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NAPLES, FL-Armed with a potential new source of funding, Collier County officials recently ordered independent appraisals on the last privately owned parcel of land in the 342-acre Barefoot Beach Preserve.

County administrative staff may recommend later this month a proposal to bid on the 1.75-acre outparcel, quite possibly at premium prices. It also is possible county staff could raise the issue of taking an eminent domain action on the property, if the argument can be made the parcel is that valuable of an addition to the public trust.

“We are securing the appraisals for review by the county commissioners for any further decision concerning the potential acquisition of the parcel,” Collier County Attorney David C. Weigel tells GlobeSt.com.

The staff moved quickly to order the appraisals following a recent legal opinion by Florida Attorney General Robert A. Butterworth. That opinion approved the use of tourist development tax revenue as a potential funding source for the 73,230 per sf of undeveloped land belonging to Bonita Spring-based property owner Ricky Stauffer.

Besides Stauffer’s interest, the county also must consider the impact of such a sale on Naples businessman Paul Harvey, who owns a 40-year lease on the site. Harvey was unavailable for comment.

In the face of heavy public opposition, the county commission earlier this year rejected a plan by Harvey to establish a tourist-oriented retail operation on a site that is accessible only by water.

Nevertheless, this could become one expensive land transaction. As a possible funding-acquisition source, the county commission approved a measure last month to apply for up to $6.6 million in matching grant dollars from the Florida Communities Trust’s Forever Grant Program. Armed with Butterworth’s opinion, the commission now may consider additional acquisition funds from roughly $9.5 million raised each year from hotel bed taxes.

“According to information you have supplied to this office, Collier County’s use of tourist development tax revenues as a source of funding for the purchase of the remaining privately owned outparcel is appropriate because the preserve, as a destination, promotes and enhances tourism,” Butterworth says in the opinion. “The land purchase is for a beach park facility that will preserve and conserve a natural shoreline that is a valuable and scarce resource. Purchase of this property will make the entire shoreline park publicly owned and contiguous.”

Since they’re now taking a summer recess, Weigel says, the county commissioners are unlikely to formally discuss the possible acquisition anytime sooner than the regularly scheduled July 31 meeting.

“Either the board members individually, or the county manager with the assistance of the county attorney, may propose agenda items for the board on the 31st,” Weigel tells GlobeSt.com. “That is to be determined. We still have appraisals to undertake. That information will be important for the board, since the county has a long-standing interest in the land management of the preserve, in which this parcel is a component.”

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