There’s one thing you can always count on in Boca Grande – rumors. As the days of summer begin to wane this year, talk has turned to parking within the historic district, particularly along the beach access roads, and not all of that talk is correct.
The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association recently helped to create a focus group of sorts, to help solve some of the island’s parking debates. The group is comprised of volunteers Chris Cowperthwait, Robert Johnson, Sandy Melvin, Lynne Seibert and Mark Spurgeon. In July the GICIA announced it had successfully facilitated a meeting between Lee County staff and island residents to begin addressing the increasing parking related issues on the island. Lee County has provided support in the form of staff with legal, zoning and engineering expertise. The group has held two meetings in Fort Myers and plans to meet again on island in the next few weeks.
GICIA Executive Director, Misty Nichols, said that her group remains vigilant in its efforts maintain Boca Grande’s small island charm.
“As Boca Grande and its beaches continue to become more popular as a beach destination, the issues of parking are going to have to be addressed,” she said. “The increase in undesignated and haphazard parking is not just an inconvenience for residents. In fact, according to Gasparilla Island’s fire chief, on some of the sandy residential streets within the historic district the haphazard parking is actually creating a safety issue by blocking access to emergency vehicles.”
Nichols said that some residents have the wrong idea as to what the GICIA’s opinion on parking is.
“In 1988, the GICIA was instrumental in creating Boca Grande’s Historic District and is committed to preserving and protecting all of our neighborhoods as new impacts evolve,” she said, “so for those residents who have heard or suspect that GICIA supports turning the beach access streets within the Historic District into parking lots, void of all vegetation and complete with porta-potties, nothing could be farther from the truth.”
In fact, she said, that is the scenario the GICIA hopes this small group of island residents will be successful in preventing.
GICIA President Bayne Stevenson agreed, saying, “There is a fine balance that needs to be struck between the neighborhood needs, such as safe passage for emergency vehicles, and the inherent right of access to public beaches.”
Nichols said the GICIA is extremely pleased with the effort the group has expended so far, and encourages all island residents to believe in the process and remain open to the suggestions of the group.
“All of these residents were selected for their individual expertise and familiarity with the island and its parking issues,” she said. “We strongly believe this committee is composed of a broad based and well balanced group of island residents. At this point, it is a far better scenario for our own island residents to be exploring possible solutions to the growing parking issues than to do nothing at all. It is also important that all residents understand that the goal of this committee is to provide recommendations to Lee County on how island parking can better be controlled.”
Nichols said Lee County is also working on providing an electronic method for all island residents to provide input on this issue.
A final decision on parking will not be made by the group, but by Lee County Commissioners in an open meeting, where the public will be able to comment.
So don’t worry, and take what you hear on the street with a grain of salt.