Wednesday, January 19, 2022

County Affordable Housing Lacks Sense

Housing affordability has been an issue plaguing Collier County for decades; the news isn’t new. Along with that, concentrating approved affordable housing projects in East Naples isn’t new either. When one looks at the distance from just a few East Naples schools one can determine that there appears to be a concentration in violation of state statute. Regal Acres Majestic Circle is 3 miles to Manatee Elementary School, Charles Estates is 1.8 miles, and Trail Ridge Legacy Lane is 1.6 miles. There are two more developments looking at building over 800 additional approved affordable housing units on a combined 115 acres, all within these distances to a particular East Naples School. This makes the number of planned or developed approved affordable housing units in this three mile radius close to 2,000 or about 660 units per mile. There is nowhere else in Collier County with this kind of concentration, yet questions have to be asked; where will all of these people work? How will people travel and commute in this area? Where will kids go to school? For the first two questions, the overwhelming amount of jobs in Collier County is located far from this area. About two and a half times more jobs exist in North Naples, which is roughly a seventeen to eighteen mile commute up US 41. Imagine that, roughly two to four thousand more people commuting north on US 41 in just a short time. Where will their kids go to school? Manatee Elementary and Manatee Middle are all swelling at the seams. It is likely the district will have to purchase dozens of portable classrooms while they continue to plan for new schools or take extreme debt on to build the schools, which even in a best case scenario can take years. While the surtax voters narrowly passed will give the county additional dollars to buy land for affordable housing or create some incentives for developers, funds will not be used for improvements to 41, especially for north bound traffic, and other needed infrastructure (sidewalks, light posts, signage, landscaping, etc.) and funds will not be used to help the school district buy portables, build new schools, and staff up to meet the demand and population bust in the concentrated area.

On top of these concerns come environmental impacts and an impact to quality of life. With new homes come more than just roads, sidewalks and drainage. We lose green space. This is something that separates Naples and our neighbors to the north and east. Now, with almost 80% of Collier County under some kind of land conservation it is fairly safe to say it would take a lot to make us look remotely like a second Miami. However the sacrifice of park land and green space will come at the cost of our small town charm that brought my family to the area in the 1920s. One is the Manatee Park, which has been designated a park site and even had a plan for a community center in 2008. Now, county leaders wish to take back the promise of a park from residents in East Naples, Marco and the surrounding areas, only to concentrate more affordable housing.

County leaders have always talked the talk when it comes to this issue. They say they want affordable housing but blame high land cost above all else for their failure to plan for the future. Meanwhile parks, roads and schools are put on the sacrificial altar.

Jacob Winge

East Naples Civic Association

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