On the Mark: A closer look at Ave Maria’s rezone request

MARK STRAIN

Ave Maria was originally approved as a large “walkable” town in the rural area of the county more than five years ago. That original approval provided the developer with the ability to apply more than 100 different uses within the area of their master plan that included residential, retail, commercial, industrial, institutional, and of course a university.

Once a town master plan has been approved, each parcel within requires only the typical site approval and building permits from county staff to be utilized as long as the use on that parcel is in general conformance with the master plan and submittal documents.

Last week’s request before the Collier County Planning Commission for Ave Maria to relocate a small piece of their commercial zoning from its existing location at their Camp Keais Road entry to an entry way along Oil Well Road was not an unusual move for a large development. Within the zoning process this is called a “map change.” Many projects in Collier County have similar master planning elements.

When Ave Maria asked for this relocation last week they did not ask for any additional uses to be added to their already huge list of permitted uses. They did not request that additional square footage be added to the hundreds of thousands of approved square footage they already have permission to build and they did not ask for any additional acreage to be added to their master plan.

But of course we all know what their hopes were in making this move. The initial thrust behind this request was that the 50 acres would end up being the beginning site needed for their Jackson Labs project in a location they prefer. The initial Jackson Labs size is already an allowed use within Ave Maria and it would also be at the proposed Oil Well Road location if such a move is approved by the Collier County Commission.

Hope is a term based on future decisions. Zoning requests may be based on hope, but zoning decisions must be based on the provisions already within our codes and regulatory language. How could government possibly defend a position of equality if zoning decisions are based merely on the preference or ideology of the approving board? If that were the case, would a generally single purpose religious based enclave have ever been allowed in the first place?

Zoning changes are required to stand on their own merits and meet the code requirements within the limitations built into the original application. If Ave Maria’s relocation request is allowed for one use, like Jackson Labs, it would also be allowed for any of the other uses within the previously approved list of uses that already exist for the town.

The Collier County Planning Commission is an advisory board to the County Commission and last Thursday a majority of the Planning Commission, myself included, voted to approve this request. Like other specialty boards in Collier County, the Planning Commission is limited in its review to matters of zoning and land use as regulated within our Growth Management Plan and Land Development Code. A planning commission decision cannot be supported if it is guided by anything that does not fall within those regulatory documents.

A business can be regulated based on what it does, meaning whether or not it is among the many previously approved and listed uses allowed, but a planning commission decision cannot be based on how a company is financed, its branding (such as Target vs. Wal-Mart) or whether or not its operational aspects meet ideological requirements of the reviewer or the public (such as stem-cell research).

For every decision-making board within our government it is critical that the credibility of that board be maintained, whether voluntary or elected. Wandering outside the existing regulations will only depreciate a board’s credibility and result in a less persuasive position when rendering future decisions.

The real issue behind Ave Maria and Jackson Labs is the public financing being proposed and that is an issue that needs to, and successfully can, stand on its own.

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