A round of applause greeted Mark Isackson as he was named the new County Manager for Collier County. Isackson, the current Director of Corporate Financial Planning and Management Services for Collier County, will assume his new duties starting May 3. Leo Ochs, the current County Manager, formally leaves on May 31 and will assist Isackson during the overlap.
The monthly Covid-19 Status Report shows that the positivity rate has been trending down over the last two weeks with the county reporting that 73% of those 65 and older having been vaccinated through the county site. Besides appointments available at local pharmacies and Publix, the primary county vaccination site is North Collier Regional Park and has vaccinations available five days a week and some weekends.
The state also published these recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated; you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose (Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Fully vaccinated people can:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or social distancing.
- Indoor visit with no mask or social distancing with unvaccinated people from a single-family household who have a low risk for severe COVID-19 disease UNLESS any of them or the people they live with have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Don’t need to quarantine or test following a known exposure if asymptomatic (within three months).
The county reports they are still learning more about how the vaccine helps people from spreading COVID, how effective the vaccine is with the variants, and how long protection lasts. Because of this, it is recommended to be vigilant with mask wearing and social distancing.
Jack Wert, Tourism Director, talks about the Paradise Pledge that was put into effect last July. It was offered to tourism partners to instill visitor confidence, as the traveling public expects that precautions are being followed to keep them safe. The decal, exhibited by participating partners, shows the business was following all current CDC and Florida protocols as it pertains to sanitation, monitoring staff with temperature checks, and strongly recommending face coverings for both staff and guests when social distancing is not available. Wert notes that many of the chain hotels already have corporate protocols in place that make masks mandatory. Wert notes that the number of visitors has been growing and that Southwest Florida has done better than just about any other area in the state when it comes to recovery in the hospitality industry.
There was a public petition initiated by Mr. James Rosenberger asking the county to protect Second Amendment rights. Rosenberger points to amendments currently being considered that would extend the wait period to purchase a gun, require gun registration, and enact requirements on gun storage as being restrictive and overbearing. The proposal is called the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) and asks the Board to adopt it as ordinance and not a resolution, as a resolution is non-binding. Commissioner Saunders comments that the State of Florida has pre-empted any authority by the local government that has to do with guns. The County Attorney will come back to let the Board know what they can or cannot due under the current law or possible future laws. There were some residents in attendance, off camera, who were unable to speak as discourse isn’t allowed regarding items not on the agenda. Commissioner Taylor informs those residents that will be able to speak when the issue is brought back at their next meeting in April.
There was a lengthy presentation regarding the ever-growing Ave Maria area. The Board has been asked to approve a resolution amending the Town of Ave Maria Stewardship Receiving Area to, among other things, redesignate acreage from the Services District to the Town Center and increase the civic uses square footage. Also proposed were deviations to provide for off-premise signage and maximum lot size for multi-family development. The redesignation from Services to Town Center will allow for the presence of businesses like pool enclosures and landscaping who currently doing work in Ave Maria but don’t have a ‘home’. The increase in square footage request would allow for the possibility of a hospital, something that has been discussed before. While not in any active planning stages, if a hospital does move forward, it would be located close to Oil Well Road just east of the Arthrex complex.
Another agenda item was a recommendation to approve a resolution to modify the Collier County Growth Management Plan to create the Immokalee Road Rural Village Overlay on property within the agricultural rural designation in the rural fringe mixed use district. This is a transmittal hearing, meaning that if approved, the proposed plan would be transmitted to the appropriate state agencies, who then respond back with comments. The second phase will be an Adoption Hearing which will most likely come in the Fall (to learn more about transmittal and adoption phases, see “Transmittal Procedures and Timeframes” on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Website).
This area of discussion consists of 2,787 acres on the east side of Immokalee Road, just about two miles north of Oil Well Road. Bob Mulhere, representing Hole Montes, gave an overview of the proposal. The proposal is for development of a village next to Golden Gate Estates. One of the changes being asked is for an increase in village size from the current limit of 1,500 acres to 1,998 acres.
The petitioner has been working with environmentalists as this area of development is close to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Environmentalists would like the farm field to be restored to a functioning habitat, including a wading bird habitat. Three environmentalists had comments on the development: Brad Cornell, on behalf of Audubon of Western Everglades and Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, supported some parts of the proposal and opposed some others but looks forward to continuing dialogue with the petitioner. Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association, mentions loss of wildlife, native species, overcrowding like Broward County and a “general decrease in the quality of life” to the area. Meredith Budd, from Florida Wildlife Federation, has been in communication with the petitioner and appreciates their willingness to work with them. She asks Commissioners to make sure the application that comes back for adoption be “compatible with the landscape”. She talks about a “severe wildlife mortality” issue immediately west of the proposed village She believes it is critical to provide wildlife crossings at this road and one that will be developed within the community. The wildlife crossing is already being considered in the restoration. One other public comment came from a Golden Gate Estate resident who opposes the density to the area as well as the environmental impacts.
Another area of discussion on this issue revolved around changes to the greenbelt buffer and littorals. Because the County wants a four-lane public road through the development project (the road will run from Immokalee Road on the southwest corner to Immokalee Road on the northeast corner) the petitioner is asking for a reduction of native vegetation retention which is already allowable in code.
Commissioner Taylor asks about the requested 50-percent reduction in the littorals around the existing lakes. Mulhere explains that there will be more littorals within the village’s own lakes and that this reduction has been approved on other projects.
Commissioner McDaniel asks how long it will take for vertical development if transmittal and adoption are approved. Mulhere says they are in the early stages of permitting. If adoption happens in the fall it would be about five years.
Staff recommends transmittal to the state and the Planning Commission approved unanimously.
Commissioners voted all in favor for transmittal. The petitioner will be back in the fall with the second part where changes can be made at the adoption phase.
More discussion on the Big Cypress Basin expansion. Commissioner McDaniel recommends the Board conduct a public workshop in April to include impacted county and municipal leaders, along with representatives of the South Florida Water Management District and Big Cypress Basin. The workshop format allows the public to vet their concerns. The workshop is tentatively scheduled for the week of April 26. Commissioner McDaniel suggests the North Collier Rec Center as it has ample space, good parking, and the necessary media requirements. This location would allow for a hybrid meeting so the public can speak in person or through Zoom.
As a follow up, Mr. Mullens, Collier County Government Affairs Manager, provided an update on the amendments the Board put through via resolution regarding the Basin expansion. The Board’s resolutions have not been incorporated in either of the House or the Senate bill. The Senate because it hasn’t moved – it is currently pending in the Appropriations Sub-Committee. The expansion came out of the House Ways and Means committee as approved, 16-1, with minimal discussion, no questions or debate. It has one more committee to go through. Once the House bill passes it is sent to the Senate who can then make changes and send it back to House. So, there is still opportunity for amendments and changes to take place.