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Churches send unified message on need for parking

April 25, 2024
By Garland Pollard

Churches along Gilchrist Avenue this week sent a letter to Lee County officials reiterating their support for continuing to allow daytime parking in the median of Gilchrist Avenue. The formal letter came in response to a meeting of the three churches on Sunday, April 7.

At the meeting, the three churches gathered to discuss scenarios for partially restricting daytime parking in the street. 

After the meeting, Larry Hannah of Lighthouse United Methodist led the effort to draft a joint letter from the group, which included Lighthouse United Methodist, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church. 

“I kind of led the discussion,” Hannah said. “It came out that everybody is in favor of keeping parking just the way it is.”

Hannah sent the letter this week to County Manager Dave Harner. The letter outlined the position of the three churches, a little about their history on the island and the size of their contributions to the community. 

He stressed that the letter was not his letter, but the group’s. Hannah said that he was not yet ready to share the letter with the community, as he was waiting for the county to formally respond.

One issue that came up for Lighthouse United Methodist, Hannah said, was that their expansion in 2004 was tied to parking being available on Gilchrist Avenue, and it went through a formal Hearing Examiner process.

“We are not up for a fight at all,” said Hannah. “We want to go to church, we want to go to our weddings and funerals.”  

“The churches contribute to the community in so many ways,” said Hannah. “In today’s world, it is hard enough to get people to come to church.” 

One issue that came up as a hope among the churches was the need for the Fifth Street beach access to reopen. That beach access was closed in September of 2023, after Hurricane Idalia washed away the beach ramp there. That lot holds over 70 spaces, and while it is open, beachgoers do not use it because they would have to walk to other access points.

Mary O’Bannon, chair of the island’s working parking committee, said that their work continues, looking at all the parking procedures and policies on the island. As they review ideas, they are also looking at what is already in place in Lee County regarding beach and island parking. 

“We are looking at all of the ordinances and all that is legal in Lee County,” O’Bannon said. 

• FIND OUT MORE: The Boca Beacon has compiled a chronology of parking discussions from 1982 to today. See “A timeline of parking discussions on Gasparilla Island