Laura Layden , firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-263-481810:58 p.m. EDT October 4, 2016
After a daylong hearing, the Collier County Planning Commission decided to recommend in favor of parts of Arthrex's proposed expansion.
The planning panel on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a building height of 122 feet for the company's new tower.
The vote was 3-2 for closing part of Creekside Boulevard. Arthrex requested the closing so it could create more of a campus-style corporate headquarters that would make it easier for its employees to walk among the buildings.
Commissioners voted unanimously against a request to allow development on 2.3 acres of preserves on the east side of Creekside Commerce Park, on the other side of Goodlette-Frank Road.
The request wasn't directly related to Arthrex's project but could make room for the construction of a new hotel that the company's visitors could use.
The hearing lasted for about eight hours, with dozens of Arthrex's residential neighbors speaking against the project. Though Arthrex reduced the height of its proposed tower from 205 to 122 feet, some residents argued it should be no higher than 100 feet to fit in with the surrounding community.
The panel voted 5-0 on the rest of the changes to the commercial planned unit development.
Collier County commissioners, who will have the final say, are slated to vote on the project Oct. 25. Approval would require a supermajority vote — or four out of five commissioners.
"There is still another step to go. We're hopeful that it will all come together for the jobs and for the economic opportunity," said Michael Dalby, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.
He pleaded with planning commissioners to find a way to approve the multimillion-dollar project to keep it moving forward.
The project has been endorsed by the Naples chamber, and it has been awarded more than $5.9 million in county and state incentives, designed to ensure it's built in Collier County. The expansion will create 560 jobs across all of Arthrex's departments, from information technology to finance.
Neighboring residents from Collier's Reserve and The Estates at Bay Colony, a private community of about 100 acres nestled inside Pelican Marsh who oppose Arthrex's project, say it’s because they're concerned about its impact on their views, traffic and the environment.
Opponents left the meeting disappointed.
George Mutter, a resident of Collier's Reserve and a member of its homeowners association, said his board needs time to digest what happened at the hearing.
"I think over the next couple of days the board will try to get together and decide what to do next — but we believe in the cause. We think the building is too high and the road should not be closed, and we need to figure out the best way to go forward," he said.
On Friday, Arthrex announced it would lower its original tower height of 205 feet by more than 80 percent after hearing the concerns from its residential neighbors. At the new height, the building would have seven stories over a three-story parking garage.
At the planning commission meeting, some residents argued the tower should be no more than 100 feet, while others said it shouldn't be taller than the Naples Daily News at 75 feet.
Denise Maccarini, property manager for The Estates at Bay Colony, said residents there are still concerned that Arthrex's employees will be able to look into their yards and pools at the adjusted height and that the new tower will ruin their pristine golf course views.
While Arthrex is a good community partner and residents applaud their success, it should not come at the expense of neighbors who have "invested substantially to live here," she said.
David Bumpous, Arthrex's senior director of operations, said the company challenged its architects to come up with a new plan that would be more palatable to neighbors, while still meeting its growth needs. He said future growth is important to the company and that it wants to do it right for the the community and its employees and visitors.
The company, he said, wants to stay here and grow here. "We hope we don't have to look elsewhere," he said.
After hearing from all sides, Mark Strain, the planning commission's chairman, said he supported the 122-foot height if that's what it takes for Arthrex to stay in Collier County — and to expand here.
Commissioner Joe Schmitt motioned to support the proposed height, saying he trusted Arthrex would build a project that's compatible with the community. His motion was swiftly seconded by Commissioner Karen Homiak.
The planning panel voted 3-2 on Arthrex's request to close off part of Creekside Boulevard, the two-lane road that connects U.S. 41 to Goodlette-Frank Road.
Strain said he didn't hear enough evidence from Arthrex's representatives to support vacating part of the road. "The case has just not been made clear," he said.
Commissioner Diane Ebert said she couldn't support the rerouting of traffic because she felt it would only create more congestion in the area, which includes Granada Shoppes and the Naples Daily News. She noted that Trader Joe's nearby is already short on parking, causing traffic jams, especially in the busy season.
The postal service has yet to weigh in on the road closing, which would affect the route taken by its delivery trucks.
Some nearby residents spoke against closing off part of the Creekside road, including Doug Fee, a North Naples resident for 20 years. He told commissioners it was a question of safety for residents because it could affect emergency response times. He argued the Immokalee Road-U.S. 41 intersection was already failing.
After the meeting, Fee said there are plans to start an online petition against the rerouting of traffic on Creekside.
Arthrex's traffic consultant told planning commissioners the realignment would add 40 seconds to the drive time to get from Goodlette-Frank Road to U.S. 41.
If part of Creekside is closed, Arthrex has agreed to pay for improvements that would widen Arthrex Boulevard and create two left-hand turn lanes onto Immokalee. The company has also agreed to pay for the widening of Goodlette-Frank Road from two to four lanes from Immokalee Road to just past Creekside Boulevard.
The request to allow development on 2.3 acres of preserves on the east side of Creekside Commerce Park, near the new long-term acute care Landmark Hospital was opposed by residents and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida — and it wasn't supported by county staff.
Nicole Johnson, the conservancy's director of growth management and planning, applauded the planning commission's vote but acknowledged that it's only a recommendation and that the final decision will be up to county commissioners. She's concerned about the precedent it would set if development is allowed.
"Every developer will say their project is unique and that they should be able to renegotiate preserves," she said.