Collier Enterprises aims to preserve wildlife while developing new villages

Environmental conservation and preservation do not often come with new development, but Collier County, the Florida Wildlife Federation and developer Collier Enterprises are trying to change that.

The Florida Wildlife Federation wants to ensure public benefit on this land in eastern Collier County while protecting wildlife. It plans on building wildlife crossings, fencing, bear-proof trashcans and dark sky lighting, but there is still concern that the land is too close to panther habitat, and it has been a long and controversial road for these villages.

On Tuesday, Collier County commissioners approved the Longwater and Bellmar villages, slated to be built on rural land stewardship area. They are each 1,000 acres and will have around 2,500 units each. Collier Enterprises says the villages will provide affordable housing and protect thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive land, at no cost to the county’s taxpayers.

“The applicant is preserving, setting aside land, 12,300 acres of land that is environmentally sensitive, that is critical for our water resources and wildlife habitat and wildlife movement,” said Meredith Budd, regional policy director with FWF. “So there is extensive preservation that is occurring as these villages get approved.”

Neighbors and wildlife experts called the decision disappointing. But FWF says the private land doesn’t have the same environmental value as vegetated or forested habitat, making this the best compromise.

“Do they have a value, environmental value? Sure,” Budd said. “Do they have the same environmental value of a vegetated or forested habitat area? Absolutely not.”

To concerns about Florida panthers, Budd said “They are not the same. So, when you are thinking about functional panther habitat, what’s functioning as panther habitat out there? That tomato field is not functioning as panther habitat.”

FWF says Collier Enterprises is following the law. Construction is expected to break ground next year.

Reporter:Nicole Gabe
Writer:Joey Pellegrino
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