Some 85 people may have come away asking the same questions they arrived with at an information session on the fate of the golf course languishing among Lakewood and Glades residences.
No questions and answers were allowed after a 15-minute presentation Thursday night at the Naples Botanical Garden, an “open house” offering options for the Hollywood-based owner’s intention to convert the old Evergreen golf course into residential units.
There were two reasons for that, said Michael Fernandez, consultant for the owner of the 33-plus acre, defunct golf course that zigzags through the Lakewood neighborhood in East Naples.
One is that none of the alternatives the public was inspecting on posters around a meeting room at Naples Botanical Garden is set in stone. When the land is rezoned, the development may take all or parts of the drawings, or design something totally different, he said.
“We’re opening a door should a party should want to purchase the property. None of these is a definite proposal. The purpose of this is an outreach and to offer plans that are different options, which was something that is required by the county,” he said.
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Fernandez said he felt offering a single plan to be vetted through neighborhood information meetings would have been “a much cleaner process,” but that his client was following a county requirement.
The documents, which are online at evergreenitc.com confirm the fluidity of these plans. There’s a crossed-fingers clause.
“The proposals are “exploratory in nature,” say the documents, “and proposal(s) are subject to modification during and at the time of subsequent permitting when additional development standards and financial/economic factors become known or affect the proposed scope and development program of the project.”
The second reason to pass on Q&A, Fernandez eventually said, was crowd control.
“We chose the format. We’re more comfortable talking to individual groups,” said Fernandez, a principal of the Naples consulting firm Land Development Inc. “I answered questions from people all evening. I have talked to at least a dozen homeowner associations in that neighborhood. Our firm is always happy to answer questions.”
When pressed about the efficiency of that, he noted that audiences have become aggressive during their public input meetings.
“A lot of these large group meetings have gone sideways, and if you read your own newspaper you’ll see that,” said Fernandez.
He was referring to the public information meeting in March on the fate of the Riviera Golf Estates course, which drew more than 350 people. Some attendees were asked to leave because of the site’s occupancy limits, and the resulting shouting and booing shut down the meeting.
The question-free presentation Thursday didn’t sit well with some attendees, who began shouting questions at him and disrupting his statements, while others tried to quiet them so they could hear Fernandez.
“I think he should have answered questions. Everybody’s kind of angry, and he answered no questions at all,” said Sharon Bennett after the meeting. “He should have said OK, and let them get it off their chest.”
There was more than one concern: potentially worse flooding in one topographical depression that becomes a small lake after heavy rains now, and the potential use to which the assisted/adult living center, a component of one option, could be put. Alzheimer’s care? Drug rehabilitation?
The major concern, and one that is not addressed in the survey, or in the plans on display last night, is traffic with three options that hold from 200 to 300 residential units.
“The net result is he’s got 500-600 more cars on the road. When I talked to him earlier he said we don’t need to address it now. We do need to address it now. It’s hard to get out onto Lakewood ( Boulevard) now,” declared Vern Bennett, president of the Lakewood Seven homeowner association.
“I think most people I’ve talked with are more concerned about traffic than anything else,” said James Walker, a 25-year-resident of Lakewood. “We have a lot of traffic now. We have much more traffic, much more cars, where are they going to put them? How are you going to get around the neighborhood?”
Walker said he thought Fernandez did a good job explaining the options his clients may be mulling.
“That’s the place we start from. We have to give our input,” Walker said. And if we seriously oppose it seriously, we have to talk to the county commissioners or whoever’s in line to approve this sort of thing.
“We have to have an input to make this the best we can be for Lakewood because we want to preserve the quality of our neighborhood.”
Fernandez clarified to the group Th night his client’s next steps.
“This is only the third ITC (intention to convert) of a golf course to come before the county commisioners,” Fernandez told the group. “We are not submitting an application to Collier County to rezone this property. This is a pre-application process that is intended to be an outreach to stakeholders.”
However, he warned that the stakeholders’ input would only be gauged from the survey that is online and which was available in print form Wednesday. Further, he said, people who did not full fill out the survey would not have their answers added to the tabulation.
Those who have not filled it out fully can retake the survey online at the evergreenitc.com site, Fernandez added.
The documents also warn that the public input section of their application requirement will consist of this survey. Whether the survey would be considered sufficient public input, however, is a county planning department decision.
If the planning department approves that choice, the owners plan to file a plan for the property as early as January.
“This is such an infant stage of this project. This is years away from ever coming to the commissioners,” said District 4 Commissioner-elect Dan Kowal, who came to the meeting. “But it’s a good monitor for me to see what the temperature is around it. That’s the reason I’m here.”
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.