Urban infill in Collier County leading the way

Kudos to the Naples Daily News for showing its support for Collier County’s recent redevelopment approvals that are turning old commercial centers into new housing units. Not only does this repurpose developed (but abandoned) land for a more urgent need, but it encourages development where the infrastructure (roads, utilities, services) already exists to support it – rather than on remote tracts of land that destroys natural habitat and recharge areas, while forcing new residents to drive for miles to access any essential services.

Lee Future encourages Lee County to learn from its neighbor to the south, and boost incentives for in-fill development, rather than continuing its encouragement of urban sprawl as the county continues to grow.

Originally published in the Naples Daily News by Brent Batten on Nov. 19, 2019

Editorial: Urban infill, the wave of the future, is already occurring around Naples

When it comes to redevelopment in and around Naples, the future is now.

Two long-discussed projects to convert underutilized retail space to residential use are progressing, driving home some of the realities of the 21st century.

Planners have seen it coming for years.

With the rise of online shopping, there’s less demand for traditional “bricks and mortar” stores.

Meanwhile, people keep wanting to move here, creating a demand for more housing.

Traditionally, that would mean paving over another piece of paradise.

But urban infill, as the process is called, offers an alternative.

Instead of plowing under existing green space, unused retail can be repurposed.

That’s what’s going on at the intersection of Goodlette-Frank and Pine Ridge roads, where the old Sweetbay supermarket and other buildings are being demolished to make way for some 300 apartments.

Last week, Collier County commissioners approved a similar project on U.S. 41 East across from the courthouse, where part of the Courthouse Shadows shopping center will be torn down in favor of another 300-unit apartment complex.

Urban infill offers several advantages to traditional housing development.

Infrastructure such as roads, utilities, parks and schools are already nearby.

So are jobs.

Traffic has been cited as a concern. While new apartments generate more traffic than a deserted mall, we need to take a breath and consider economic reality.

Owners of those vacant malls aren’t going to let them sit like that forever. At some point, they will find a productive use for the land.

Community members have expressed concern that the new apartments will increase traffic, but Collier planning and zoning professionals say that traffic may actually decrease because workers will be able to live closer to town and their commutes will be shorter.

Traffic experts assure us that residential use generates less traffic than busy retail and commercial businesses so in the long run, the road network is less stressed by apartments than other potential uses of the land.

The idea is not without its drawbacks.

More people living in the coastal urban area means more people will need to get out when a hurricane approaches.

Emergency managers must update their plans and evacuation schedules accordingly.

The county’s approval of the zoning changes needed to convert retail did not come with any stipulations limiting the prices of the apartments.

So, the projects aren’t “affordable housing” in that sense.

But the Courthouse Shadows developers, for example, offered to market some of their units first to “essential service personnel,” workers like teachers and first responders, who make 120% or less of the median county income.

Of course, if the rents are too high, that will mean little.

But the proximity of the apartments to government jobs is an incentive in itself, offering a financial benefit that can offset some of the cost of living there.

Overall, it is the increase in the supply that will make the high cost of housing here more affordable.

The old way of increasing that supply — finding vacant land and sprawling outward as a city to occupy it — has company now in the form of urban infill.

Welcome to the future.

Brent Batten wrote this for the Naples Daily News editorial board.


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