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When a team of experts and appointed advisers suggested to Collier County commissioners that solving the workforce housing challenge might require allowing 30 or more units per acre in strategic places, commissioners balked.

The commission’s unanimous rejection of the notion of 30 or more units per acre came in a February meeting to review recommendations from the Urban Land Institute, an appointed county advisory committee and a task force of stakeholders focused on workforce housing.

By November that figure in the staff and advisers’ Community Housing Plan was reduced to 16 units per acre as a “bonus” incentive for developing such types of housing.

Now, how do we reconcile the commission’s reluctance to consider such compact development as a solution for workforce housing when compared with two projects being proposed for lands the county government is selling to developers in East Naples? They are:

» The triangular redevelopment area where Davis Boulevard and U.S. 41 East intersect just east of Naples. Nearly two years ago, commissioners agreed to sell their land for $6.4 million to a developer. It’s about 5.25 acres.

Development there could include 210 multifamily units; 152 hotel rooms; 74,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and a cinema; plus 60,000 square feet of office space in buildings rising some 160 feet, county records for an October neighborhood meeting show. That’s certainly more than 30 units per acre. The project is due for final review by advisory committees and commissioners in early 2018.

» More recently, commissioners received two developers’ proposals to remake a tract that the county government wants to sell along Bayshore Drive for residences, businesses and a performing arts theater. There are 17 acres, but developers told commissioners about 6 acres are developable and that acquiring an adjacent privately owned 2 acres could enable a project of 8 acres. On those 8 acres, one developer said, there could be 280 units plus commercial space.

Commissioners could move the theater into adjacent Sugden Park, where there is green space and wetlands. More than one commissioner referred to the need to create “a critical mass” along Bayshore for an enticing development. While that seems to go beyond 30 units per acre, commissioners were told the density calculation would be based on overall “gross” acreage. In other words, include the part of the 17 acres where you couldn’t build anyway.

Revitalization

Both projects are in what commissioners have identified as redevelopment areas. These projects will help revitalize our economy and be transformative for what have historically been some less-desirable areas near the coast. They’ll create hundreds of jobs during construction and beyond when businesses open. Tax collections will soar. We get all that.

But workforce housing is every bit as important to revitalizing our economy because it’s these employees who will work at those enticing new establishments and provide services to those living there.

The ULI report cited state data showing the occupations that can’t afford rental rates, much less achieve home ownership, based on median incomes in Collier. These include cashiers, preschool teachers, janitors, food service workers and, ironically, construction workers.

Should those redevelopment projects on two county-owned properties provide at least a partial answer to the workforce housing challenges our service workers in Collier face, we’ll be thrilled. We’re not holding our breath.

If they don’t, then we’d urge commissioners to address why 30 units per acre is suitable for redevelopment areas, or requires spilling into a park, yet was jettisoned as a possible solution for workforce housing in carefully selected, strategic places near job centers and existing roads.

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