A controversial development is back on the agenda for the Collier County Planning Commission.
WINK News has told you in the past about plans to build two new villages in the middle of already-endangered panther territory.
Now, the U.S. Department of the Interior wants a say in the project. The Planning Commission was scheduled Thursday to vote on the project but held off on making any decisions.
The Interior wants the county to hold off on approving the Longwater and Bellmar projects planned for the eastern part of the county.
Thursday’s meeting drew more than 60 public speakers. Some feel the developments will displace panthers and overcrowd their neighborhoods.
Thomas Perchoux moved to Golden Gate Estates in the 1980s for the open space and peace and quiet. Today, he has construction, large trucks, and planned villages like Longwater five minutes from his home.
“I think the development, putting all these communities in, too big, too much, and they wonder why there are animals coming attacking…bears and cougars,” he said.
The Florida panther is partly why the Interior sent a letter to Collier County, saying they’re afraid the two villages are too close to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Collier.
April Olsen, a senior environmental planning specialist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, agrees.
“These are lands that are essential to the panther’s recovery and survival.”
But Meredith Budd, regional policy director with the Florida Wildlife Federation, says these communities will not take away land that panthers use regularly.
“It has to be able to provide cover, denning areas, stalking areas … and if areas on the map don’t provide those needs for panthers, it’s not functioning primary panther habitat.”
Panther habitat or not, Catrina Morieko is against Bellmar. She lives right at one of the planned entrances for the village and fears the development will mean thousands of cars passing her home every day.
“We have children. They like to play in the street, they like to ride bikes; that’s not going to happen anymore. How can we take walks? How can we walk our animals, you know, we lose all of these things.”
As plans stand, Longwater and Bellmart are each 1,000 acres and include more than 2,600 units each.
The developer, Collier Enterprise, will set aside 7,000 acres of land between the two villages for land preservation. They’ll also include panther crossings in Longwater Village.