FROM THE BLOGS
GOLDEN GATE ESTATES — The debate is over.
A controversial 41-acre shopping center in Golden Gate Estates will move ahead and could be open for business in two years at the northwest corner of Golden Gate and Wilson boulevards.
On Wednesday, Collier County commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the shopping center and to change the community’s master plan, which was required for the project to get built.
“I’m really glad to see it go through for the sake of the people out here, for what I think it will do for the community and the county,” said John Greaves, one of the project’s many supporters, after the commission’s vote. “Let the free market rule.”
The center will be built about 300 feet from Greaves’ house. At the hearing, he pleaded for commission approval, saying, “Don’t deny us the chance to prosper.”
On Tuesday, more than 40 speakers on both sides came out for the public hearing. But after the hearing was postponed until Wednesday because of a loaded agenda, most of the speakers didn’t return. Many had to go back to work.
The project required a supermajority vote (four out of five commissioners) for approval.
Commissioner Donna Fiala voted against the rezoning and the master plan change, saying the shopping center wouldn’t be in keeping with the rural, country-like feel of the neighborhood. Opponents felt the same way.
“This shopping center is just too big,” argued Pat Humphries, a board member of the Homeowners Association of Golden Gate Estates, during the hearing. “Something smaller would be more compatible.”
Responding to concerns about the size of the project, commissioners capped it at 150,000 square feet, at least initially. It could still grow to 190,000 square feet, but only if commissioners approve an expansion in the future by a supermajority vote.
Some opponents argued the center, if it was going to get built, should be 100,000 square feet or even smaller, considering its location in the heart of a rural community.
Valerie Syren, a long-time Golden Gate Estates resident who argued against the project at the hearing, was disappointed by the commission’s vote. She lives less than a mile from where the shopping center will be built.
“I have to say, I expected it,” she said of the yes vote. “But at the same time, I was hoping maybe we would have more of an impact on the commissioners, but alas we did not.”
A grocery store will anchor the center and will be built first.
The developer, Crown Management Services of Presto, Pa., began acquiring land for the project in 2005, purchasing more than a dozen parcels for more than $10 million.
The developer plans to target restaurants, banks and other service businesses. There will be no liquor stores, bars or housing and there won’t be high-traffic anchors like a Walmart or Lowe’s.
Supporters hoped to get unanimous support from commissioners. Fiala’s no vote was a disappointment to Greaves.
Commissioners spent hours asking questions about the project, raising all kinds of concerns about how it might affect the surrounding area, including traffic and private wells.
Several commissioners, including Georgia Hiller, also expressed concerns about the viability of the project, with an even larger shopping grocery-anchored center planned less than four miles away, at the corner of Randall Boulevard and Immokalee Road. She and other commissioners asked whether the area would have a enough residents to support the two competing centers,
The developer’s team of experts showed 2010 Census data, which was recently released, to support their arguments that there is a big enough population for two centers with grocery stores so close together. The data shows nearly 30,000 people live two miles east of Collier Boulevard in Golden Gate Estates, said Mike Timmerman, a senior associate with Fishkind & Associates, Inc. in Naples.
“We know Golden Gate Estates is going to be one of the fastest growing areas,” he said.
Scott MacLaren, with Stiles Corp. based in Fort Lauderdale, another representative for the developer, said a grocer needs a population of 7,000 to 10,000 people to support a new store.
Commissioner Tom Henning said he was also concerned about the effect the new shopping center would have on existing grocery stores. He noted that he shopped at a grocery store a several miles away and that it wasn’t busy. “The whole thing is we have to plan for the future,” he said.
Jack Sullivan, president of Emergent Development Group, has proposed a 340,950-square-foot shopping plaza on a 41-acre tract on the south side of Randall Boulevard, just east of the Immokalee Road intersection, across from the Valencia Lakes gated community. His next step is to submit a rezoning application, so it is behind the project commissioners approved Wednesday.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Sullivan said he is actively in negotiations for a grocery store. Rich Yovanovich, a Naples attorney representing Crown Management, said the developer is also talking with several grocers who have interest in his shopping center, knowing there are plans for a competing one up the road.
Commissioner Jim Coletta, who represents Golden Gate Estates, moved to approve the shopping center and the master plan change. He said it’s what a majority of the people wanted and that they were looking for a unanimous vote of support from the board.
He said the project would be good for the local community and the local economy, creatings jobs and generating new taxes.
The project was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a straw, or nonbinding, ballot in November. Both the Collier County Planning Commission, an advisory board, and county staff recommended approval.
The next step is to sign a lease with a grocer. The project still has to go through site development and permitting.
“We could be open in two years if everything goes smoothly, if the market holds up,” Yovanovich said.
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.