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New Ave Maria Group Seeks Greater Voice for Residents in Future Development

Michael Pakaluk is not your typical community activist. As chair of Ave Maria University's philosophy department, his focus since coming to Ave Maria in 2010 has been on typical academic pursuits like teaching and writing.

But now he also is head of a new organization called the Ave Maria Community Alliance, formed in response to proposed changes by developers to the Ave Maria master plan that many residents fear may have short-term and long-term negative effects on the town.

"The proposed changes are positioned by the developers as slight tweaks, but we think they have the potential to change the very concept, nature and character of the town," Dr. Pakaluk said in an interview.

His group is seeking greater discussion about the potential impacts of the changes and at a minimum wants the Collier County Board of County Commissioners to delay consideration of the changes that now are on the agenda for its Oct. 14 meeting.

"We need to understand the long-term implications and not act quickly without due consideration," Dr. Pakaluk said, adding that the timing of hearings on the changes by the Collier County Planning Commission and the county commissioners has meant that many seasonal residents – who make up a large percentage of homeowners in Ave Maria – have not been able to participate in discussions.

"The developers may not share the residents' view of the town," Dr. Pakaluk said.

"They want to switch to an industrial park with closely-packed housing. It is kind of unfair to move in this direction without full and fair discussion. The fair thing is not to decide until winter residents arrive in November and can be part of the discussion. There should be no decision by the Collier County Board of County Commissioners Oct. 14."

Ave Maria Development, a partnership of the Barron Collier Cos. and AMU founder Tom Monaghan that created the town of Ave Maria, have proposed a number of modifications to the town's fundamental planning document that defines what is known as a Stewardship Receiving Area (SRA). Residents only became aware of the proposed changes in mid August when they received a letter from the county's Growth Management Division that provided information on when the planning commission would hear the developers' application for the changes but provided scant understandable information on what the changes were.

The original application sought to consolidate most acreage in town designated for commercial development to create a 155-acre commercial and industrial area that would include an additional 600,000 square feet of light industrial/warehousing space. Developers also said they intended to seek permission to reduce the number of pedestrian trails in town, build sidewalks on only one side of the street in residential neighborhoods and add a new type of single-family housing called zero lot line detached homes, replacing what was planned to be townhouses in the Middlebrooke neighborhoods.

In response to residents' reactions, AMD withdrew one of the most controversial proposals -- to modify plans for walkways and sidewalks. Many residents, mainly from Del Webb, addressed the two planning commission hearings Sept. 4 and 18, mainlyspeaking in opposition to proposals for the commercial park that abutts their neighborhood. The planning commission approved the other changes after developers agreed to construct a large berm, eight-feet high topped by shrubs, to separate the commerce park from the Del Webb community.

A berm is not necessarily the answer, however, said Dr. Pakaluk, who notes that among other matters, having all the commercial development might lead to an issue of light pollution. "Has anyone looked at what that means?" he asked.

These latest proposed changes would not be the first in Ave Maria. The first relocation of commercial acreage occurred in 2011 when 50 acres were moved from an area called Town Center 2, located at Pope John Paul II Blvd and Camp Keais Rd., to an area on Oil Well Rd. where medical-device maker Arthrex has built a 190,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. The change was first proposed in 2010 to accommodate a proposal at the time for a medical research facility planned by the Maine-based Jackson Laboratory, which later decided not to pursue a new location in southwest Florida.

The character of the town also underwent a potential change when developer Pulte Homes decided in 2010 to merge one of the original neighborhoods planned for the town, BelleraWalk, into Del Webb and restrict Del Webb to residents age 55 or older. The change means that as many as half the homes in Ave Maria might be for age 55 and over, a restriction that did not apply to any homes when Ave Maria opened in 2007.

A call Wednesday seeking comment from Barron Collier vice president David Genson, who is leading the developer's efforts, was not returned.

The leadership of the Ave Maria Community Alliance also includes another Pakaluk family member, Dr. Pakaluk's mother, Valerie, for whom the challenges of growth planning bring back memories of her childhood in Hicksville, Long Island, now a suburb of New York City.

"It used to be a nice, quiet rural community, then residents got a number of letters they didn't understand about future development, and things began to change," she said.

"Little by little changes continued until no one wanted to live there anymore. It can happen. I've seen it happen."

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More information on the Ave Maria Community Alliance is at the group's website avemariacommunityalliance.org.

Ave Herald Editor Patricia Sette looks at one aspect of this, the lack of Neighborhood Information Meetings, in her column in the Naples Daily News Collier citizen here.

Previous Ave Herald stories on the proposed changes are here, here and here.

 

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