Collier rejects the $23 million price tag for 2,247 acres

Collier County cOmmissioners unanimously rejected a $23 million price tag for a 2,247-acre Immokalee property for possible affordable workforce housing, a fire station and other uses, opting to continue negotiating.

During a discussion of about an hour May 14Commissioner Bill McDaniel Jr. called the rejection of the offer a motion for failure, but added: “I will support you if you want to go that route.”

The sellers’ purchase agreement was subject to their right to revoke it if the province’s bid for Williams Reserve at Lake Trafford was less than $23 million. Four of the five commissioners must approve a purchase price above $20.77 million, the average of two appraisals.

Two independent appraisers hired by the county valued the property at $19.94 million and $21.6 million and it would be purchased with money from taxpayer-funded Conservation Collier, the 1-cent infrastructure sales surcharge, and Parks & Recreation and housing budgets.

Commissioner Burt Saunders questioned the seller’s price, saying it came out of nowhere.

But Commissioner Rick LoCastro wanted to argue against this.

“We’ve discussed that we want to run the county more like a business … so I don’t think this offer is an opportunity to fail,” LoCastro said. ‘I think we’re making a business proposal. We make an offer to the seller, and if he doesn’t like it, he can walk… or he can come back to us with a counter. But we said we will stick to the appraisal price and my vote is only for the appraisal price.”

The county plans to use the land for parks and recreation, transportation, stormwater management, economic development and a possible co-location of the Immokalee Fire and Rescue District. Changes and repurposing of the Growth Management Plan would be necessary. Three parcels totaling 1,117 hectares would be set aside as a nature conservation area, preventing further development.

The province’s Rural Lands Stewardship Area Overlay protects agricultural areas, natural habitats, wetlands and streamways, while growth is diverted away from those areas. The program, which uses credits, allows developers to build intense cities and towns on land considered less valuable for conservation, in exchange for preserving environmentally sensitive land.

McDaniel estimated the credits at $900 Unpleasant $1,000 and suggested the county could take advantage of stewardship credits by retaining some land and selling credits as development rights.

Staff told commissioners whether the parcels could yield up to 1,100 credits for a traditional Stewardship Sending Area with active agricultural and conservation uses or 2,214 credits for an Agricultural Stewardship Easement. Several agricultural leases generate $300,000 annually.

Staff raised concerns about contamination from livestock, agricultural use and a septic tank and recommended soil and groundwater testing, which is required for residential and commercial use. The land is in panther habitat and other listed environmental species have been found, so the county would need to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

When a park is built, the vendors ask for the James E. Williams Jr. Preserve to be named, after the seller, for a minimum of 20 years. Sellers also include Williams trusts, Williams Farms of Immokalee Inc. and The Williams Farms Land Assets LLC.