'It's so immense': Protesters build wall to protest One Naples project as key vote approaches
With a make-shift wall, opponents of One Naples attempted to demonstrate one of their biggest fears about the development.
On Saturday, some of the most active and vocal residents against the proposed luxury high-rise development assembled and hoisted a wall near its site, one block from Vanderbilt Beach, in North Naples.
The objectors designed the wall — made of PVC and canvas — to mimic an L-shaped parking structure that would go near the roadside. In their eyes, it would stand too close to Vanderbilt Beach Road and Gulf Shore Drive, creating an urban canyon for passersby.
Raised by a cherry picker, the symbolic wall stood 35 feet tall, the height of the parking podium, including its railing. With it, demonstrators wanted to bring attention to the undesirable big-city-like effects they think One Naples will create in their backyard — and to gain more support for their campaign to stop it. A crucial vote approaches.
Two high-rise towers would stand on that podium, farther back from the road.
A public hearing is scheduled for Monday before Collier County commissioners, who will make the final decision on the long-planned project. They have received a flood of emails and phone calls against it.
Save Vanderbilt Beach, a grassroots organization opposed to the project, organized and paid for the wall and the public display against the development. It cost "a few hundred dollars" to orchestrate," said the group's founder Buzz Victor, a commercial developer and seasonal resident, who has owned a home in the Vanderbilt Beach neighborhood for 18 years.
"You're going to be biking or walking down the sidewalk and literally 15 feet to your right or left is going to be this wall, going up to the height of a three-story building," he said. "That's what we're trying to show here."
While tall, mature and lush landscaping will surround the development, Victor said it won't be enough to completely hide the wall — or make up for its visual and physical impact from the street.
"It's like standing next to a telephone pole, in terms of height," he said. "It's just immense."
The man-made wall — built and attached in three pieces — had illustrative stick figures on it, along with the words One Naples in a circle with a line drawn through it.
Demonstrators wore red masks emblazoned with "Deny One Naples," and red T-shirts that cried out "Support Reasonable Development." They'll do the same for the upcoming commission meeting.
While the group didn't obtain a permit for its demonstration, participants stayed off Stock's property to avoid any trouble.
"That would be trespassing," Victor said.
Participants stood near The Beach Store and across the street from it, chanting "Vote down One Naples," and encouraging drivers to honk their horns in support of their effort.
The group handed out a one-page information sheet about the project to anyone who would take it and shared their concerns with any passersby who would listen.
"The comments were that the demonstration was really powerful and the support has been fabulous, just fabulous," Victor said.
More than 100 opponents participated in the rally. That included Ken Melkus, who lives in nearby Bay Colony, who said he thought the 35-foot wall was a good way to show the true impact of the project on the neighborhood.
"Nobody has a true appreciation for mammoth this project is going to be," he said. "This is just one component of it."
"Everybody is just aghast at what they see," he added. "Once they see what the base component will look like."
Naples-based Stock Development is asking for a rezoning and growth plan amendment to build a primarily residential development, on nearly six acres. The developer has already purchased the property — at an estimated cost of more than $25 million.
So many opponents are expected to speak against the project that the county commission scheduled a special meeting for it — and the meeting is expected to take more than a day.
While commissioners discussed moving the hearing to a larger, more convenient venue for the anticipated crowd, the idea posed too many issues, so the meeting will be held in the board's chambers, where the board usually takes up zoning matters and land use changes.
The now-routine safety measures for COVID-19 will be in place, requiring masks and social distancing, complicating the already contentious situation.
The meeting will start at 9 a.m., but opponents plan to gather as early at 7:45 a.m., showing their solidarity as commissioners arrive at the government center.
Based on dozens of community meetings, Stock Development has twice reduced the height and density for One Naples.
The developer has also promised significant improvements to the neighborhood, including bike lanes, sidewalks, street lighting, public art and transportation upgrades, everything from adding a new traffic signal to making adjustments to ease congestion at the county's nearby parking garage for beachgoers.
The current C-3 zoning allows Stock to build up to 100,000 square feet of commercial uses over one-story of parking. The developer has argued that One Naples will generate 69% less traffic than a strictly commercial project, which some residents have argued they'd prefer over the current plan.
As now designed, One Naples would have a total of 172 residences in five buildings, including three five-story mid-rises over one story of parking, along with two high-rise towers of 12 stories over two stories of parking.
Additionally, the development would have up to 10,000 square feet of commercial uses, including a coffee shop and deli, as well as a private marina, with more parking.
In a recent guest column written for the Daily News, Brian Stock, an owner and CEO of Stock Development, said the current vision for One Naples is even better than the original plan thanks to the input he's received from his fellow Neapolitans.
The project, he said, will "transform the unsightly, highly visible area into a lushly landscaped, intimate residential community that’s worthy of its Naples location."
He argues the development will be compatible with the neighborhood, with such buildings as The Ritz-Carlton and the Trieste nearby, which stand taller.
"While we certainly wish we could earn universal support from all our neighbors, I am encouraged by the many who enthusiastically await our project — and I am comforted in the knowledge that we have listened and responded in a sincere effort to create the best One Naples plan possible," Stock said.
The developer has launched a full-court press to counter opponents' criticisms and gain support, which includes TV ads that promote it as the best plan to beautify and enhance the neighborhood.
Ahead of Saturday's rally, word spread that Stock had an offer in to purchase the land underneath the DaRuMa Japanese Steak & Seafood Restaurant, which would give him more acreage for One Naples. That sparked new concerns by opponents that the project could become even more intense.
On Friday, Stock confirmed he did indeed have the site under contract, but it's not because he wants to expand the size of his proposed development.
"The land will become additional open green space for the project," Stock said via email. "This additional open green space will enhance view corridors and create an opportunity for more lush landscaping to beautify the neighborhood."
The acquisition, he said, should address the "unfounded concerns" raised by Save Vanderbilt Beach and other opponents about the lack of open space in and visual impact of One Naples.
"As well, this acquisition removes the possibility of redevelopment of the parcel for residential or commercial buildings, thus enhancing the One Naples project for its neighbors and the entire community," Stock said.
The additional investment in the neighborhood, he said, shows once again that Stock Development has "listened to our neighbors and worked diligently to address their concerns — including those expressed by Save Vanderbilt Beach."
Property records show the site is a little over three quarters of an acre — at 0.78.
The Collier County Property Appraiser values the land at more than $2.5 million, without improvements. The property last sold in 1987 for $700,000.
The added green space would be "wonderful to have," Victor said, but it would do nothing to alleviate his concerns about the project's setbacks and density.
The fight is about getting Stock to develop something "more reasonable," he said.
Save Vanderbilt Beach has more than 1,000 members and has raised more than $135,000 in donations to fight One Naples. When he started his campaign, Victor said he never imagined he would need that much money to go up against a developer in an effort to quash the project.
The group has hired its own experts to build its case against the development.
"Neither I, nor our board members, are paid for our time," Victor said. "We are all volunteers in this effort."
A chunk of the money raised has gone toward advertising, including more than 100 ads on various cable TV stations, in addition to some radio spots and ads in the Naples Daily.
The group recently added an online survey to its website savevanderbiltbeach.com, meant to give county commissioners an idea of how residents feel about One Naples. Of the more than 2,500 responses from around the county, more than 90% have stated they want the development denied as proposed, Victor said.
"If this passes, it just says that Collier County continues to be run by developers, over the wishes of the community, and that is very sad in my mind," he said.
At this point, Victor said he's unclear on the direction county commissioners might take on the project.
One county commissioner, Penny Taylor, stopped by during the demonstration. She listened to opponents' concerns and shook her head back and forth as she looked up to the top of their make-shift wall, but she offered no opinion of her own.
The Collier County Planning Commission split its vote on the project, with its chairman absent, due to a potential conflict.
Three commissioners voted to recommend approval of the developer's two petitions, with a proposed height reduction on its high-rise residential towers, while an equal number said they still didn't feel comfortable with the size and scope of the project in the Vanderbilt Beach community.
Meanwhile, county planners recommended approval of the project, but with significant changes the developer didn't support.
If county commissioners ultimately approve what's proposed, Victor and other opponents fear it will only open the door for more intense developments like it to be built, not just in the neighborhood, but elsewhere in the county.
"It's going to take some time, but it's going to turn it into Miami," Victor said. "I have a new word, or phrase, for it: Miamification of Collier County."