COLLIER COUNTY — Immokalee voters will have a say on whether they would like to see the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment approved
But whether the commissioners will listen to them is up in the air.
Collier County commissioners voted 4 - 1 Tuesday to allow a straw ballot referendum to be placed on the Aug. 14 primary ballot to gauge support for the master plan amendments and the future land use map. Commissioner Tom Henning was the lone dissenter.
Henning questioned several things about the proposal, including what the commissioners would do if voters turned down the master plan amendment. He also said commissioners committed to a public meeting in Immokalee on June 18 to consider public amendments and to vote on the plan.
He expressed approval for that scenario.
The straw ballot referendum will be non-binding, which means that even if a majority of Immokalee voters support it, commissioners do not have to adopt the master plan. Commissioner Jim Coletta’s request to put the matter on the ballot came about three weeks after commissioners agreed to hold the special public meeting in Immokalee.
Tuesday, commissioners decided to cancel the special meeting. Instead, they will vote on the proposed master plan amendment on Sept. 11, after the primary.
The decision came after a heated discussion from supporters and detractors of the amendment and it’s proposal.
Immokalee resident Pam Brown told commissioners that, although the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Association has had several public meetings about the planned amendment, none of the concerns from residents have been addressed.
Brown also had harsh words for Coletta.
“Commissioner Coletta does not care for the citizens of Immokalee, He has been bought and paid for by special interests,” she said.
Brown produced an email from Coletta discussing finance committee members for his campaign. Those finance committee members include people with land interests in Immokalee who would benefit from master plan approval, she said.
Coletta said those members of his finance committee do not discuss the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment. Further, he said the straw ballot referendum would allow all residents of Immokalee to vote on the issue, not just those with special interests.
By allowing citizens of Immokalee to vote, the straw ballot referendum will take some of the decision away from property owners who do not live in the community, including Jerry Blocker, an active opponent of the plan. But it would also keep some developers like Barron Collier Companies or Collier Enterprises from having a say.
Immokalee resident Richard Rice agreed with the decision to add the item to the primary ballot.
“Give us the opportunity to govern ourselves,” he said.
But Blocker, who owns many properties in Immokalee, said he was never approached by Coletta and asked about how he feels about the plan.
“These meetings out in Immokalee have not gone well,” he said. “The plan hasn’t changed and the input given has not been heard.”
The Florida Department of Community Affairs has given the county an extension until Sept. 27 to approve the master plan.
The decision came after a heated discussion from supporters and detractors of the amendment and its proposal.
Commissioner Georgia Hiller said voters will be voting on an incomplete document, saying staff has not adequately answered questions that came up at various public meetings on the issue.
"How can they vote on this when staff has deprived them of the truth?" she asked. "That's fundamentally unfair."
Commissioner Jim Coletta, who represents Immokalee and brought the idea of the straw ballot forward, said it would be a way for commissioner to gauge "the will of the people."
Immokalee resident Richard Rice agreed.
"Give us the opportunity to govern ourselves," he said.
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