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Resident, Barron Collier Rep Spar at Meeting on Development Plans

Ave Maria resident Michael Pakaluk and Barron Collier Vice President David Genson had what is often called a "frank exchange of views" at an hour-long open meeting Thursday night discussing proposed land-use changes in the town of Ave Maria. The changes, the main one of which would would create a 200-acre commercial/industrial park near the town center on Oil Well Rd., have been approved by the Collier County Planning Commission and will be considered by county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, Oct. 14.

Dr. Pakaluk, a philosophy professor who founded an organization called the Ave Maria Community Alliance to seek greater influence in town planning decisions, told about 35 people attending the meeting that he thought the proposed changes were not in keeping with the vision of the town's rural character and that the developers' proposals were illegal in not living up to provisions of the town's fundamental planning document, specifying what's known as a Stewardship Receiving Area (SRA), and a broader Rural Land Stewardship Area (RLSA).

"Every single principle of development in state and RLSA law is being violated," Dr. Pakaluk said, asking, "Will the rule of law be followed?"

Dr. Pakaluk said that the developers' violations include not following the definition of a "town center," and not adhering to specification for the amount of grass between streets and sidewalks or the spacing of trees at distances greather than a prescribed 40 feet apart, that he said on his organization's website were "code violations."

Mr. Genson vigorously denied that developers are breaking the law in any way, that reports of code violations were "inaccurate," and he said changes being sought to the SRA reflect an attempt to "do what's best for the community."

The SRA came into being in 2005, when, Mr. Genson said, the picture of future development in eastern Collier County looked different.

"Development patterns and plans change monthly, yearly, depending on what the market wants," he said. "I don't know any business that has a business plan and that's it forever," adding that developers are "looking at this from a long-term vision."

Although the original plan for the town had commercial development more dispersed in several "town centers" in various locations, Mr. Genson said, Ave Maria Development, a partnership of Barron Collier and Ave Maria University founder Tom Monaghan, believes the Oil Well Rd. location, on a six-lane road, suits many other businesses.

The 200 acre commercial area will not be mainly industrial, Mr. Genson said, but is envisioned to have offices, retail and medical facilities, among other uses.

"Our intent is that these uses will attract high wage jobs," he said, "and that people will literally live, work and play here."

Town resident Roy Lenardson told The Ave Herald that he thought that sort of development would benefit Ave Maria.

"The more folks that can live and work in the community, the better Ave Maria will be," he said. "Commuting an hour to work is not good for families."

Mr. Genson acknowledged that developers needed to have better dialogue with residents in the future about proposed changes. He said he was "committed to having Neighborhood Information Meetings," which – because they are not required in an SRA – were not held to discuss the changes now under consideration. And he indicated that the topic of one of those meetings in the not-too-distant future might be a controversial proposal to change the number of sidewalks and trails in parts of Ave Maria – a proposal that was withdrawn from the current slate of changes.
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For more information:

Dr. Pakaluk has posted most of his comments to his organization's website here.

Town resident Joey Grasso captured the entire Thursday evening meeting on video and posted it to You Tube here.

An Ave Herald story on the planning commission's meeting approving the changes is here.

 

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