1. Clean Water: Find Local Solutions and Join Forces with Others
Naples spectacular natural environment – our climate, beaches, and bays – is our greatest asset. It is central to our quality of life, as well as to our economic well-being.
It also is our greatest risk as development pressures impact the quality of our water and the health of our beaches. We need to take local action where we can but also recognize that issues of flooding, algal outbreaks, and red tide are a consequence of factors arising outside Naples city boundaries.
For example, the federal government (through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the State of Florida have in recent years accelerated funding for reservoirs and water detention areas in the Everglades to mitigate pollution from Lake Okeechobee water discharges to rivers flowing to both of Florida’s coasts. These are important actions but the benefit is still years away and will address only part of the problem.
Meanwhile, the state legislature has still not taken action to set tougher standards and enforce regulations regarding nutrient pollution into our waterways from agricultural, commercial, and municipal wastewater systems. Nor has the state addressed the needed conversion of tens of thousands of leaking residential septic systems to municipal utility service.
Clean Water remains Florida’s greatest vulnerability, particularly in southwest Florida.
Accomplishments to Date
So, what can we do here in Naples? A significant part of my background has been in the conservation field and I have used that experience to help focus City Council on ways to protect our environment. I have established a local Environmental Advisory Committee to help me address key issues here in our community.
While much remains to be done, I believe we have accomplished more for the environment in the last several years than ever before in Naples. Here are some key accomplishments where I have taken a leadership role on Council:
• We reinstituted a rainy season ban on summer fertilizer use, allowing Naples to join nearly 100 other Florida localities in this sensible step to limit nutrient pollution in the Gulf and in our bays and lakes.
• We have reconceived and moved forward the long-delayed Gulf Shore Boulevard Beach Outfalls Project, which will replace the aged, unsightly outfall pipes on Naples Beach with new, larger underground pipes that will discharge treated stormwater 1,000 feet into the Gulf. It will also mitigate flooding in the 230-acre basin it will serve. This project will still need final design approval based on updated cost estimates, but construction could begin by the end of 2021.
• We have accelerated critically important efforts to clean and restore the city’s system of more than 20 lakes that are key elements in our stormwater management system. For example, I led an effort in Council in June 2021 to approve a $4.6 million to contract to restore Spring Lake and East Lake, which discharge into Naples Bay, and Fleischmann Lake, which discharges into the Gordon River. These projects will be completed by early 2022.
In addition, I have worked closely over the past two years with the leadership of the Swan Lake homeowners association and city staff to create a pilot program, which I believe will demonstrate how to effectively clean a lake using biological treatment products and identifying and reducing pollution from upstream sources.
• We updated the City’s Stormwater Development Code, providing new requirements for retention and detention of stormwater for new construction and large remodeling/redevelopment projects. The new code doubles the amount of water that must be retained on these properties, placing greater responsibility for water management on property owners and thereby reducing discharges into our existing public stormwater management system.
• Finally, we approved the next and final design phase of the City’s Septic-to-Sewer project, which will connect to the city’s wastewater treatment system the remaining 900+ homes still on septic tanks. Already, over 300 homes have been converted through the initial phases of this project. Once completed, there will be no homes on septic within the service area of the City wastewater treatment system, a significant accomplishment in Florida where approximately 28% of homes statewide are still served by septic.
Looking to the Future
These actions will make a material difference in improving water quality and flood control in Naples. But we know that Naples will need to continue to make additional investments in stormwater management and clean water in the years ahead.
For example, the Gulf Shore Boulevard Beach Outfalls project, important as it is, will improve flood control and water quality treatment in only 10% of the city. Much more will need to be done within the financial capacity of Naples to do so. The City’s comprehensive Water Management Plan, updated in 2019, can provide a roadmap for future priorities.
As an example, Council has already approved action to complete new swales (an important tool in stormwater management) on 8th Street South and 21st Avenue South. Other similar swale projects can follow.
More broadly, we are continually fighting climate change and sea level rise (SLR) that originate well beyond Naples’ borders. In this regard, we need to look for ways to collaborate and join forces with others – Collier County, the South Florida Water Management District, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, and others to address these issues on a regional basis.
Dealing with SLR will likely be Naples’ greatest challenge over the next several decades. Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Florida have developed a model that can predict sea level rise in our coastal areas over different time horizons. This can help government and residents make smart decisions. The reality of SLR is now beyond dispute.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a Collier County feasibility study identifying options to deal with sea level rise in the decades ahead. It outlines a series of possible investments in physical and natural infrastructure to mitigate SLR, all of which are both expensive and likely controversial.
The City of Naples will need to engage in a dialog with Collier County and others to make sure that any decisions eventually taken incorporate Naples priorities. We must be at the table, and I am pleased to serve as the Naples City Council representative on a committee established for this purpose.
2. Ensure that our Land Development Code Supports Residents’ Priorities
Naples has a distinctive character and personality. This is primarily shaped by the fact that this is a town that people call home….a town of neighborhoods….a town with a quality of life that people cherish.
Our new city Vision Document developed in 2020 confirmed top resident priorities are maintaining our small-town charm and character and our quality of life. This new Vision was influenced in significant part by a decade-long trend of development projects receiving substantial deviations and variances from our code concerning height, density, and other requirements.
Other controversial proposals in recent years included building a new public parking garage at 4th Street and 4th Avenue South, in a quiet residential area, as well as the Old Naples Hotel at 3rd and Broad and the Naples Beach Hotel. Each of these projects, whether approved or not, were contentious due to concerns over the approval process and concessions being offered to developers.
We have seen many other Florida cities compromised over the years by over-building and lax enforcement of codes. I don’t believe our residents want to see that happen in Naples. The recent tragedy associated with a collapsed condo building in Surfside, FL. is a reminder of these risks.
Accomplishments to Date
During my time on Council, I have looked for ways to modify our Land Development Code and approval policies to provide for the kind of development climate Naples wants and needs. Here are some of these accomplishments:
• Council removed the ability for developers to secure site plans with deviations. These site plan deviations were used to secure variations to height, setback, and other dimensional standards from those provided for in our prevailing Code. Unfortunately, these requests became routinely granted over time by prior Councils. At one point, some 40 consecutive site plans with deviation requests were approved! Such deviations are not now permitted.
• We revised our code to limit variances for new construction. If you have a sound code, variances should be rare and few. Council reviewed best practices in Florida communities like St. Augustine and Vero Beach to get to this outcome.
• We adopted a new ordinance establishing a maximum height for all buildings in commercial zoning districts as well as all buildings in PDs, even if used exclusively for residential purposes. This height limit is 42 feet and three floors, a limit that had been approved by residents as an amendment to the City Charter in a referendum in the year 2000. But it had not been consistently interpreted, applied or enforced until now.
Finally, Council approved our new Vision Document that sets forth a set of priorities for the City regarding development, protection of the environment, and quality of life, a culmination of a two year process that included a survey of Naples residents responded to by nearly 2,000 of our citizens.
Looking to the Future
Our new Vision Document should be the basis for continued improvements to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. Some specific actions that should take priority in the immediate future include:
• Carrying out in conjunction with the Planning Advisory Board a full review of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, making changes and updates as appropriate.
• Revisiting current policies regarding the provision of density bonuses for residential development. This policy allows developers to “purchase” from the City additional density for their projects at a cost of $20,000 per additional unit. This is clearly an inexpensive way to build larger buildings and reap greater profits. We need to either eliminate this incentive or increase the cost per unit to appropriate market rates.
• Developing a new parking policy for our commercial and mixed-use zoning districts that is consistent and fair to all areas of the city, encourages on-site parking, and sets prices for purchase of spaces in public garages at appropriate market levels.
• Review and set appropriate minimum lot coverage requirements. As more and more smaller, older houses in Naples are torn down, we need to make sure that new larger houses are scaled appropriately to the lot on which they are built, both for stormwater management and aesthetic design reasons.
• Require proper noticing and signage notifications with respect to new construction and redevelopment. For example, signs that must be posted advertising requests for permits or pending construction activity should be of sufficient size and visibility to allow them to be seen and read. And the current requirement that property owners within 500 feet of a pending project must be individually noticed should be expanded to a greater radius of at least 1,000 and possibly 1,500 feet.
• Review and update our policies regarding impact fees, particularly given recent state legislative action to constrain local discretion in this regard.
3. Maintain and Improve the Quality of Life for Naples Residents
Our residents live in Naples because of its quality of life: our beaches, parks, lovely walkable neighborhoods, and pace of life. A continuing priority for City Council is to do all we can to maintain and improve these attributes as we can.
Accomplishments to Date
Council has taken a number of recent important actions that contribute to an enhanced quality of life for our residents:
• In November 2020, we passed legislation to ban gasoline powered leaf blowers as well as to establish a 65-decibel limit battery powered blowers. This action – aimed at both reducing noise and pollution in our residential neighborhoods – was long overdue and will improve our quality of life immeasurably. This new rule will take effect in November 2021 to give landscape companies time to acquire new machinery.
• In December 2020, Council established a pilot program for parking at the beach ends of most of the avenues between 7th Avenue North and the 3rd Street shopping district. We now limit parking in the beach end blocks to residents that have beach stickers on their cars. This action, which was continued and expanded in June 2021, will provide our city and county residents with more opportunities to access our beaches and reduce problems around trash, noise, and congestion for residents who live near the beach.
• In April 2021, Council settled a long-standing legal action involving the repair of the seawalls in and around Venetian Village. This dispute between the City and property owners in that area had lingered for too many years, resulting in dangerous and unsightly conditions both with the seawall and with the sidewalk abutting it. This settlement will result in the City carrying out improvements to the seawall and sidewalks, thereby enhancing the quality of life for Park Shore residents and visitors to the area.
Looking to the Future
Improving our city’s quality of life is a job that is always is before us. Much of it is making sure we don’t let slip our high level-of-service standards relating to the maintenance and appearance of our parks, public rights-of-way, medians, tree canopy, and much more.
Council also still needs to address several specific issues that remain problematic for many of our residents, including:
1. Reducing aircraft noise: Naples is experiencing rapid growth in private jet aircraft. This means an increase in noise created by these aircraft taking off and landing on flight paths that are concentrated in certain areas of town, especially Old Naples, Aqualane Shores, and the 5th Avenue and 3rd Street commercial districts. A so-called “Part 150 noise study”, as permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is now underway at the airport to determine noise impacts and mitigation. I will make it a priority in my second term to see this study properly completed and acted upon to create flight paths that minimize noise for Naples residents and neighborhoods in a fair and equitable way.
2. Balancing outdoor dining and walkable neighborhoods: During the pandemic, Council took special action to provide temporary use permits to restaurants wishing to expand outdoor dining. Council will now have to work with our hospitality community to find the right balance between indoor and outdoor dining and ensure that outdoor dining does not improperly interfere with walkability and public safety in our commercial dining districts.
3. Accommodating competing uses of our streets: Like many cities, Naples is experiencing growing demand for use of our streets by cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Some of these conflicts are simply the result of growing population and visitation. Some of it is driven by growth in more healthy activities like walking, running and bicycling. And some of it is caused by new technologies, like Segways and electric scooters, which have become increasingly popular. It is likely that City Council will need to consider new policies and ordinances to regulate certain of these transportation modes, as well as address growing problems with speeding by automobiles on our local streets.
4. Develop a Vision and Plan for Redevelopment of the “41/10” Corridor
I have had the privilege of serving since April 2020 as Chair of the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The CRA was established in 1994 under state law to oversee the redevelopment of a part of Naples that included the 5th Avenue commercial district, the 8th Street Corridor, and a large area east of Rt. 41. The revitalization of 5th Avenue was the major accomplishment in the first 25 years of the CRA’s history.
My goal as CRA chair has been to focus on the area east of Rt. 41 – including the 10th Street commercial district (also known as the Design District) and the River Park community – which have not received a level of investment comparable to 5th Avenue. This area is what is now known as the “41/10 Corridor”. My hope is that the next phase of the CRA’s history can generate the same level of support for the “41/10 Corridor” as was provided in the past to Fifth Avenue and 8th Street, but in a way that recognizes the special identity and character of the Design District and River Park.
Accomplishments to Date
1. 1. The CRA has approved a contract with DPZ Co-Design to prepare a Master Plan for 41/10 area. This work should be completed by the spring of 2022 and will provide a vision and action plan for public investments needed in the district (lighting, sidewalks, street improvements, drainage improvements, etc) as well as suggestions for how this area can develop as a “third commercial district” in Naples to complement Fifth Avenue and Third Street.
2. The CRA also approved a contract with the Bright Community Trust, an affordable housing consultancy, to identify opportunities to maintain and expand affordable housing opportunities in River Park and vicinity. Through this project, the CRA will look at existing affordable housing complexes, like the Gordon River Apartments and Carver Homes, to determine how to best ensure that they remain quality affordable housing for the long-term. We will also examine other new sites that could accommodate affordable, workforce housing.
3. The CRA approved a partnership with the Gulf Shore Playhouse to build a public parking garage on 1st Avenue South near Goodlette-Frank Road. This partnership will provide for construction of an approximate 360 space garage adjacent to a new public theatre that can serve the theatre as well as other commercial development (both present and future) in the area. The land on which the garage will be built is owned by the Playhouse and the Wynn Family. This is a great example of how our CRA can bring about a public/private partnership to benefit Naples.
Looking to the Future
The 41/10 Corridor – including the Design District and River Park – represents the last major area of opportunity for redevelopment within the City of Naples. Already, we have seen investments like Naples Square and now the Gulf Shore Playhouse occur in this area.
Going forward, it will be important that any redevelopment plan for the 10th Street commercial area/Design District build on this area’s unique character and identity.
And it will be equally important that improvements to the River Park community and nearby affordable apartment complexes be carried out in a way that sustains the character and history of that historic African-American community. The goal should be to strengthen the existing fabric of that community and mitigate gentrification.
5. Preserve in Perpetuity the Open Space at the Naples Beach and Golf Club
The sale of the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club to the Athens Group has been a major community issue since it first came before City Council over two years ago. There were legitimate concerns about the variances from underlying zoning that were granted for this project. But in return for these entitlements to build a new hotel and 196 condominium units, the City was promised a “quid pro quo” in the form of an easement that would protect the golf course property as open space in perpetuity.
Unfortunately, City Council in May 2019 chose not to put into place a conservation easement through a third-party land trust that would have properly secured the protection of the golf course property as open space for the long-term. Instead, a weaker easement structure was approved – one that would be held only by the City of Naples and could be terminated at any future time by a simple majority vote of Council.
Over the last two years, I have focused my efforts on finding a way to more effectively protect this property as open space. Accomplishing this would be one of the most important actions that can be taken in our community today – it would guarantee the permanent retention of some 100 acres of open space right in the middle of the City of Naples.
Accomplishments to Date
In the fall of 2020, I initiated a discussion at Council that led to the retention of a law firm – Ausley McMullan – that specialized in the field of conservation easements. Ausley subsequently submitted to Council recommendations on how to proceed to work with the Athens Group to implement this approach.
As of the summer of 2021, discussions have gone forward between the Athens Group and a nationally recognized land trust to voluntarily enter into this conservation easement agreement. The City would need to also be in support of any such agreement and be a financial partner in this arrangement as well. If we can accomplish this, we will be able to provide our residents with assurance that this iconic Naples property will be properly and permanently protected from development.
6. Ensure Ethics and Transparency in City Government
I served as Executive Director of Ethics Naples prior to being elected to City Council in 2019. Ethics Naples led the effort to develop a proposed amendment to the City Charter for a new City ethics code and an independent Ethics Commission. In August 2020, 63% of city residential voters approved the Ethics Naples referendum.
Accomplishments to Date
1. In November 2020, the Ethics Commission was formed with the appointment of five members. City Council had one appointment and selected Susan Jones as its designee.
2. In May 2021, the Ethics Commission submitted to City Council a new draft ethics code. Council provided feedback and suggestions and a revised code is anticipated to be considered for final action by Council in August. This code will be implemented through enactment of a related ordinance.
3. The Ethics Commission has hired staff in preparation for its ongoing work educating city staff and public officials on ethics issues and reviewing and advising on complaints it receives.
Looking to the Future
I am proud of my work that has contributed to the Naples Ethics Commission being created. I believe it will lead to more transparent and effective governance in our town for decades to come. It will be important that City Council financially support the Commission’s operations at a reasonable level so it can do its job.
Beyond this, I believe that City Council should undertake a comprehensive review of its City Charter. The Charter is the constitution for the City of Naples. It is the basis for our city government structure and functions. Any such document needs a fresh review periodically; this would be an opportune time, either by Council itself or with the help of a blue-ribbon committee appointed by Council. Any material or substantive changes would have to be submitted to the voters for approval.
The creation of the city Ethics Commission, adoption of the new city ethics code, and a review and update of the City Charter would be three important steps toward ensuring that we live up to the standard set forth in the City motto:
Ethics above all else….Service to others before self…Quality in all that we do.