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Dear Resident:

In my most recent newsletter sent in April, I distributed a survey asking your opinion on the most important issues facing Naples. I received a tremendous response and I thank you for that.

You also provided valuable feedback on questions regarding the performance of Naples City Council. Those insights will be valuable to me as I continue to serve on City Council and stand for reelection next February 1.

Your priorities for Naples were clear:

  • Protect the charm and character of our town
  • Protect our environment, particularly our beaches, bays, lakes, and Gulf
  • Responsibly manage development and redevelopment consistent with our land development code

These issues were judged most important. On the other hand, questions relating to increasing tourism and expanding the number of restaurants and entertainment destinations in Naples received the lowest scores, confirming that most of you believe we have plenty enough already in terms of visitors and commercial activity.

These responses track the feedback from the City Vision Survey conducted 2 ½ years ago. It is apparent resident priorities have remained clear and consistent.

The specific results of this survey are available through the link at the end of this newsletter. Thanks again for your interest and time in participating!

In this issue of my newsletter, I also want to bring you up to date on key items that have come before City Council over the last several months. We continue to have a very busy agenda but I am pleased that we have been able to address a number of issues that are critical to my goals of protecting, preserving and improving Naples. Here are the highlights relating to seven major accomplishments:

I. Protecting our Environment – Stormwater Management: Council on June 16 gave final approval to an ordinance overhauling of the city’s Stormwater Development Code. This was the first time Naples had addressed this issue since 2007 and it will significantly advance our efforts to improve flood control and water quality in the City. I spoke to the urgent need for this action in my campaign for Council in 2019 and am pleased we have now moved this initiative to the finish line.

Through this action, new construction and substantial remodeling/redevelopment of existing buildings will need to meet higher standards for on-site stormwater retention and detention systems. Properties with 40 % or less impervious surface must retain at least 0.5 inch of stormwater on site. For properties with impervious surfaces greater than 40%, the designed storage volume must be at least 1.0 inch. This is double previous requirements.

We all know that climate change and sea level rise will continue to increase and place new burdens on our stormwater management system. It becomes ever more important, therefore, to try to address this by retaining and detaining more stormwater on site, thereby reducing the need for expensive improvements to the city’s stormwater system.

This new stormwater management code was over a year in the making, including outreach to property owner associations, contractors, homebuilders, environmental groups, and others. The result places Naples in a leadership position statewide and perhaps nationally in its efforts to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and address climate change.

II. Protecting our Environment – Lakes Restoration: The City of Naples has a system of nearly 30 lakes that were originally developed for purposes of managing stormwater. Some of these lakes are publicly owned but most are privately held, although with easements in place to allow City access.

In recent years, the City has given greater attention to these lakes. Many have become over time polluted with nutrients and filled with sediment and trash, degrading their ability to retain and filter stormwater.

The current City Council has placed increased priority on lake restoration and clean-up. A list of 21 priority lakes has been developed for attention and Council is working with city staff to identify new funding sources to accelerate this effort.

A significant achievement in this regard occurred on June 2, when Council approved by a 4-3 vote the expenditure of $4.6 million to restore three key lakes – Spring Lake, East Lake, and Fleischmann Lake – that discharge into either Naples Bay or the Gordon River. These lakes are critical and long overdue priorities for clean-up. The restoration work will make significant contributions to reducing pollution levels in Naples Bay and the Gordon River, both impaired water bodies.

I want to recognize Councilors Hutchison, McCabe and Perry for joining me in this important vote to protect and enhance our stormwater management and water quality management systems.

III. Protecting our Environment – Securing a Conservation Easement to Preserve Open Space at the Naples Beach Hotel: The pending sale of the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club to the Athens Group has been a major community issue since it first came before City Council over two years ago. From the beginning of these discussions, I have focused my efforts on protecting in perpetuity the open space on the property, which is defined by the 18 hole golf course.

When the initial approvals for this development were granted in May 2019, I fought to have an easement established that included a third party easement holder as well as city government. The inclusion of a third party (usually a land trust) was to protect our community against some future City Council unilaterally releasing the easement.

Unfortunately, the prior City Council did not support this approach – only Councilor Hutchison joined me in voting for the third party. Of note is that the Athens Group itself agreed at the time to the inclusion of a third party easement holder.

Since then, I have continued to lead the effort to implement a stronger conservation easement for the property – one that would be held by an established land trust organization. There are literally thousands of land trusts across the country that have been created for the purpose of holding and managing easements for conservation purposes.

I identified a law firm that is a leader in the field of conservation easements in the southeast United States and recommended to Council that it be hired to work with the Athens Group to try to implement this solution. Subsequently, Council retained the Ausley McMullan firm based in Tallahassee. Ausley and the Athens Group are currently meeting with recommended land trusts to determine if a voluntary agreement can be reached.

I am hopeful that this will occur and that such an agreement will be brought back to City Council. My goal is to secure a conservation easement for this property, based on existing Florida statutes and involving the participation of an established land trust organization. If accomplished, we will be able to provide our residents a sense of security that this iconic property will be truly protected as open space in perpetuity.

IV. Managing Growth and Development – Setting Building Height Limits: On June 16, City Council finalized another major action that has been a year in the making – passage of an ordinance to limit the height of buildings in commercial zoning districts. This includes all buildings in Planned Development (PD) zoning districts, even when used exclusively for residential purposes. (PDs can be established for developments of five acres or more.)

The ordinance establishes a maximum height for such buildings as three floors and 42 feet, setting forth clearly in the City’s Code a limit that had originally been approved in a referendum to the City Charter in 2000 but not consistently interpreted, applied or enforced since then.

Many residents have long and loudly called for action on this issue to make certain that the requirements of the charter amendment are observed. It is central to any effort to maintain the small-town charm and character of Naples, as most of us desire. Keeping the height of our buildings in our commercial districts and PD districts at reasonable levels (which we define as three floors and 42 feet) will do as much as anything to control the density and intensity of development in Naples.

This was an issue central to my campaign for City Council in 2019 and I am proud to be part of the effort to have it finally implemented. In doing so, Council carefully addressed the legally vested rights of property owners who had previous approvals for buildings with higher height limits. The ordinance also provides that future Public Service and Medical Districts that are used exclusively by cultural/non-profit organizations and hospitals can be created with greater height limits if approved by Council.

But the real benefit of this ordinance will be its application to future commercial and mixed-use development proposals that come before Council, where these height limits can now be strictly enforced.

V. Planning for Quality Redevelopment – The Gulf Shore Playhouse and the 41/10 Master Plan: I have had the privilege of serving since April 2020 as Chair of the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The CRA was established in 1994 under state law to oversee the redevelopment of a part of Naples that includes the Fifth Avenue commercial district, the 8th Street Corridor, and a large area east of Rt 41. The portion of the CRA east of Rt 41 has until now received much less attention – and far fewer CRA dollars – than the area west of Rt 41.

My goal as CRA chair has been to refocus and emphasize improvements to such areas as the 10th Street business district (now known as The Design District) and River Park. New market driven investment has been coming to this area in recent years as evidenced by Naples Square and commercial buildings such as The Collective. We need to balance the needs of residents and businesses in this area with an overall plan and vision.

In that regard, the CRA on June 10 approved a contract with DPZ CoDesign to prepare a Master Plan for the 41/10 area. DPZ is the firm founded by Andres Duany, who carried out the master planning effort for the 5th Avenue corridor in the mid-1990’s. This led to the rejuvenation of Fifth Avenue as a mixed-use community. I hope that the 41/10 area evolves with its own identity and character, and I believe the DPZ firm can help provide the vision that it needs.

While the CRA has been working to launch a master planning effort for this area, new development continues to occur. For example, City Council on May 19 approved a rezoning and site plan for a new Marriott AC hotel within the Naples Square PD at the corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Rt 41 East. This will allow for development of a new high-quality hotel in Naples.

Most exciting is the plan by the Gulf Shore Playhouse to build a new theatre complex on 1st Avenue South near Goodlette-Frank Road. As part of this initiative, the Playhouse approached the City of Naples through the CRA almost two years ago about a partnership to construct a public parking garage to support the needs of the Playhouse and other future development that will be attracted to the area.

After many months of negotiation, I am pleased to report that on June 10 the CRA granted approvals necessary for this parking garage to be built using CRA funds. As part this agreement, the Gulf Shore Playhouse and the Wynn Family (the adjoining land owner) will provide to the CRA the land on which the garage will be built. In turn, a portion of the parking in the garage will be allocated to the Playhouse to meet its parking needs and to Wynns for their pending commercial development. The remainder of the spaces in the garage will be available for future use by the public and for other future development.

This is a great demonstration of a public-private partnership and how a CRA should
operate in the public interest. The new Gulf Shore Playhouse theatre complex will likely be the most important “public” development project carried out in Naples for the next generation or longer. I am gratified that the City of Naples, through the CRA, could be an important partner in this development, and that City Council subsequently voted to support the related rezoning and subdivision replat actions needed to allow the project to move forward.

Plans call for the new theatre and garage to be open by Fall 2023 for the 2023-24 theatre season. In the meantime, the Playhouse will continue to present its productions at the Norris Center, with an outstanding line-up of plays commencing in September for the coming year.

VI. Supporting Ethics in government – Adopting a new City Ethics Code: Many of you know that prior to being elected to City Council, I served as Executive Director of Ethics Naples. That organization proposed an amendment to the City Charter to establish by referendum a new ethics code and independent Ethics Commission for the City. After more than a year of unsuccessful court challenges by the prior City Council, voters approved the referendum in August 2020.

Once the new Commission was established in late 2020, it began work on the new ethics code and brought it to Council on May 5. Based on discussions at that meeting, some changes were suggested and a revised code was subsequently provided to Council. Council agreed to have this item on its first regular meeting agenda after summer recess to be held on August 18.

I am optimistic that Council will at that time approve the new code as well as an ordinance implementing the code. These actions will be the final steps to ensure that the City of Naples has in place a best practices ethics code and an ethics office that can properly administer the code, thereby contributing to more effective and transparent governance in Naples.

VII. Maintaining our Quality of Life – Providing Beach Parking Access for our Residents: In December 2020, City Council approved a Beach Parking Pilot Program that converted more than 360 metered parking spaces at 22 beach end blocks to beach permit sticker parking only (which is available to both city and county residents). At the time of approval, Council agreed to revisit the program in six months to gauge its success. This occurred on June 14 and Council determined that the program has received wide-spread approval from residents and has reduced conflicts with visitors from outside our city and county who search for available parking near the beach.

However, Council also determined that the original approval should have included two avenues – 11th Avenue South and Broad Avenue – that were not part of the original program. On the beach end blocks of both these avenues, residents have felt significant negative impacts from visitors blocking ingress and egress, loading and unloading vehicles, creating excessive noise, increased trash, and generally interfering with the quiet enjoyment of their homes.

Council voted to add these two avenues to the program, effective immediately. This will reduce metered parking by about another 33 spaces but the trade-off between this lost revenue and maintaining the quality of life for residents on these avenues was deemed worthwhile.

In closing, I trust you find value in this summary of critically important issues facing our wonderful town and how City Council has been addressing them. I try to keep in mind each day the need to protect, preserve and improve Naples.

Please use the link below to find additional information about the survey results. They confirm that the direction residents called for in the City Vision Survey almost three years ago continue to be priorities today.

Survey Results

And as always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Have a great summer and I hope to see you again in person soon!

Council will continue to monitor this program and consider other changes in the future as warranted. It is clear from all available evidence that a core ingredient of “what makes Naples Naples” are our beaches. We need to continue to take any reasonable actions to make sure they are accessible for our residents first and that we do all we can to maintain their quality and beauty.

Best regards,

Ray Christman
Naples City Council
735 8th Street North
Naples, Florida 34102