

The BCC intends to continue its discussions and vote at its next meeting on June 8.

Separately, Collier Enterprises won unanimous approval from the Collier Planning Commission of a proposed town to serve the three planned villages. The town would provide nearly 900 additional affordable housing units and another 500 single-family homes at market rate. It would also add commercial development that residents of the three villages could easily access on an area roughly the size of the Coconut Point shopping mall.

Meanwhile, as the two villages and town proceeded toward BCC approval, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida lost its lawsuit against the BCC for its approval of Rivergrass but vows to fight on. Rivergrass is the first of the three 1,000-acre villages, along with Longwater and Bellmar, that Collier Enterprises plans to develop.

For an in-depth look at the challenges of growth and development in Collier County, see “Who Pays for Growth in Collier County,” a five-part series detailing the history and where we are today by Strong Towns Media, and “Avenues to Future Development: Immokalee Road Driving Growth East in Collier” by Tim Aten.

Golden Gate Golf Course Property

Commissioners, by a 3-1 vote, approved a lease agreement with ClubCorp/BigShots Golf to develop a 12-hole golf course and family entertainment and dining facility on the Golden Gate golf course property the County acquired in 2019. The County will own and control the course.

Commissioner Bill McDaniel was the sole opposing vote; Commissioner LoCastro was absent.

County residents will receive a 40 percent reduction on posted greens fees and be entitled to make tee times five days in advance.

About 25 acres of the 165-acre property are slated for 100 affordable units for seniors and 250 essential service personnel workforce housing units. Five percent of the units are dedicated to serving veterans.

Infrastructure and Services

In what Commissioner Solis called a “big day for Collier County,” the BCC approved agreements to build a $25 million mental health and addiction treatment center to address growing demand in the region. The center will be built on a five-acre parcel east of the David Lawrence campus off Golden Gate Parkway near Interstate 75. It will be funded with local sales tax proceeds.

Also this month, commissioners unanimously approved the replacement of 10 bridges east of Immokalee and Ave Maria for nearly $27 million. The County replaces bridges when they fail to meet certain standards. The source of funds for these replacements is local sales tax proceeds.

Commissioners this month also approved a resolution prohibiting the operation of certain large trucks and commercial vehicles from through-movement on Logan Blvd. Extension between Immokalee Road and the Lee County line. (Commissioner Saunders District 3 Newsletter, 5/27/21)

The Environment

Marco Island resident Charlette Roman was appointed to a second term on the South Florida Water Management District. A dedicated public servant, Roman served on the Marco Island City Council from 2016-2020 and has volunteered with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Friends of Tigertail Beach, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Collier Citizens Council.

In addition:

In Other News

Commissioners approved unanimously a new leadership structure requested by County Manager Mark Isackson, who assumed control of the agency earlier this month. There will now be two deputy county managers instead of one, and two Growth Management Department deputies to replace former Administrator Thaddeus Cohen.

Naples City Council

City of Naples residents are represented by an elected mayor and six elected city councilors.
Meet the Naples City Council

The Naples City Council held regular meetings on May 5, 13, 19 and 25, workshops on May 3 and 17, and a special meeting on May 3 to consider the future of HB’s on the Gulf restaurant. See agendas, minutes, and video replays here.

Mayor Faces Ethics Charges

Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann was accused of abuse of power and other acts in an ethics complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics dated May 17. Heitmann has denied the complaint’s claims.

In the complaint, Brian Dye, director of technology services for the city, said Heitmann and a friend accused former Naples Mayor Bill Barnett, city staff and two law firms of hacking their personal phones and computers. Dye also said Heitmann accused Barnett and Sheriff Kevin Rambosk of operating a child prostitution ring out of the Naples Airport (NBC-2 News).

In response, Barnett filed a complaint with the Naples ethics commission and asked City Council to have the city ethics commission investigate. The next meeting of the ethics commission is on June 7.

Heitmann said the complaint was meant to sabotage her reputation (WINK News), and that she welcomes an independent investigation at the city level after the Florida Commission on Ethics finishes its own.

These developments may shed light on City Manager Charles Chapman’s resignation earlier in the month, after surviving by a 4-3 vote a no-confidence vote by City Council. Heitmann, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison and Councilman Mike McCabe cast the opposing votes. After unanimously accepting his resignation, Council awarded Chapman a $143 thousand separation agreement.

Naples Beach Hotel Redevelopment

This month, City residents continued to challenge The Athens Group’s plans to redevelop the Naples Beach Hotel property. (For background, see my April Local News post.)

After agreeing in April to relocate the Hotel’s tennis center to meet neighborhood concerns, the developer this month agreed to keep the center open for another year in a compromise with members who lobbied to save it.

Separately, Naples resident Robert Patten Burns argued that the developer’s claim that its proposed changes to the golf course are based on recommendations from outside experts must be “rigorously challenged.” Burns is an Iowa Architect/Urban Planner and Course Rater for Golfweek magazine.

In a special meeting on May 25, City Council voted unanimously to uphold the Design Review Board’s decision that authorized plans to expand the HB’s on the Gulf restaurant located at the Hotel.

Meanwhile, as The Athens Group focuses on finalizing its purchase of the landmark property, City Council’s effort to strengthen the easement designed to preserve the golf course in perpetuity lost some steam.

In Other News

Marco Island City Council

City of Marco Island residents are represented by seven elected city councilors.
Meet the Marco Island City Council

The Marco Island City Council held regular meetings on May 3 and 17, and a workshop on budget policies and assumptions on May 17. See agendas, minutes, and video replays here.

In a series of unanimous decisions (Marco Eagle), councilors agreed to declare as surplus four pieces of property, send a letter to Congressman Byron Donalds regarding the Corps of Engineers, approve a conceptual plan for improvements to city governmental facilities, move forward with a plan for matting on the beach to enhance accessibility, and commit to spending up to $65,000 in city funds for Fourth of July fireworks.

In addition, councilors voted unanimously to instruct city staff to bring back in a future meeting a proposal to amend the city’s noise ordinance. Noise complaints increased 60% since new rules adopted in October took effect. Marco Eagle, 5/6/21

In Other News

District School Board of Collier County

Collier County residents are represented by five elected School Board members.
Meet the School Board

The School Board held a regularly scheduled meeting on May 11, and a Special Meeting, and a Work Session on May 18. See agendas here and video archive here.

At the regular meeting, the Board heard an update by staff and Collier County medical experts about the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of planning for the 2021-2022 school year. The Collier County Medical Society COVID-19 Task Force recommends following CDC guidelines for ongoing use of physical distancing, hand-washing, and mask use for students and teachers.

The Task Force also recommends deferring decision-making on masking for the new school year until closer to the date.

According to the presentation, as of January 20, 2021, 90% of CCPS students were attending school on campus. The District had the highest in-person attendance rate in the state, comparing favorably to state (80%) and national (67%) averages.

At the Workshop, the Board heard a presentation about the District’s Capital Improvement Plan and a presentation about the current year budget outlook and state funding for the upcoming school year. Due to its sound financial management, the District remains on track to be debt-free by 2026 while fully funding construction of a new high school.

At the Special Meeting, the Board appointed Steven V. Blount, Esq. to serve as Hearing Officer in connection with an anticipated hearing concerning objections to the Board’s adoption of K-5 English Language Arts (ELA) instructional materials. The appointment of Blount followed the recommendation of School Board attorney Jonathan Fishbane.

Florida Legislature

Parts of Collier County are represented in the Florida House of Representatives by Reps. Bob Rommel (District 106), Lauren Melo (District 80), and David Borrero (District 105).
All of Collier County is represented in the Florida Senate by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (District 28).
Find Your State Representative

Distinguished Advocates for the Florida Chamber

Rep. Bob Rommel and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo were among nearly two dozen lawmakers awarded the Florida Chamber of Commerce “2021 Distinguished Advocate” award for their work advancing the Chamber’s legislative priorities. (Florida Politics)

Rommel was recognized for “advancing reforms addressing the cost drivers that are destabilizing Florida’s property insurance market and contribute to skyrocketing premiums.”

Passidomo was recognized for her continued leadership in protecting Florida’s business climate competitiveness by authoring reform language to root out fraud and abuse in Florida’s auto insurance market. She was also acknowledged for “working with the business community to mitigate a sweeping, new private cause of action.”

In Other News

U.S. House of Representatives

Parts of Collier County are represented in the Florida House of Representatives by Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25) and Byron Donalds (District 19).
Find Your Congressman

District 25: Mario Diaz-Balart

District 19: Byron Donalds

Key Votes in the U.S. House

HR 1573 — Access to Counsel Act of 2021 — Provides various protections for certain individuals when seeking admission into the United States.
Diaz-Balart — No; Donalds — No
Passed — 217/207 on 5/13/21

HR 2547 — Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act — Provides additional financial protections for consumers and places restrictions on debt collection activities.
Diaz-Balart — No; Donalds — No
Passed — 215/207 on 5/13/21

HR 1065 — Pregnant Workers Fairness Act — Prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Diaz-Balart — Yea; Donalds — No
Passed — 315/101 on 5/14/21

S 937 — COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act — Requires a designated officer or employee of the Department of Justice to facilitate the expedited review of hate crimes and reports of hate crimes.
Diaz-Balart — Yea; Donalds — No
Passed — 364/62 on 5/18/21

HR 3233 — National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex Act — Establishes in the legislative branch the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex.
Diaz-Balart — No; Donalds — No
Passed — 252/175 on 5/19/21

HR 1629 — Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act — Limits which orphan drugs may be granted a market exclusivity period by the Food and Drug Administration.
Diaz-Balart — Yea; Donalds — Yea
Passed — 402/23 on 5/19/21

That’s it for this month’s news for Collier County voters.

Local news reported in this post is by:
Jake Allen, Laura Layden, Omar Rodriguez Ortiz, Lance Shearer and Karl Schneider (Naples Daily News/The News-Press/Marco Eagle); Steve Stefanides (Coastal Breeze News); Tim Aten (Gulfshore Business); and David Silverberg (The Paradise Progressive)

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