For those who have been following the nearly two-decade controversy over proposed redevelopments of the Riviera Golf Estates golf course east of Naples, what transpired at Monday night’s stakeholder outreach meeting n isn’t a surprise.
Pandemonium went wild when some attendees were asked to leave because the venue’s capacity of 350 people had been exceeded.
The resulting uproar of boos and cries of opposition led to the decision to cancel the meeting. “I’ve never seen anything like this happen before,” said commissioner Penny Taylor, who attended the meeting.
In 2020: Collier asks judge to dismiss lawsuit filed by East Naples golf course owner
Column 2020: East Naples Golf Course Asking Price Keeps Rising
This was the first of two required outreach meetings that must take place before the application to build homes on the golf course can be formally reviewed by the Collier County Growth Management Department, which includes the planning and zoning division.
The purpose of Monday’s meeting, hosted by engineering and planning firm Hole Montes representing The Minnesota Riviera LLC, owner of the 94-acre golf course, was to discuss an application submitted to the county to allow construction of more than 300 houses. on the golf course in the middle of a 55+ community.
“They probably thought we were the kind of community that would just make a little noise and then back off, and they could go ahead with their plans. Now they’re shocked,” said Mike, a member of the Association of Riviera Owners. said Flaherty.
The plan to build homes on the golf course, in general, is one that owners have been trying to since 2005, and which residents have strongly opposed and continue to successfully block.
The 62-par-per-play fee-paying public executive golf course meanders through the community of more than 55 residents of Riviera Golf Estates, a 50-50 mix of nearly 700 manufactured homes and brick-and-mortar homes.
Nearly 500 attendees, not only from Riviera Golf Estates but more than a dozen local homeowners associations, held up signs imploring developers to rethink the project featured in the app, which some say lacks details so that the public can have any meaningful input.
“We have no idea how they plan to handle some of the more important details such as what kind of residences they plan to build, if they plan to build a similar +55 community and what what they plan to do with stormwater management if the entire golf course is dug up,” Flaherty said.
The Collier County Department of Growth Management did not respond Wednesday afternoon to questions about whether the county considers the application complete.
Discussions between attorney Rich Yovanovich, who represents golf course owners, and those present at Monday’s stakeholder meeting suggested he thinks the meeting should still count as the first meeting even though it has been cancelled. The next step would be to move on to the second mandatory stakeholder meeting.
Taylor and Riviera HOA President Tricia Campbell told the Naples Daily News they believe the sudden cancellation of Monday’s meeting meant the owners had to postpone it.
Yovanovich did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Campbell added that while residents had no intention of ending the meeting, she said she hoped the passion expressed by attendees would send a clear message to landlords that residents would not back down without asking. to beat.
“We paid extra to live this way on the golf course, a beautiful, peaceful, quiet existence. The project they are proposing is completely incompatible with our way of life,” Campbell told Napes Daily News.
“We are serious,” she added.
History of Riviera Golf Estates
Seventeen years ago, established local developer MDG Capital Corporation reached an agreement with a group of five investors with The Minnesota Riviera LLC to buy the land as long as the Collier County Commissioners agree to rezone the course to accommodate residences.
At the time, Riviera executives said they would be angry if anything, even estate homes, were planned to replace the fairways and greens that have stood in their backyards since 1973.
This fury felt by the inhabitants then remains today.
The plan was to build 1,200 to 1,500 affordable housing condominiums on the golf course, two stories or higher.
But that never happened, as the project was halted after a group of residents pointed out that a paragraph at the end of the original contract signed when the community was established in 1974 guaranteed that the golf course would remain intact in perpetuity.
This prompted the hiring of a law firm to find out how and when this promise was removed from contracts, which then confirmed that the original language still applies to this day.
In 2017, Collier County commissioners approved new rules that made it harder for developers to turn struggling golf courses into subdivisions. The rule change applied to golf clubs such as Golden Gate Country Club, Riviera Golf Club and Evergreen Golf & Country Club, but did not affect Golden Gate Country Club at the time, which requested a rezoning before the commissioners imposed a moratorium on the conversion. golf course.
In 2017: Collier commissioners approve new rules for developers hoping to convert old golf courses
Coverage 2016: Developer to continue the Riviera project
In 2019: Golf course owner seeking residential use sues Collier over rezoning rules
In 2018, 12 Riviera residents offered to purchase the Riviera Golf Club property. “We asked a lawyer to make a contract for the purchase, and he had promised us over 2 million. And when we got a response, they said they wouldn’t take anything less than 3 million, and we couldn’t afford it” Campbell told the Naples Daily News.
Two years later, the owners of the Riviera Golf Club property again offered the property for sale, doubling the asking price to $6.5 million. However, the offer failed to attract a buyer.
Eventually, in 2019, The Minnesota Riviera LLC sued the county, claiming the 2017 rule change puts the owner in “a classic Catch-22 situation.” The lawsuit said the order accomplished “a taking” of the golf course owner’s property because it “rendered impossible its conversion to any other reasonably productive purpose,” the complaint continues.
“The price is losing money,” Ken Oertel, an attorney representing the company, said at the time.
In 2020, The Minnesota Riviera LLC voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit, according to court documents.
Benefit or public?
Today, according to the application documents, the owners of the Riviera golf course are sticking to the argument that “the course is financially unfeasible and has been operating at a loss for ten years”.
The application goes on to explain that “the goal is to rezone the golf course to allow for the highest and best financially sound use of the property.”
For Commissioner Taylor, the financial success of a developer’s property is not an issue she prioritizes over the concerns of county residents.
“People put their life savings in their homes, often, at Riviera Golf Estates is a classic example,” Taylor said. “Having a golf course in your backyard and suddenly you have a building is a detriment to the quality of life. It’s just terrible.”
Taylor said Collier County will continue to see similar reactions from residents who oppose the conversion of golf courses to residential developments.
“Developers have an eye on profit, rather than our community values, and will try to convert golf courses to residential,” she said. “Collier County is not here to support a developer who is profiting from their assets. That’s not our job.”
“Our job is to preserve the quality of life and our community and to ensure that people who have invested their savings in their homes have a solid and continued investment,” she added.
Flooding is a particularly big concern for the Riviera community, which was hit hard by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Irma in 2017.
“Development (of the golf course) would have devastating effects on local stormwater infrastructure. The community is experiencing heavy flooding, as are others along Rattlesnake Hammock Road and County Barn Road,” said Jacob Winge, president of East Naples Civic and Commerce.
According to application documents provided by Hole Montes, the company has not yet received an environmental permit for stormwater management.
“Here in Collier County and Florida, these golf courses become very important stormwater vehicles because water can seep into the grass and open area, not into someone’s backyard. one or in his house,” Taylor said. “Obviously Riviera is an older community, and that’s where their storm water is. They have ponds and everything to direct water away from buildings and residences. And if you start covering a lot of golf, I don’t think it’s going to work at all.”
Winge said he hoped Monday’s meeting would send a clear message.
“We’re not going to be intimidated by fancy lawyers and planners and developers who think all they have to do is spend big bucks on this team and it’ll be a walk in the park because it’s not,” Winge said. “I hope a very clear message was sent. I hope it was a big flashing red light that they need to change something and they need to work with us on a proposal that can be mutually beneficial. “