COLLIER COUNTY — Immokalee voters declared support Tuesday for a new town master plan that has been mired in controversy for months and now heads to a vote next month by Collier County commissioners.
Barely 400 voters weighed in on the plan, with 67 percent voting in favor of it, but the vote mirrors a broader sentiment in Immokalee, said Penny Phillippi, executive director of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency that spearheaded the plan's development.
"They've been waiting on this for 10 years and they want to see it happen," she said. "Now it's up to commissioners."
Commissioners, who rejected the plan in a 3-1 vote in December, have set another vote for September. The first time around, Commissioner Georgia Hiller voted no; Commissioner Tom Henning abstained, citing a conflict of interest stemming from property he owns in Immokalee. A supermajority of four votes is needed to approve the plan, which then would be sent to the state for review.
Commissioner Jim Coletta, a master plan supporter whose district includes Immokalee, was defeated by challenger Tim Nance in Tuesday's Republican primary. Coletta still will be in office, though, for September's vote on the master plan.
Nance predicted Tuesday that the master plan would be defeated again in September but would eventually be brought back for another vote after he takes office Nov. 20 should he defeat Democrat John Lundin in the Nov. 6 general election.
"I have been very clear from the beginning. There are things I like about it. There are things in there that I think are very creative and brilliant," he said. "But, I think there are things that need to be worked on and things that have to be addressed."
Foes of the plan, which sets goals for future growth in Immokalee, say the public has not had a large enough say in the plan and that it will lead to overdevelopment of the rural farming community.
Master plan opponent Pam Brown said she hopes county commissioners will reject the plan again in September despite the straw ballot outcome.
"I think (the straw vote) is really not enough people to really determine it, and I don't think people understood what they were voting for," she said.
Brown was among three people who went to court Monday to try to stop Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards from counting the master plan vote on the grounds that the ballot question was confusing.
Collier Circuit Judge Janeice Martin signed an order Monday denying the motion for a temporary injunction; a follow-up motion to reconsider the denial also was denied.
At the polls Tuesday in Immokalee, several voters said they were on the fence about the plan but ultimately cast ballots in its favor. Some support was not whole-hearted.
"The catch there was the way the Collier commissioners voted on the proposed changes," said voter Olga Hernandez as she left her polling place. "I'm not sure what the changes were."
Former Collier commissioner Anne Goodnight said plan writers "put together a good master plan."
"Is it perfect? No it's not," she said. "Will it ever be perfect? No it's not."
Staff writers Kate Albers and Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.