Brent Batten: Much ado about zoning

All the hoopla over the 103 acres at the end of the Immokalee Airport runway and whether or not the Immokalee Area Master Plan increases their value ignores one thing.

The 103 acres are at the end of the Immokalee Airport runway.

One of the faults Commissioner Georgia Hiller finds with the master plan is that it includes the 103-acre tract of land zoned for agricultural use. Including it is the master plan amounts to an "upzoning," or a change in allowable use that makes it more valuable to its owner, Hiller maintains. That is bad policy, since the county wants to buy the land for future airport expansion, she said.

At the Sept. 9 meeting of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hiller told Chris Curry, executive director of the airport, "The appraised value is agricultural. The only reason it's becoming more expensive is through the Immokalee Area Master Plan. It's being rezoned ahead of a known future expansion, which makes no sense."

Bob Mulhere, a former county planner who helped write the Immokalee master plan, says the language was crafted so that no additional uses would be granted on the 103 acres beyond what would be allowed there if the land wasn't in the plan.

But even if that's not the case, property appraisers say the zoning is but one factor in determining the value of a piece of land.

Another factor traces back to the first rule of real estate. "Location, location, location," said veteran appraiser Ray Carroll.

If the county decides to buy the 103 acres from the owner, the Collier Enterprises, and the company asks too much, the matter wold likely end up in eminent domain, meaning the county could force the sale at a price arrived at by averaging multiple appraisals. An agricultural designation on the land wouldn't necessarily guarantee a low appraisal, given it's the only land the county can use for runway expansion.

"Surely something close to the airport would be more valuable than something out in the boondocks," said Collier County Property Appraiser Abe Skinner.

"The availability of public utilities absolutely makes a difference," added Carroll, describing the process of comparing one agricultural tract to another. An appraiser would be compelled to take the likely use of the land into consideration when making an estimate, Carroll said.

Likewise, a commercial or industrial designation on the land wouldn't necessarily increase its value, given the constraints its faces by being so close to the runway.

"It is very limited," Curry said of the tract. "You're not going to be able to put a building there. It (the runway) is going to affect the way you navigate the property." He noted that the 103 acres were included in the master plan at the request of prior airport managers, not Collier Enterprises or the county staff.

Curry said he doubts whether inclusion in the master plan would significantly change the purchase price of the land but for those like Hiller who believe it would, he has a solution. "If this is an impediment to passing the Immokalee Area Master Plan, then just remove it," he said.

Before the Federal Aviation Administration would grant any matching funds to buy the land, Curry and his staff would have to justify an extension beyond the runway's current 5,000-foot length. "As we are speaking today, we do not have the justification to extend beyond 5,000 feet," Curry said.

The planned National Guard expansion scheduled for coming years will not require a longer runway, he said, adding that a cargo or airplane maintenance business might need one, but no such opportunities are on the table at the moment. "We'll deal with it at another time," Curry said.

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_ batten

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