STRAIGHT TALK: How will we deal with growth?
Over the last several months several elected and staff folks from all levels of government have been cheerfully extolling the great growth we are seeing in the Collier County area. "Giddy" might be an even closer term that might better closely describe the enthusiasm they have displayed.
A good percentage of that growth will occur along the State Road 951/U.S. Highway 41 corridors in our section of the county. The other big growth potential will be seen in the eastern section of the county. The city of Naples is essentially built out, as is the great majority of North Naples.
Time and time again we hear from new residents who have moved here from the East Coast of Florida who tell the horror stories about the elbow-to-elbow development seen in Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties. They speak about how almost every inch of grass has been replaced by concrete or asphalt and the requirement for street lighting has taken a back seat to the overwhelming illumination given off by signage on commercial and retail buildings.
Mind you, no one is advocating for a moratorium on growth or a restriction on building, instead we are encouraging another look at the requirements for better landscape buffering, public amenities and a review of signage standards.
Unfortunately we may have waited too long regarding these items, as many plans are already on the drawing boards for a number of these projects along the 951 corridor and east and west on U.S. 41. The population explosion between the Jolley Bridge and the I-75 intersection on 951 is estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 more residents in the next 20 years.
We've just come off one of the busiest seasons we've experienced since I came here in 1987 and no one expects that the crush of visitors between November and April will subside in future years, but instead will continue to grow. What is also in evidence is that they are coming earlier and leaving later, which is good for our businesses, but will definitely put increased pressures on our infrastructure.
At the present time the drinking water source for Marco Island lies directly within the area known as "ground-zero" for commercial growth. The development around the area known as Marco Lakes and Henderson Creek is directly adjacent to our water supply. Many are concerned about the impact of runoff of pollutants into that aquifer and the surrounding areas.
The explosion of commercial and residential growth around this area will be one of the greatest challenges facing this balance between growth and the environment. The lack of discussions is troubling at best as the enthusiasm for a potential Sam's Club, restaurant row, grocery stores and strip malls seems to have more of the attention of elected leaders than does the health of our water supply.
Tens of millions of dollars are being pumped into this area for improvements in intersections and roadways to handle the projections of growth in the next two decades as proof of the anticipated onslaught of development. Learning from the errors of others and putting safeguards in place to protect the environment while maintaining a high standard for "curb appeal" for future commercial and residential development must be put in place.
Setting the bar just a little higher for those that would develop here in the county and on the island is nothing to be ashamed of, I only hope we have the vision and courage to do so.