Should panthers be evicted for new community in Collier County?

Development vs. wildlife: Should a 1,000-acre town be built east of Golden Gate Estates in Collier County?

Those living in one community are in an uproar because protected Florida panthers already live there.

Rae Ann Burton describes living in Golden Gate Estates as an escape.

“The reason that people moved to rural Golden Gate Estates is to get away from the city, from the noise, from the pollution and from the crimes.”

But she’s hearing more construction noise than ever before, and she fears for endangered Florida panthers – and her quiet lifestyle.

“I have seen more traffic going up and down my dead-end street than I have ever seen and they’re constantly building up.”

Burton went to the Collier County Planning Commission meeting on Thursday to speak against the Longwater Village development. Plans right now include 2,600 homes and 90,000 square feet of office space and government buildings, all just east of the Estates in what’s known as the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA) along the Desoto Boulevard/Oil Well Road corridor.

April Olson, an environmental planning specialist with The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, worries what the project will mean for the panthers by “replacing essential habitat … with homes, cars and businesses.”

She says the design doesn’t fit the RLSA.

“All of these developments that come forward are supposed to be walkable, they’re supposed to be self-sufficient, they’re supposed to planned smart growth.”

But developer Collier Enterprises says the Village will encourage biking and walking, and include services and goods for all in the area to enjoy.

Burton doesn’t buy it. “Our property should not be destroyed for the rights of the developer.”

The Collier County Planning Commission will discuss the project in their March 4 meeting. If approved by them, it would go in front of county commissioners.

Developers say the project would be finished in 12 years, if approved.

Reporter:Rachel Cox-Rosen
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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