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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 24, 2016 3 years ago

Boomtowns

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As many as 22 new towns and a new Interstate 75 exit are in the plans for eastern Collier County.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

As chairman of the Collier County Planning Commission, Mark Strain has a front-row seat to the rebound in development.

Because of its wealthy demographics, Collier County has demonstrated one of the most dramatic recoveries from the economic downturn of any area on the Gulf Coast. “These are good things to see happening,” Strain recently told a gathering of the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

Decades-old plans for areas east of Interstate 75 that languished during the downturn are once again becoming a focus for planners. “Our economy has been so good everything is being looked at again,” Strain says.

Although 77% of Collier County is off limits to future development, Strain says there are many large tracts of undeveloped land available. As many as 22 new towns are on the drawing board in the rural areas of Collier County east of Golden Gate to handle more than double the county's current population of 346,000.

The increase in development in the eastern part of the county is pushing planners to consider creating a new exit on Interstate 75's Alligator Alley. The north-south exit would be located between Everglades Boulevard and State Road 29. “We have a lot of road construction going on to keep up,” Strain notes.

Already, the two towns of Ave Maria and Minto Communities' proposed Rural Lands West promise to bring 21,000 homes and 50,000 new residents to eastern Collier County. “Those areas are going to be urbanized,” Strain says.

That's one of the reasons Immokalee Road east of I-75 is seeing a surge in new development, especially near the intersection of County Road 951, also known as Collier Boulevard. “We have the land,” says Strain, countering the widespread perception that Collier County is running out of developable land.

Collier County is currently reviewing the plans laid out more than a decade ago for its rural areas. Already, planning for the rural fringe area closest to Naples is well underway, and final recommendations will be presented to the Collier County Commission this year.

Previously neglected areas of U.S. 41 east of Naples are also being considered for redevelopment. A new Porsche dealership at the northwest corner of Davis Boulevard and Airport-Pulling Road is one example of renewed interest in that area.

“The hottest ticket right now is east Naples,” Strain says. “All kinds of stuff is going on down there.”

Restaurants, shops and even condos are in the planning stages for the area of U.S. 41 near Collier Boulevard in east Naples. Strain says county officials have been working to update the development codes to allow larger stores such as Sam's Club to open in that area. “It's going to open up tremendous opportunities for new development in Collier County,” Strain says.

The residential development boom is even pushing developers to consider converting some of Collier County's 91 golf courses into residential areas. “Three have asked to convert to residential,” Strain says, noting that another 10 golf courses could be converted to housing developments.

Strain says the county is keeping up with the growth by building roads and managing wastewater and solid waste. “We're ahead of the development and getting it done,” he says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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