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185,000-acre Collier Co. development near panthers has people protesting

Location near Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge brings out plenty of questions, critics
Posted at 9:46 PM, Dec 07, 2023

NAPLES, Fla. — What is currently occupied by some of Southwest Florida's most treasured neighbors, the Florida Panther and many other species, is soon to be developed into almost 4,000 homes.

A series of development plans are looking to turn 185,000 acres off Oil Well Road in east Naples into homes and commercial space less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

"They will lose that much of their foraging and their breeding grounds. They will be displaced," said Rhonda Roff, Sierra Club Calusa Group.

The plans are now bringing people like Roff together in hopes of stopping the development, and they are not backing down.

"There's area that is outside of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and outside of the most important Florida panther habitat, the primary zone that this landowner also owns," said Amber Crooks, Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Plus, they are bringing solutions to the problem and bringing their concerns to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FLDEP) in hopes the department will not grant the 404 permit the development needs to proceed.

"There's a lot of land closer to the coast," said Roff. "We don't need people to be displacing panthers in panther habitats."

However, with the influx of development inland, people like Roff and Crooks are worried about the already endangered species.

"I'm enjoying the natural resources of all the different wildlife species and beautiful, scenic landscapes that we have like at the Panther refuge, and if Bellmar goes in it will affect our natural resources that we depend on," said Crooks.

More information about the Bellmar development can be found here. Fox 4 will keep you up to date as it progresses.