According to other discussion at the meeting, the board may propose to the county that Gilchrist Avenue be declared a “historical resource.”
After three posterboards of information were brought forth by two Gilchrist Avenue residents, Bill Regnery and Bob Fletcher, an impromptu conversation began.
“Among some of you there is a question as to whether you have jurisdiction over Gilchrist,” Fletcher began. You are going to have to deal with Gilchrist, because some time, not today, we’ll have to come forth with an issue of signage.
Fletcher passed out information to the board regarding proposed signage. He also addressed the problem of off-island build-up by confirming he had heard that Boca Grande would be the nearest “fun place” for them to go.
“We should not turn public lands into parking lots,” he said. “This land the (Gilchrist median) was donated by the land development company to the county. Shortly thereafter Carl Rust Parker laid out a beautiful plan for a gateway to Boca Grande. This is a disgrace.”
After explaining what his posterboards entailed (primarily a rundown of all the surrounding empty parking spaces and lots during church time on a Sunday in February), Fletcher ran down the amount of spaces available during that time (other than on Gilchrist), and how many steps a typical 81-year-old man (referring to himself) would take from different parking locations ... locations other than the Gilchrist median.
“Two plans are currently floating around about parking, one by the Inn and one by this committee,” Fletcher said, referring to the group of people who make up the Boca Grande Village Beautification and Parking Committee. “If we went through this room we could probably come up with another 20 plans. The thing that I think I would like you to look at is the possibility of designating Gilchrist as a historic resource, (board member) Tim Seibert has mentioned this. I don’t think commercial interests or anyone should just confiscate county land. There was a reason this land was donated, there was a reason the man who designed Central Park laid it out, and it’s an embarrassment that we have all allowed this to happen.”
Fletcher also said that Lee County law enforcement needs to keep a strict eye on Gilchrist parking.
Gilchrist Avenue resident Bill Regnery agreed with him, citing a recent incident he witnessed.
"Apropos of consensus and safety, I don’t think there’s any consensus that overrides safety," he said. “I have a picture of an SUV with its butt sticking out in the lane of traffic. I would say the sheriff’s office should come down here and enforce ordinances that folks passed in Fort Myers 20 years ago.”
Yet another Gilchrist resident, John Geneviesse, said, “While we are trying to get this solved, I don’t understand why the sheriff’s office allows people to park by the stop signs, and in front of fire hydrants. Until we get resolution, can’t the sheriff’s office enforce parking in front of stop signs and fire hydrants? I can’t go to the south end of the island and try to go shelling because it’’s a turtle zone. Every street, you can’t park because of the turtles. Maybe we need to get some turtles on Gilchrist Avenue.”
Many who attended the meeting were in favor of holding a public debate, in an attempt to reach the magic word: Consensus.
According to Gloria Sajgo, principal planner for Lee County, that is the word that Lee County Commissioner John Manning and DOT supervisor Randy Cerchie were looking for. She explained to the board that Cerchie and his department would be the ones making the ultimate decision as to what happens with Gilchrist Avenue.
Another Gilchrist Avenue resident, Corrina Hammond, said she didn’t think any consensus could be reached unless an arbitrator came into the picture.
“We cannot get to consensus unless you have an arbitrator who might come,” she said. “We cannot reach consensus on such an issue as Gilchrist without some help. We are all entrenched. As we know, people go to Israel and Palestine to help. North Ireland and Britain, had help. We need some help. Mr. Manning can commute up and maybe not stay at the Inn, but stay with one of us ... we are willing to give him a sandwich ... and he can be the mediator for our groups.”
Fletcher was not agreeable to that idea, and told Sajgo so.
“Mr. Manning isn’t staying with me,” he said. “In our meeting with him, I asked him to stop using the word ‘consensus.’ He replied he was married to an Italian American, and he was Irish, and he couldn’t get consensus in his family. I left that meeting thinking I wouldn’t hear the word ‘consensus’ again. You might remind him of his comments.”
Sajgo said that she would share Fletcher’s notebook and pictures, courtesy of the Boca Grande Village Beautification and Parking Committee, with Commissioner Manning. She said he has taken a very active interest in the Gilchrist project, and repeated that his position was that the only way any action would be taken was with community consensus.
“I don’t think the commissioner is really about coming here and imposing a solution,” she said. “He wants the community to come together to find a conclusion. Tim’s idea to designate the median as a historic resource, there might be a possibility to do that. We would have to work with the commissioner and the county on that, as they are the land owners.”
Preservation board member Dana Robinette asked Sajgo exactly what Manning’s definition of “consensus” is.
“We can’t even reach consensus on the president of the United States,” she said. “We need to have a better definition of the word consensus.”
Sajgo replied. “It means we need general agreement with the community on how to handle Gilchrist.”
To which Robinette retorted, “But what does ‘general’ mean?”
“General means that you have to generally agree on a way to deal with the problem,” Sajgo explained. “Instead of being polar opposites.”
“So if we come up with a few solutions and bring them up to the owners on Gilchrist? If the majority of people on Gilchrist agreed? Would that be consensus?” Robinette said.
“If a majority of people agreed, yes,” Sajgo said. “A majority needs to agree there is a problem. This is an island where well-educated, very intelligent, talented people live, and the commissioner thinks we can avoid a prolonged, nasty dispute. He doesn’t think that his coming in and dictating something at this point would really be helpful.”
Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, the board determined that board member Paul Eddy would head a committee comprised of Gilchrist residents and a few others to determine how to best proceed on the matter, and whose plan they would present to Lee County.
No members of the business community were volunteered for the committee, because none attended the meeting.
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