Planning Commission postpones vote on controversial Isles of Capri high-rise project

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

The Collier County Planning Commission has pushed off a decision on a controversial high-rise development proposed on Isles of Capri.

After a marathon hearing on Thursday, the advisory board agreed it needed more time for testimony, discussion and debate. 

The hearing — at times contentious and argumentative — started at 10 a.m. and ended near 5 p.m. when commissioners paused it. The board will start where it left off at its next meeting Sept. 15.

At the next meeting, commissioners expect to vote on whether to recommend approval or denial to county commissioners, who will make the final decision on the luxury, waterfront development.

Rendering of proposed tower project on Isles of Capri.

The proposed development would include three 168-foot residential towers — with up to 108 million-dollar-plus condos.

Isles of Capri residents — or "Capriers" — have vehemently opposed the plans, primarily due to height. They argue the towers would stand out like a sore thumb — and set a bad precedent other developers are sure to follow, ruining their small island charm.

Most of the surrounding property consists of one- and two-story buildings on what's known as the "business island." The tallest building on this island stands at about 100 feet.

The new mixed-use development would require an amendment to the county's growth management plan and a rezoning of a 5.32-acre site.

The rezoning would change the current C-3 commercial zoning to a mixed-use planned unit development district to allow for the trio of residential buildings, along with commercial uses, including a new private restaurant.

More:An earful for developer of proposed Isles of Capri high-rises

Isles of Capri residents would rather see a Tin City-ish shopping center

Attorneys for the opponents told the planning commission residents would rather see a funky, destination shopping center like Tin City in Naples built on the waterfront property than high-rises akin to bigger cities, such as Miami.

Neighbors aren't the only ones who don't support the project.

County staff has recommended denial of the developer's petition, based on findings that the project is out of character for the neighborhood and inconsistent with the Future Land Use Element of the Growth Management Plan. The element defines where certain uses are to be located.

Mike Bosi, the county's director of planning and zoning, said the developer would have to provide affordable housing as a "public benefit" and lower the towers if he wanted the staff's blessing. That's based on how he reads the language in the Growth Management Plan.

Comparison of heights on "business island" on Isles of Capri.

The developer should not be allowed to build more than 20 units per acre as requested, because it's "out of scale with the rest of the built environment," Bosi said.

If the requested density is approved, he said, it's "highly likely" others would want to do the same with their presently commercially-zoned properties on the small island.

At most, Bosi said, the county's growth policies allow for four units an acre if the property is converted for residential development.

Naples land use attorney Rich Yovanovich, who represents the developer, disagreed with Bosi's reading of the Growth Management Plan. He argued that an exception exists to allow greater density and intensity on commercial property that's converted for residential uses at that location.

In fact, Yovanovich said the county's own policies encourage conversion away from commercial, allowing for at least 16 units per acre of residential development at the site. He described Bosi's interpretation as odd.

In his formal presentation to the planning commission, Yovanovich said he wanted to dispel "myths" about the original intent and vision for Isles of Capri, a group of mangrove islands a few miles north of Marco Island.

"It is not intended to be a fishing village, with low density and low height," he said.

Also, he said, like most of Collier County, the island has evolved, with smaller homes getting replaced by larger, nicer ones that don't fit with the definition of a "quaint fishing village."

Yovanovich argued the development would be complementary and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

He pointed to other communities where high-rises and single-family homes peacefully co-exist.

"This is going to be a first-class project," Yovanovich said.

As such, he said, it's expected to help surrounding property values, not hurt them as opponents have claimed.

Attorney: Destination shopping center on Isles of Capri would be 'bad idea'

Putting a commercial development like Tin City on the property, Yovanovich said would be a bad idea, as it would draw more traffic and generate more noise, causing more disruption to the neighborhood — and island life.

Business owners on the island don't want more competition, he said, as it's already hard enough for them to survive on such a small, seasonal population. 

"I don't blame them. You want a little bit more of a captive audience," Yovanovich said.

The attorney expressed his frustration with the residential neighbors' unwillingness to sit down with the development team to discuss "better alternatives." 

Several planning commissioners, including Robert Klucik, encouraged the opposing sides to talk before the board's next meeting on the petition.

Given the county staff's recommendation of denial, he said it seems like the developer could consider modifications to the project and neighbors might be able to have some input into those changes if they're willing to engage in dialogue.

"I don't think what has been proposed is likely to pass," Klucik said. "I don't know yet. I haven't heard a rebuttal."

Yovanovich's rebuttal will be part of the next hearing.

At this week's hearing, he did not commit to making any changes.

However, he said, If the community expects a single restaurant, a bank or small mom-and-pop shops to be built on the property, instead of towers, it's not going to happen.

That's not financially feasible with so few rooftops on the island, and the land is too valuable, Yovanovich said.

With the project as proposed, the developer has offered to provide the island with $3.2 million in water and sewer improvements, including bringing in sewer lines that would allow it to get off septic tanks. Two flushing culverts have also been proffered, to clean up the island's water.

Aubrey Ferrao, the developer of Fiddler's Creek, a master-planned, gated golf community just north of Marco Island, is the prime owner of the property on Isles of Capri, but Yovanovich said the projects aren't linked.

The developer goes under the name FCC Beach & Yacht.

Parts of the larger development have already been approved and already exist, including a marina.

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A grassroots organization, known as Save Isles of Capri, has collected more than 1,000 signatures against what has yet to be built, including more wet slips and a 10,000-square-foot private restaurant for yacht club members.

Isles of Capri resident Mike Cox told the planning commission that not only is the project a bad fit, but it could open the door for others to "duplicate like rabbits" development on what's left on the island.

"Our biggest fear here is that if this gets approved our whole business island is going to go condo," he said. "And we're looking at something we really don't want."