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News Clips 04/17/2013
FGCU land donation plan draws praise, criticism
Source: Naples Daily News, 04/16/13
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By Laura Layden
A developer’s proposal to donate 640 acres to Florida Gulf Coast University drew support and opposition as the idea was floated for the first time publicly Tuesday.
Private Equity Group, the owner of the land, made its pitch for the donation at a meeting of FGCU’s board of trustees. It was an “information only” presentation, so no vote was scheduled Tuesday.
However, several trustees spoke in favor of it, while a few others raised some concerns about the proposed private-public partnership, which would create a master-planned, university-focused community while giving FGCU room to expand its sprawling 760-acre campus.
“I think it would be a marvelous addition to our university and our region,” trustee Russell Priddy said after hearing the presentation.
He questioned why anyone would fight it.
“I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t embrace this conceptual idea,” he said.
The conceptual plan includes single- and multifamily homes, student housing, a hotel/conference center, retail shops, office buildings, a research park and a golf course. An endowment fund would be created for the development of the donated land by charging a fee on all homes sold, except student housing, and two streets would be built to improve access to the university.
Steve L. Magiera, an FGCU vice president, said the overall project could fit in well with the university, providing everything from internships for its hospitality students at the hotel to a place for its golf team to practice.
Talks between university leaders and the developer started about six months ago and will continue now with the university’s foundation, which ultimately will decide whether to accept the gift. The target date is June 5 for a final vote.
FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw emphasized the partnership could provide tremendous opportunities for the university. He said it could create a true university village, as envisioned when FGCU was first established.
Bradshaw expects to sign a letter of intent Friday, which is the starting point for the final donation agreement that will go to the foundation.
The land offered by the developer abuts Alico Road to the north and extends south to Corkscrew Road, touching the campus. Only parts of the land could be built on because there are hundreds of acres of lakes on the property. There’s uncertainty about what ultimately could be developed there and zoning isn’t in place.
Trustee Douglas Harrison, the Faculty Senate president, said he and other staffers had several concerns about the partnership, including the use of FGCU’s brand in the project and whether FGCU could get out of the partnership if the project went down the wrong road. The university’s mission is to be environmentally friendly, so some have questioned whether it should be a partner in such a large development that will forever change the landscape.
Harrison said he’d want to see concentrations of development on the neighboring land, not another sprawling community.
Development on the land is restricted. Most of the property owned by Private Equity Group falls into a density reduction groundwater recharge area, also known as DRGR, created in the more rural areas of Lee County to protect drinking water supplies. The tougher rules allow for one house for every 10 acres of uplands and one house for every 20 acres of wetlands.
Several speakers questioned whether the development proposed by Private Equity Group would violate those rules.
Nicole Johnson, director of governmental relations at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said one of her agency’s biggest concerns about the proposal is that it would be too intensive and inconsistent with the county’s rules in the DRGR. She said the university should question the project’s environmental impact and take a closer look at it before making any decisions about a proposed letter of intent, which lays out the developer’s offer to help FGCU with its future growth needs.
Laura Miller, environmental director for the League of Women Voters of Lee County, said FGCU’s involvement in such a project could tarnish its reputation.
“The donors appear to be self-serving,” she said.
Miller and others have suggested the developer is trying to attach itself to FGCU because it will increase the chances of getting the project approved by governmental and regulatory agencies.
But Donald Schrotenboer, the president of real estate for Private Equity Group who made the presentation on the offer, said after the meeting: “The process is the process regardless of who the parties are so there is no advantage of having FGCU involved other than it’s the right thing to do for our region.”
During the presentation, he told trustees: “We know opposition is going to take place. There are many naysayers. That’s part of the business.”
Nancy Payton, a field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation in Southwest Florida, spoke in favor of the project for many reasons. They included the developer’s plans to restore 1,264 acres for conservation, to create a 3-mile-long path for wildlife, and to re-establish water flow through the critical Stewart Cypress Slough.
She’s walked the land herself.
“It was one of the most desolate places I’ve ever been,” Payton said. “It was like a moonscape with a lot of exotics in the slough.”