Joseph Cranney , email@example.com; 239-213-6035 Published 3:48 p.m. ET July 17, 2017 | Updated 9:49 a.m. ET July 18, 2017
A group of downtown Naples residents is getting even more vocal in its opposition to a proposal for a new 350-space parking garage near Fifth Avenue South.
The Naples Garage Coalition — including the heads of the Old Naples, Lake Park and Coquina Sands associations — launched a website last week to outline their concerns and lobby for more support from the public.
The website links to an online petition against the garage that has garnered more than 250 signatures. Another page lists the contact information for each Naples City Council member. The council is scheduled to discuss the garage next month.
The group will also maintain a blog and send updates to a mailing list of thousands of Naples residents.
Together, it’s one of the most organized resident efforts to oppose a city project in recent memory.
"People's frustrations with the amount of development, the emphasis on tourism, the congestion, parking and traffic has reached a tipping point," said John Lehmann, president of the Old Naples Association. "People see this garage as being a huge step in the wrong direction, as far as keeping the small town look and feel of Naples."
Naples has a $6 million contract with Hoffmann Commercial Real Estate to buy the 1-acre lot at Fourth Avenue South and Fourth Street South. According to the city’s estimate, the cost of building a garage would be another $9 million.
The city’s advisory panel for the Community Redevelopment Agency, in a 5-2 vote last month, urged the council to approve the project. The project would require final approval during September’s budget hearings.
Some Naples leaders say the garage is needed to relieve parking issues on Fifth Avenue South and provide more incentives for redevelopment toward the street’s west end.
Like the city’s other two downtown garages, real estate developers would be able to buy parking credits from the new garage, instead of building their own parking spaces, to satisfy site requirements for their projects.
The master plan for Fifth Avenue, developed in the 1990s by Miami architect Andres Duany, originally called for a parking garage near the street’s west end.
But the coalition opposed to the project is concerned with the proposal to provide millions of dollars in what they describe as a subsidy for private development. The group on its website also mentions potential legal issues with continuing to use the anti-blight CRA money to fund projects on Fifth Avenue.
"Plowing more millions into the most successful commercial street in South Florida hardly meets the intent of the CRA legislation designed to alleviate blight and support affordable housing," the group writes.
The council hasn't yet decided if the garage would be funded by the CRA. Mayor Bill Barnett has said the project could be bonded, if the council ultimately approves it.
The coalition's efforts have at least one council member worried that the concerns may lead to a lawsuit against the city if the garage is approved.
“Of course I have no idea if or when a legal challenge might occur, but there is enough controversy and opposition for me to logically expect it,” Councilman Doug Finlay said.
Finlay said he’s worried that litigation costs would add to the project’s overall estimated $15 million cost.
The coalition is co-signed by Citizens for Preserving Naples, a recently formed advocacy group. The group’s president, Joan Fiore, sued the city in 2015 and again in 2016 over the council’s approvals of development proposals.