Gulf Western helps builders with its environmental expertise
There could be wetlands or exotic vegetation. There can be endangered gopher tortoises or bonneted bats. There are so many things lurking on property that is set to be developed. And with development now creeping further and further east, the need to balance countryside and concrete is even more critical.
That’s why Gulf Western, based in Bonita Springs, recently started a new environmental division. They hired experts Michael LeBlanc and Timothy Schwan to head the team helping both commercial and residential developers to secure permitting, while protecting the environment.
The men survey the property of clients, writing reports that can be used for permitting. If something is found on site, the men then help clients follow the steps laid out for them by the DEP and other environmental agencies. They work with everything from stormwater runoff, wetlands and mangroves to endangered and listed species and exotic vegetation. They work with individual homeowners, homeowner associations, commercial developers and marine industries.
Mike and Denise Albanese wanted to purchase property in eastern Collier County and needed to know all the environmental aspects they might need when applying for permits someday. So they hired the men from Gulf Western to perform a wetland determination.
“It is a hot market right now,” Mike Albanese said. “Golden Gate Estates and the Everglades are going to be the next place. We needed to buy the land and wanted an assessment. We are buying the land for my grandchildren. He (LeBlanc) really went through the wall for me. He really took care of me. That’s a bingo.”
LeBlanc and Schwan are graduates of FGCU; LeBlanc with a degree in environmental science and Schwan with a degree in environmental studies. Both worked for the DEP and other environmental agencies before heading up this new division. Schwan worked mostly in permitting, while LeBlanc focused on compliance and enforcement. They say that makes them the perfect team. The most prevalent jobs they have been doing recently is wetland development.
“They (developers) need a piece of paper saying there are no wetlands or they need mitigation if there are wetlands,” LeBlanc explained.
Yet it’s not that simple. If there is mitigation, the men help their clients choose whether to use a mitigation bank where they pay a very high fee to protect land elsewhere, or choose to mitigate on their own property. LeBlanc said there are pros and cons to each choice.
“Mitigation banks are expensive, but you just put the money in then it is out of your hands,” he said. “If you do the work, you plant and then it is monitored. It could be monitored for years.”
With little land left on the western portions of Lee and Collier counties, builders are moving further east into areas where there are more environmental concerns and that’s why LeBlanc and Schwan say business is booming for them.
“There is a lot of work for us,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a mosaic out there. The further east, the more pockets you find in the middle of nowhere.”
The men come highly recommended.
“There is just a lot of work out there and they specialize in certain areas,” said Jeff Key owner of Community Environmental Services who has been sending projects to LeBlanc and Schwan. “I use them for permitting issues. I have been referring my clients to him. I trust his work. He is very meticulous. He and I are cut from the same cloth.”
Gulf Western has divisions for roofing, aluminum, solar energy and property maintenance and added the environmental services in February.
“It was a tactical decision and the timing just kind of worked out really well,” said Nick Stefanis, Vice President of Corporate Development for Gulf Western Group. “We noticed as Covid came through, the housing market started to change. We noticed there was a tremendous amount of people looking for properties in Florida. We noticed that the buildable land down here is limited. So as we started to look…