April 14, 2017
To our fellow Naples Citizens,
During this past week, City officials and several downtown Fifth Avenue South real estate developers hosted a whirlwind visit to Naples by Andres Duany. Mr. Duany is a Miami area land planner who over 20 years ago drafted the plan that helped revitalize Naples Fifth Avenue South.
But Mr. Duany’s latest visit to Naples — his second in 23 years — raises a number of questions. Mr. Duany’s visit — though ultimately paid for by City taxpayer funds — was originally proposed as promoted and paid for by various downtown real estate developers. And though he gave informal verbal remarks (without providing a written report) that appeared to encourage unrestricted commercial real estate development in Naples, Mr. Duany neglected to address the potential negative impacts of such unrestricted development — such as increased traffic, increased urban density, and inadequate infrastructure — on the nearby Naples residential communities that form the heart of our Naples quality of life.
While giving fulsome praise for unrestrained commercial development, Mr. Duany took pains to criticize Naples citizens who sought to enforce the Naples Charter and Naples Land Development Code against unlawful development.
But Mr. Duany’s recent remarks — criticizing litigation against developers in Naples who violate the City Charter and the City Land Development Code — distort and mis-characterize the necessary and limited role of litigation in protecting the beauty, character, and charm that make Naples so special.
We who live in Naples are emphatically not anti-development. Wise and carefully planned development is essential to maintaining the vitality of the City.
But Naples citizens look to the City Charter and the City’s Land Development Code to safeguard against unwise overdevelopment that threatens the environmental and quality-of-life values that we cherish in Naples.
Under most circumstances, we scrupulously attempt to avoid litigation. Litigation is an expensive and difficult means to enforce the protections of our Naples Charter and Land Development Code.
Under normal circumstances, concerns and disputes about proposed development — and the compliance of that development with the Charter and City Code — can and should be resolved by collaborative discussion among community residents, the prospective developer, and Naples officials.
And where the dispute cannot be resolved by such collaborative discussion, we citizens usually look to our City officials — not expensive private litigation — to enforce the Charter and Code to prevent development which would violate the Charter and the Code. Indeed, that’s one of the central reasons why we pay our taxes — to fund governmental enforcement of these vital protections.
But what are we to do when a developer proposes to violate the Naples Charter and the City Code; and our city officials either stand idly by ignoring the violations or give the illegal development their blessing?
As Naples residents who look to the phrase “the Rule of Law” — not as a trite euphemism but a fundamental safeguard of our quality of life and our community — we are left with limited choices. We can and should as voters demand effective law enforcement by our officials. And faced with any officials who look the other way or who condone such violations of our Charter and City Code, we should replace these errant officials at the next election.
But often waiting years for future elections — to find and elect City officials willing to enforce the Rule of Law against illegal development — is a slow process. In the meantime, major improper and illegal developments can become a fait accompli, drastically changing and harming the character of our community.
Unfortunately, under such circumstances, the only available protection — to enforce the Charter and the City Code in a timely and meaningful fashion — is citizen litigation to enforce these laws. Let’s be clear. We know citizen litigation is a costly and expensive process, and we believe it should only be used as a last resort when all other appeals to developers and City officials to obey or enforce the City Charter and City Code fail.
Mr. Duany appeared to single out the Old Naples Association for his shotgun condemnation of citizen litigation to enforce our laws. (Ironically, as far as we are aware, the Old Naples Association organization is not, and has not, been involved in any litigation against the City or developers.)
But Mr. Duany’s unfortunate and unbalanced criticism falls equally on any number of environmental and citizen organizations who have been forced to bring litigation to enforce environmental legal protections throughout our region and our state.
One outstanding example is the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. We all know that the Conservancy performs a wide array of activities to preserve and protect our environment in Southwest Florida — from education, to enhancing wildlife habitat, to community outreach. But less well known are the admirable efforts of the Conservancy to enforce — through litigation where necessary — our state and federal environmental laws to protect our Southwest Florida environment. Again, litigation is expensive and is likely the last of the tools used by the Conservancy — after all efforts to encourage voluntary enforcement of the environmental laws have been rejected.
And reluctant resort to litigation is not limited to citizen litigation to enforce the Charter and City Code. Prominent and longstanding Naples developers have also had to resort to litigation when City officials have refused to enforce the City Code against illegal development on neighboring properties.
So to Mr. Duany, we say: Thank you for your past contributions to the quality of life that we enjoy in Naples. But don’t ask Naples citizens to stand idly by in the face of serious violations of the Naples Charter and City Code.
Citizens for Preserving Naples
Follow us on our website: citizensforpreservingnaples.org