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The Ave Herald

Serving the community of Ave Maria, Florida


County Commission Approves Ave Maria Land Use Changes

Collier County Commissioners unanimously approved land-use changes sought by Ave Maria developers after a hearing that lasted more than three hours Tuesday afternoon.

Developers won approval to consolidate some of the commercially-zoned land now scattered in three so-called "town centers" in Ave Maria into one 200-acre business/industrial park along Oil Well Rd. between Arthrex and the town entrance.

"From an economic development standpoint, to see businesses clustered is a good thing," said Commissioner Georgia Hiller, reflecting sentiments expressed by several other board members.

The decision was a setback for the newly-formed Ave Maria Community Alliance, whose president, Ave Maria University philosophy professor Michael Pakaluk, urged the board not to approve the changes. Dr. Pakaluk told commissioners that the proposals were contrary to the town's original vision, that some were not permissible under county laws, and he decried an "absence of process" for involvement of members of the community to discuss the proposals.

Resident Robert Klucik, an attorney who represents the alliance but also appeared on behalf of himself and several other residents, cited what he said were a number of violations of the town's master plan, particularly in the nature of businesses in a "town center," and the concept of having such commercial centers in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. He said that developers pushed through changes without regard to existing statutes.

"There are ways to make changes, but that isn't the way the developers are going about it," he said.

Developers' representatives denied that they were circumventing the law and said the changes were necessary to kick-start economic development in Ave Maria.

"If you believed there would never be a change when you bought a home in Ave Maria, that was an unreasonable expectation," said Richard Yavanovich, a lawyer representing Ave Maria Development. He said that contrary to how the business/industrial park has been described by opponents, the area would have much more than just "light industrial" space, would create high-wage jobs, and would be an attractive area for residents and visitors that would not harm the town's character.

"The develolper has invested $250 million and they are not going to do anything to harm that," he said.

Developer representatives did acknowledge, however, that there needed to be greater community involvement in the future and committed to hold Neighborhood Information Meetings to discuss any changes before they are submitted for approval. The first of those meetings may be dealing with a controversial proposal to reduce the number of sidewalks and trails in town which developers pulled from the petition before it was heard by the Collier County Planning Commission. Wayne Arnold, a planner who appeared for the developers, said it was highly likely that the proposal, which would permit sidewalks on only one side of some streets and change the number and size of some trails, would be resubmitted at some point.

Resident Carlos Figueroa, who lives in the Del Webb neighborhood closest to the commercial development, supported the changes, telling the commission that he thought the town's developers, including Barron Collier, AMU founder Tom Monaghan, Pulte Homes and CC Devco, as well as the first commercial enterprise in the commercial area, Arthrex, would be at the top of his list if he were trying to attract the best companies.

Commissioner Fred Coyle, who is among the longest-serving commissioners, recalled some other projects such as the Pine Ridge Rd. bridge over Airport Rd. and the new Naples Daily News building in North Naples that he said were vehemently opposed by residents but a few years later were regarded as assets to the community.

Commissioner Tim Nance, who represents the district containing Ave Maria, said it was important to "be flexible and adapt."

He said he saw "no downside to the community" in the proposed changes.

His opinion was echoed by Commissioner Hiller, who said that she thought the changes were reasonable.

"I don't see the harm. I don't' see the evidence of any harm."

She praised the residents who appeared for the quality of their presentations.

"But in the end," she said, "the evidence for the developers is overwhelming."


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