Vote Delays Condo Construction Until Eagles Move Away

Wed June 08, 2005 - Southeast Edition

NAPLES, FL (AP) Eagles nesting in a dead pine tree have indefinitely delayed construction of an $8 million condominium complex approved four years ago.

In spite of the lag time, Collier County commissioners stuck to their guns and refused on a 4-1 vote May 10 to allow construction to start on the 590-unit Cocohatchee Bay project until the pine tree falls.

Signature Properties estimates it could lose $8 million to $12 million every year construction is delayed. The developers offered to build a $250,000 fake tree as a substitute or preserve 100 acres of offsite wilderness.

When the North Naples project was approved in December 2000, the company said it would wait for Mother Nature to topple the tree. But as time passed and the pair of eagles stayed on, Signature wanted to move ahead on five 15- to 20-story towers with or without the tree.

The commission’s insistence on holding the company to its promise may set the stage for a lawsuit.

“I was surprised that the county chose the path that they did,” said Don Corace, a principal with Signature. “It is unfortunate, but we’re going to prevail in the long run.”

The Collier County Audubon Society and the Florida Wildlife Federation backed the developer’s request based on the alternatives offered for wildlife protection.

But commissioners thought holding developers to promises was more important.

“I think we have to do the right thing and I think we did that today,” commission chairman Fred Coyle said after the vote. “I don’t think we can ever make a decision simply to avoid a potential lawsuit.”