Collier County has gotten a bad rap as being a place where it is difficult to do business.
Tuesday, the Collier County commissioners sought to change that.
Commissioners reviewed more than 50 proposed amendments to the land development code, which have been brought forward after more than two years of work by county staff. The land development code establishes regulations, standards and review procedures for the use of land and the development of land in the county.
Staff is working on the land development code for many reasons, said Senior Planner Caroline Cilek, including to improve efficiency and to propose corrections or clarify glitches, which were omitted or changed during the recodification of the land development code in 2004.
Also, in 2009, the county manager invited the Collier Building Industry Association to suggest possible amendments to the land development code that would spur economic activity.
The amendments commissioners considered Tuesday included changing submittal requirements for site development plans, which could result in reduced time and labor costs to county staff during the review process; and amending the submittal requirements for improvement plans from one year to two years, which would allow residents or developers wanting to improve a piece of property in a down economy more time to make the improvements.
"It took a while, but this is a strong first step," said Tim Hancock, a member of the building association's government affairs committee, who was involved in the amendments process. "We want people to know Collier County is open for business."
Before the commissioners saw the amendments Tuesday, county staff presented them to the Environmental Advisory Council and the Collier County Planning Commission, among others, for review.
The land code amendment review process will be done in stages, Hancock said, starting with the easy things first.
"This is the low-hanging fruit," he told commissioners. "These are not the tough ones. We would direct staff in the next 12 months to bring the next set of items."
After the meeting, Hancock said the next amendments to be reviewed will be more substantive and could have financial implications for the county.
For example, he said the county, without any development, would still have to pay for an engineer and other employees to provide a base level of service. Currently, that is paid through fees charged to developers and others.
"The base level employees should be funded through the general fund," he said.
Bob Mulhere, owner of the planning consulting firm Mulhere & Associates, spoke of his support to change an amendment that would allow removal of exotic vegetation to count toward mitigation for impacts to jurisdictional wetlands within the Rural Fringe Mixed-Use District. Previously, the land development code had treated the removal of exotic vegetation differently in the three major areas of the county, creating a burden on property owners within the rural fringe district by exceeding the mitigation required by other agencies with jurisdictions over wetlands.
"Take a development like Hacienda," he said. "If you were unable to use exotic vegetation as mitigation, you would lose a significant amount of lands that would satisfy mitigation. That could mean the development wouldn't go forward or it wouldn't go forward with as many units as planned."
Not all of the amendments proposed to be changed were reviewed by the commissioners on Tuesday. Some were continued to the Sept. 11 commission meeting to allow staff further time to review.
Others, like an amendment that would allow portable storage containers to be permanent structures in Golden Gate Estates, are still being vetted and will come before the planning commission later this year.
"This is a very contentious issue in Golden Gate Estates, and all sides need to be heard," Peter Gaddy, president of the Golden Gate Estates Civic Association said in an email to Commissioner Georgia Hiller. Gaddy said his members will vote to recommend or oppose the amendment at their September meeting.
The review of the land development amendments in this current cycle will conclude in September. After that, the county hopes to bring the administrative code back to the commissioners for approval by the end of the year.
The land development code amendments are available for review on the county's website, www.colliergov.net.