Location: Collier County, Florida

Highlighted Element: 422.c. Natural Functions Open Space (NFOS) & 512.c. Natural Floodplain Functions Plan (NFP)

Point of Contact: Caroline Cilek, AICP, CFM, Land Development Code Manager & Howard Critchfield, P.E., MSCM, CFM, Floodplain Coordinator, Collier County, FL

Collier County is a coastal community located on the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida. According to the 2015 U.S. Census, Collier County has a population of 357,305 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). It is the largest county in Florida by land area with 2,305 square miles ("Collier County, Florida," n.d.). Collier County contains four nationally-protected areas: a portion of Big Cypress National Preserve, a portion of Everglades National Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge ("Collier County, Florida," n.d.).

The county accrued NFOS credit from state parks, county preserves, private preserves, county-held conservation easements and Southwest Florida Water Management Conservation easements.

Element 422.c. Natural Functions Open Space (NFOS)

The following describes the key Collier County programs that accrued points for the NFOS activity.

Collier County, FL Natural Functions Open Spaces Map. Image courtesy of Collier County, FL.

County Preserves
In 2002, Collier County citizens approved by referendum a green space acquisition program called Conservation Collier (“Conservation Collier – Overview,” 2016). The initiative allowed the county to tax residents one quarter of a million dollars for 10 years to purchase conservation lands and green space. The referendum also approved a $75 million limited tax general obligation bond to buy lands. Nearly 60% of the voters supported the initiative. In 2006, nearly 82% of the voters approved another referendum for additional taxes to support the program. The Conservation Collier program accrued more than 4,084 acres in 19 locations and is currently in maintenance status. These county preserves were included in the NFOS1 activity.

Private Preserves
The county's local comprehensive plan, required by Florida, includes requirements for preservation of existing native vegetation. The preserve requirement, implemented through the county's Land Development Code, requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of the site's native vegetation prior to development. The current code requirements are based on the project’s location, acreage and land use. For example, a residential and mixed use development with 2.5 acres or more in the county's coastal area is required to set aside 25% of existing vegetation. Non-coastal areas have different requirements and are also based on the acreage of the project. The private preserve areas are required to have a conservation easement. These private preserves were included in the NFOS1 activity.

The county's Rural Land Stewardship Area program was also advantageous to the county's NFOS1 score. Florida statutes established the framework for the program in the early 2000s and the county adopted the program in the Growth Management Plan in 2002. Key features of the program include a future land use overlay with criteria for development and conservation, strategies for the urban environment, and standards that support a mix of densities and intensities. At the heart of the program are two designations creating Stewardship Receiving Areas (lands selected for development), and Stewardship Sending Areas (lands selected for conservation or agricultural uses). A bulk of the county's NFOS1 credits come from counting the acreage dedicated as Stewardship Sending Areas, which have limited or severed development rights.

Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand State Park. Image courtesy of Miguel Vieira via the Flickr Creative Commons.

Private and State Parks in the County
Collier County is fortunate to be the home of the Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Florida state parks, including Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Strand State Park, Collier Seminole State Park and Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park. These public lands were also included in the NFOS1 count.

GIS Mapping
The floodplain management staff collaborated with the county's GIS mapping staff to calculate and illustrate all of the open space acreages through a set of maps. Mapping staff played a crucial role by collecting open space data from various state agencies and county departments to create maps. To ensure consistency, they maintained standard operating procedures that describe the GIS steps to generate the NFOS1 maps and allowed any GIS team member to perform the tasks. The most time-intensive effort, approximately six months, was dedicated to research and data collection to create the GIS open space base map. Currently, the GIS mapping team spends approximately 2-4 hours per week updating maps by adding or amending the open space lands.

A diagram which displays the hierarchical breakdown of the components of the Activity 420 maps. Diagram courtesy of Collier County, FL.

Element 512.c. Natural Floodplain Functions Plan (NFP)

Collier County obtained NFP points for the Floodplain Management Plan and Manatee Protection Plan. The Floodplain Management Plan, a requirement of the CRS program, is updated every five years. The effort required hiring a consultant with expertise in the field and required a great deal of staff time and effort. The Manatee Protection Plan, competed in 1995, is currently under re-review by county staff.

To learn more about how your community can take credit for preserving floodplains in their natural state and having formal management plans for these areas, check out the Green Guide profiles of elements 422.c. Natural Functions Open Space and 512.c. Natural Floodplain Functions Plan.

Benefits

Floodplain management section staff said these two elements support priceless benefits. Collier County has a unique sense of place because of policies that preserve the natural environment. The staff said the best method for maximizing CRS credit is through implementing best management practices to gain benefits of the activity, rather than simply to obtain credit for the CRS program.

However, there are tangible benefits from NFOS1 and NFP. For example, many of the preserved areas support local tourism services, including walking, hiking, kayaking and agritourism. Some of the top beaches in the nation are found in Collier County. The preserved areas serve to support a sustainable environment, including aquifer recharge areas and floodplain management. In addition, private preserves within developments enhance real estate values, quality of life and are aesthetically pleasing.

Teamwork

Floodplain management section staff said successful programs need to foster partnerships with other departments. The section often makes the extra effort to recognize staff members who assist them with CRS tasks and share any positive acknowledgement of the program. These relationships are valuable to developing depth in the program. They also coordinate on a frequent basis with other CRS communities in the region and share learning lessons and identify areas for collaboration. The other CRS communities have similar environments and face similar challenges, making the shared experiences beneficial for all parties. In addition, sometimes new ideas are discussed resulting in an opportunity for new credit or ways to improve the county's program.

Best practices that can be shared by this community:

  1. Invest in generating GIS maps and maintaining GIS standard operating procedures.
  2. Develop excellent internal communication and ask other departments for assistance in their areas of expertise.
  3. Communicate to assisting staff members the importance of CRS work to the community, including how an improved CRS score will monetarily benefit flood insurance policyholders.

Through NFOS, NFP and other CRS activities, Collier County has reached a CRS Class 5 rating. This resulted in a 25% reduction in flood insurance rates for most policyholders.