BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Lee County Commissioners have once again put the fate of Gilchrist Avenue in the hands of the people of the island, after scheduling and then “unscheduling” a discussion of the matter at the April 21 board meeting.
On Friday, April 10 District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker met with individuals from all sides of the Gilchrist controversy and had the same message for each party: “Why would you want five guys in Fort Myers deciding this issue? Get together and work it out, you aren’t that far apart.”
Kiker said he truly hoped a compromise could be reached if just a select few individuals sat down to discuss the matter, preferably with no legal representation. Even after the past history of debate on the matter (which goes back more than 25 years) was presented, Kiker held true to his original statement that it could be worked out locally.
On Monday, April 13, Larry Hannah, who is affiliated with the Boca Grande Community Plan organization, to County Manager Roger Desjarlais and Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer, sent an email. Hannah asked that both men be in attendance if – and when – anyone from the Gilchrist Neighborhood Association agreed to meet. In the email Hannah explained that he hoped to have a meeting date set by “April 13, or at the latest April 20.”
“Failing success in the above meeting, Lee County staff will present their recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners and both organizations will have the opportunity to comment thereon and present their positions,” Hannah said in the email.
As of press time, several days after the email was sent, no one from the Gilchrist Neighborhood Association had responded to the invitation.
Hannah also attached a copy of Assistant Lee County Attorney John Fredyma’s letter to Mary Gibbs, director of the department of Community Development for Lee County, dated September 5, 2013 explaining why Gilchrist Avenue could not be designated as an “historic resource.”
The basis for his answer, in part, was that such a designation would require that any plans for improvement or change would require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board, who could attach conditions to that certificate.
“These requirements,” Fredyma wrote, “would be more than mildly problematic in terms of … (Lee) County’s responsibility under Florida Statutes Chapter 336 … .”
Chapter 336 invests the county with the responsibility to maintain, superintend and repair county roads and structures as well as responsibility for the public’s safety on those roadways.
Members of the Gilchrist Neighborhood Association also met with members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church recently, but no news from that meeting has been reported yet.
Several island entities, including the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association, have looked over the plans presented by both local groups, and have endorsed the Community Plan. That plan includes a compromise of prohibiting parking on the two most southern median strips of Gilchrist Avenue, while landscaping the angled parking spots on the median strips on the rest of the avenue.
The Gilchrist Neighborhood Association proposal includes “Sunday only” parking in the median between 3rd and 4th Streets, and additional “Sunday only” parking on the left side of the median heading south. They also suggested the 5th Street parking lot be expanded to accommodate 90, not 45 cars, and parallel parking in one of the existing lanes of traffic on Gilchrist, on the left hand side, from 1st Street to 3rd Street.