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Ave Maria: A Town Without a Vote

Ave Maria: A Town Without a Vote is a special report by the Daily News

The Daily News spent more than a year researching and reporting "A Town Without A Vote." Any narrative reconstruction is based on interviews and thousands of documents, including internal Ave Maria Development memos obtained by the Daily News.

Navigation: Interactive Timeline | Documents | Polls | Photos | Bios | By the Numbers | FAQ | Links

Part I:
  • PDF Ave Maria Stewardship Community District law - This 61-page law created Ave Maria's government, the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District, in 2004. Important sections are on page 25 and page 28. Page 25 lists the district's size and page 28 lists the voter turnover procedure. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Ave Maria development order - This June 14, 2005 resolution of the Collier County Commission approves Ave Maria's development plans. The third page of the PDF is the first of many times the town's size is listed. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Resident disclosure statement - When Ave Maria residents bought their houses the existence of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District was disclosed. Who was in charge of the district was not disclosed. (Read PDF)
Part II:
  • PDF Summer 2003 Barron Collier Cos. schedule - This internal document from Ave Maria co-developer Barron Collier Cos. shows the company's schedule for creating a town government and financing construction. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Early recommendations to create a new kind of government - This Jan. 30, 2003 internal Barron Collier Cos. memo from its attorney Ken van Assenderp to company vice president Blake Gable shows on pages 2 and 4 that van Assenderp suggested a new type of government for Ave Maria early on in the process. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Internal Barron Collier Cos. memo on the district's size and control - This Sept. 5, 2003 memo from Barron Collier Cos. Vice President Tom Sansbury to company CEO Paul Marinelli shows that the company knew a large size difference between the district and the town could allow them to control the district "in perpetuity." The company decided to go ahead with the plan, despite acknowledging residents might feel the district was a form of "taxation without representation." (Read PDF)
  • PDF Memo addressing the Ave Maria district's turnover procedure from Barron Collier Cos. attorney to Florida House staff - This March 25, 2004 memo from Barron Collier Cos. attorney Ken van Assenderp to Florida House staff argues on page 1 that Ave Maria's turnover procedure is more democratic than other methods. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Ave Maria District Press Release - This Ave Maria Development press release, dated Oct. 28, 2003, describes the district's size rationale on page 3. Nowhere is longer developer control mentioned even though one month prior, a company vice president called the control issue "the major decision factor" on the district's size. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Lakewood Ranch Staff Analysis - This Florida House staff analysis dated April 22, 2005 was provided to legislators for the proposed Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District, which was modeled in part on Ave Maria's district. Pages 23 and 24 reference Ave Maria. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Legal explainer on community development districts and "stewardship districts" - This document, dated June 3, 2007 and downloaded from the Web site of Tallahassee law firm Hopping, Green & Sams, answers frequently asked questions about community development districts and "stewardship districts." (Read PDF)
Part III:
  • PDF Memos and a map - Ave Maria Development provided these documents, dated June 2005, to the Daily News to show that the partnership plans to develop outside the town's boundaries. A hand drawn map of those developments is on page 7. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Florida Supreme Court case, State v. Frontier Acres - This 1985 Florida Supreme Court decision validated landowner control over elections in community development districts. This decision did not set precedent for Ave Maria's district, but the developer's lawyer "marketed" the decision as such. Page 4 of the decision says, "landowners, to the exclusion of other residents, should initially elect the board of supervisors (emphasis added)." (Read PDF)
  • PDF Letter sent to Ave Maria property owners by the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District - This July 11, 2008 letter was sent to Ave Maria's residents explaining their district fees for this coming year. It was the first time residents were assessed. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Internal Barron Collier Cos. spreadsheet on landowner control - This internal memo, dated Dec. 14, 2004, from Barron Collier Cos. Vice President Tom Sansbury shows the company logs how many votes it needs to control the town's government. "It may seem far in the future that we would be concerned regarding control of the District with the amount of land we own and the many safeguards we have built into the act, but we must remain cognizant of the number of votes we continue to control each time we transfer property," Sansbury wrote. (Read PDF)
  • PDF Barron Collier Cos. memo submitted to Daily News editors in response to Ave Maria: A Town Without A Vote series - Officials of Ave Maria co-developer Barron Collier Cos. provided this memo on landowner control of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District to Daily News editors in a meeting Monday, May 11, 2009. The memo contends that Ave Maria's homeowners, in their capacity as landowners, will control the town's government as development continues. The memo is undated and unsigned, but appears on the letterhead of the district's attorney, Ken van Assenderp. (Read PDF)
Blake Gable
Blake Gable

» A fourth-generation descendent of Collier County's founder, Gable, 38, has had a meteoric rise in his family's agribusiness and land development company. In 2003, four years after he formally joined Barron Collier Cos., he took charge of Ave Maria, the company's highest-profile project. Gable's father, Lamar, is chairman of Barron Collier Cos. board of directors. Gable said his company chose to create the town's government as it did, and then pitched the idea to its partners.

Paul Marinelli
Paul Marinelli

» Considered the prime mover behind Ave Maria and the rural growth plan that allowed it to happen, Marinelli was known for hammering out deals between diverse interests as chief executive officer of Barron Collier Cos. In September 2003, he requested memos on the critical decision that allowed Ave Maria Development to control the town's government forever, and agreed with the recommendations to do so. Marinelli died in April 2008 while undergoing cancer treatment. He was 52.

Tom Monaghan
Tom Monaghan

» The former Domino's Pizza magnate is the public face of the Ave Maria project, sinking his billion-dollar fortune into Ave Maria University and town as its co-developer. Monaghan, 72, and his high-level associates sit on Ave Maria Development's executive committee, the partnership's primary decision-making body. The executive committee decided Ave Maria's government would have perpetual developer control. He declined numerous requests to comment for this series.

Paul Roney
Paul Roney

» Known as Monaghan's money man, Roney, 51, holds substantial roles in many Monaghan ventures. He's director of Monaghan's primary charitable vehicle, the Ave Maria Foundation, chief financial officer of Ave Maria University and board chairman of Naples-based Shamrock Bank. Roney also serves on Ave Maria's district government. As part of Ave Maria Development's executive committee, Roney signed off on the decision that allowed the partnership to control the town government forever. But he said the idea came from Barron Collier Cos. Like Gable, he maintained the partnership someday will turn over government control to residents voluntarily.

Tom Sansbury
Tom Sansbury

» The only high-ranking Barron Collier Cos. employee with special district experience, Sansbury, 66, suggested the town of Ave Maria have that type of government. In September 2003, Sansbury wrote a memo that recommended the company create a government that could give Ave Maria Development control "in perpetuity." In the same memo, he warned residents might see that government as a form of "taxation without representation." A vice president at Barron Collier Cos., Sansbury serves as the liaison between the government and Ave Maria Development.

Ken van Assenderp
Ken van Assenderp

» A colorful and gifted orator, van Assenderp, 67, has had a profound impact on Florida growth-management law. Van Assenderp, a Tallahassee attorney, co-wrote the law that created the primary public engine for growth in 1980 and successfully defended developer control over those governments before the Florida Supreme Court five years later. In late 2002, Ave Maria Development hired van Assenderp to write its Ave Maria law. He wrote language into the law allowing the Ave Maria Development partnership to control the town government forever.

Ave Maria Stewardship Community District Board

Tom Peek
Tom Peek

» Peek, 69, is a retired partner at WilsonMiller, the Naples engineering firm that designed Ave Maria and numerous projects around the state. He has estimated he's been involved in 60 percent to 70 percent of the major developments in Southwest Florida. Peek chairs the board, and his term expires in November 2012.

Liesa Priddy
Liesa Priddy

» Priddy, 51, and her family are large landowners in eastern Collier County and participated in creating the rural growth plan that gave rise to Ave Maria. Priddy is former president of First Bank of Immokalee, now Florida Community Bank. Her father, Jack Price, was responsible for many of the county's oil wells. Priddy is the board's vice chairwoman. Her term expires in November 2012.

Douglas Baird
Douglas Baird

» A 30-year employee at Barron Collier Cos., Baird, 59, began his career as an accountant for the company and has now reached its upper echelons as manager of treasury services. He also serves on the board of directors at Naples-based TIB Bank. Baird is Ave Maria board's newest member, first elected in November. His term expires in November 2010.

Paul Roney
Paul Roney

» Roney is also a board member of the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District. His term expires in November 2010. Read his profile under The Players.

Herb Cambridge
Herb Cambridge

» A legend in the local African-American community, Cambridge, 81, is a longtime community activist and in 1965 became the first black public schoolteacher to work in an integrated Collier County high school. He worked as director of staff development for Barron Collier Cos. from 2000-01. Cambridge's term expires in November 2010.

What is Ave Maria?

Ave Maria is a planned community in Southwest Florida built around a Catholic-oriented university of the same name. Its developers, Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and local landowner and county namesake Barron Collier Cos., are planning for 11,000 homes and 25,000 residents by 2025.

Where is Ave Maria?

The town is 35 miles northeast of downtown Naples, 40 miles southeast of Fort Myers and 110 miles northwest of Miami.

When and why was Ave Maria founded?

Ave Maria was made possible by Collier County's rural growth plan approved in 2002 that enabled developers to build communities in the county's eastern section in exchange for preserving other lands. Barron Collier Cos., which wanted to develop a university community, connected with Monaghan, who was searching for a permanent home for his Ave Maria University after a Michigan township denied his plans. Barron Collier Cos. donated the university site to Monaghan, and he purchased a 50-percent stake in lands surrounding the school. The two sides would develop the town of Ave Maria together, they announced at a joint press conference in November 2002. Following nearly five years of planning and permitting, the town opened in July 2007 and the university opened one month later after previously operating at a site in North Naples.

What businesses are in Ave Maria?

Ave Maria has a coffee shop, jewelry store and bookstore among other small businesses. There is no bank, grocery store or gas station, but a grocer and gas station are under construction and expected to open in the coming months.

Are there other organizations with the Ave Maria name?

Yes. Most of the other Ave Maria organizations are affiliated with Monaghan, including the Ave Maria School of Law, which is moving to the Naples area from Michigan this summer. There's also a radio station, dating service and mutual fund that all have connections with Monaghan.

  • 35 - Miles east of downtown Naples where Ave Maria is located
  • 10,805 - Acres included in the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District
  • 5,027 - Acres included in Ave Maria town's development plans
  • 376 - Additional developed acres required to give Ave Maria's voters control of the government
  • 550 - Estimated population of Ave Maria, not including students
  • Click here to see more numbers »

Latest stories about Ave Maria

Interactive Timeline: Ave Maria Through the Years

Click play or move the rectangular bar to the right to view the interactive timeline. The timeline includes icons that if clicked will take you to videos, documents, stories and photo galleries. Click the button with four arrows, which is next to the word "share" to view a full-screen version of the timeline.

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Map of Ave Maria


Did lawmakers give Ave Maria's developers too much power over the town's government?

Should Ave Maria's developers have been required to disclose how long they could control the town's government?

Is it constitutional for Ave Maria's developers to choose a permanent majority on the town's government?

Note: These are not scientific polls. The results will reflect only the opinions of those who choose to participate.


In the Beginning

From the dream of one comes a community with a university in the Catholic tradition at its center. Ave Maria opened in July 2007 and during our three-part documentary series, we examine the impact on residents and surrounding Southwest Florida. Check it out »

Ave Maria Links