■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
Some changes have been made downtown in light of the recent complaints made to Lee County Code Enforcement by an anonymous person or persons, including the removal of tables, chairs and plants at The Inn Bakery and the removal of outdoor products at The Barnichol. Some changes have also been made to some of your local websites, as the ever-popular Pass Cam has been taken down as well.
In case you didn’t read last week’s front-page article, on July 19 Lee County Code Enforcement received eight complaints regarding everything from flower boxes to shopping carts in the downtown area, specifically on Park Avenue and E. Railroad Avenue. The addresses included were 480 E. Railroad Ave. (Seale Family Realty) regarding golf cart rentals in the right-of-way; 380 E. Railroad Ave. (The Barnichol) for having plants, propane tanks, mulch and soil in the right-of-way; 390 Park Ave. (Boca Grande Real Estate) for commercial use of a right-of-way for clothes racks and benches; 428 4th St. W. (Fugate’s) for flower boxes in the right-of-way; 411 Park Ave. (Gulf Coast International Properties) for benches in the right-of-way; 431 Park Ave. (Boca Beacon/Gasparilla Outfitters) for benches, a magazine rack and selling newspapers in the right-of-way; 441 Park Ave. (Hudson’s Grocery) for outdoor seating, ice machine, shopping carts and a gas pump in the right-of-way; and 384 E. Railroad Ave. (The Inn Bakery) for tables and chairs in the right-of-way.
The complaints were originally supposed to be addressed and decided upon as founded or unfounded by July 24, but only two have been closed – the rest are listed as pending. The complaint at The Inn Bakery was closed because the tables and chairs were removed from the sidewalk, and the complaint at Boca Grande Real Estate was declared closed with no violation. There have never been clothes racks at that location, and while there are still benches and potted plants along the west side of the building (courtesy of the Boca Grande Woman’s Club) there, apparently the County thought they were all right.
Outdoor seating was pulled from in front of the Pink Pony and Paradise Exclusive at 471 Park Avenue earlier in July, after they were sent a notice regarding a complaint made on July 16. It is unknown if it was the same complainant(s).
In the case of the discontinued web-cam, island resident and business owner Sandy Melvin has announced that the beach cam at the south end of the island has been taken down within the last week because of complaints from an anonymous person, or persons.
This complaint story started about a year ago, when someone mentioned to state park workers and the Barrier Island Parks Society that they were offended that a for-profit business was using state park property for private gain. In actuality Melvin was on the board of directors of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce at the time when the webcam idea was hatched, and the camera was more or less in their possession, with Gasparilla Outfitters footing the bill as a sponsor for the Chamber. When board members changed at the Chamber and maintenance issues with the camera happened, it went down and stayed down for quite some time.
Sandy eventually decided to give the beach cam new life and assumed responsibility for getting it back up and running. Due to greater expenses, like the purchase of a new camera, he took over the project and it was jointly financed by Gasparilla Outfitters and Gasparilla Vacations. Recently, Sandy offered possession of the camera to the Barrier Island Parks Society so it would still be affiliated with a non-profit, and they agreed. Recently, the $7,000 per year in fees has been paid for through assistance from some community donations, primarily money raised by the GIFT Fishing Tournament and the Ladies “Howl at the Moon” raffle. Gasparilla Outfitters and Gasparilla Vacations, though, were still paying for the majority of the fees.
BIPS agreed in principle to the terms of those businesses operating and maintaining the camera, and part of the agreement was that the business logos and the BIPS logo would appear on the beach cam. It worked that way for almost two years, and the camera built up quite a following.
They were still working on getting all of the logos together on the site when it was terminated this week. Sandy said he wasn’t sure why that was.
“The deal was that anyone who wanted the link to the camera could put it on their website for free, but that the three logos would remain if we were expected to continue paying for it,” he said. “Gasparilla Vacations and Gasparilla Outfitters are willing to donate the camera to BIPS and let them take over the cost, provided everyone can access the code to embed the frame. We’ve had great support from the state park and the rangers in the past, and we don’t know what happened. I’m very thankful for the community’s support throughout this time, too, but the amount we’ve raised still isn’t enough to run it so we’ve been paying for most of it. If no agreement can be reached to keep our logos intact, we hope BIPS will consider our offer to let them take over the annual fees and maintenance, and we will give them the camera. We just want a great web cam.”
Melvin said the idea for the webcam came to him one day years ago when he was at Whidden’s Marina, talking to Isabelle Joiner. He noticed she was watching a live stream on a webcam somewhere near Fort Myers of an eagle’s nest, and he mentioned the island should have one looking out at Boca Grande Pass and the beach.
The current camera has high-definition capability and scans the whole south end of Boca Grande Pass up to and past the rock jetty. It has become very popular, and is a useful tool for captains and anglers who check the cam to see conditions in the Pass.
As Sandy said, people could get a piece of Boca Grande for themselves wherever they were in the world.
Sharon McKenzie, the executive director of BIPS, said she had to take the camera down based on the fact that the people who were complaining about the private business promotion were threatening to sue BIPS, the park service and private entities.
“I will have to keep it down until we come up with a solution,” Sharon said. “It is on state property, and it looks like they’re advertising their business on state property. That’s taboo. People are upset and threatening to sue. However, we want to work out a way to keep it where it is.”
McKenzie said she would be speaking with all parties involved when she returns from vacation.
Stay tuned, and we will keep you posted.
If you’d like to read the responses to last week’s story regarding code enforcement violations downtown, go to Facebook, to our Boca Beacon page. So far there are 151 comments and 3,200 engagements.