The following is a statement prepared exclusively for the Boca Beacon, regarding the stance taken on Gilchrist Avenue parking by The Gilchrist Neighborhood Association. They have been largely silent as far as the media goes, until this week. This statement was written by Mary Howell, a spokesperson for the group. It has not been altered in any way. The Gilchrist Neighborhood Association (GNA) was formed in 2014 to help advocate for the restoration of the beautiful, historic linear park along Gilchrist Avenue, for the benefit and enjoyment of all Boca Grande residents. Through extensive research, the GNA unearthed the origin of the linear park, tracing it back 100 years with ties to both Gov. Albert W. Gilchrist and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Over the past 10+ years, it has become increasingly common for vehicles to be parked on this historic median. Many coconut palms have been destroyed by this habit, along with most of the other vegetation. The GNA seeks to restore and maintain the avenue to its historic grandeur while identifying options for parking in nearby locations.
To that end, the GNA recently completed a survey that identifies more than 311 parking spaces in the immediate vicinity of the churches – not including any additional parking spaces. In contrast, the maximum number of vehicles parked on the median on a Sunday in season this year was only 127, while many area parking spaces were left empty.
GNA has met several times with representatives of the churches and Inn (C&I) group to try and understand the issue and perceived parking needs. As the discussion has evolved and been elevated to officials with Lee County, the GNA has worked to provide information and proposals according to the county’s timeline.
The GNA appreciates the opportunity to provide some context and to set the record straight about the facts regarding three issues that were provided to the Boca Beacon without GNA’s knowledge and which appeared in the April 17 edition.
It is correct that Commissioner Larry Kiker came to Boca Grande and met with both groups on Friday, April 10. He did request that the groups get together to solve the median parking issue in Boca Grande rather than asking the County Commission to decide. Both groups agreed that it was important to talk. What was not reported was that on Saturday, April 11, Bob Fletcher of the GNA discussed the situation informally with Larry Hannah of the Methodist Church, and they agreed it was important to meet. On Monday, April 13, Larry Hannah sent an email to Lee County officials, including Commissioners and DOT staff, suggesting the two groups have a meeting; he also copied Will Farish, Mary O’Bannon and attorney Bruce Strayhorn (who represents the church) on the correspondence.
The email correspondence stopped there. No formal invitation to meet was sent to the GNA by Hannah (he confirmed that later) or by any other party.
In the past several months and after much consideration, the GNA outlined a plan that would allow parking spaces for C&I use on the east side of the median between 3rd and 4th, even though that plan is in conflict with the traffic engineer’s recommendation and the historic restoration. While initially this parking was proposed as Sundays-only to accommodate churchgoers – those who the C&I group said needed the parking – the GNA removed the Sunday restriction from its recommended position as long as six weeks ago, in a sincere effort to further compromise. The C&I group and Lee County were told of the change at that time.
Lastly, the GNA has never advocated removing all of the plantings from the 5th Street Lee County parking lot. The idea is to maximize the available parking in the public parking lot to meet the stated needs of the Beach Club and the churches. The number of spaces was always negotiable and dependent on the recommendation of engineers, and the recommendation always contemplated a landscaped entrance and plantings to keep the area natural and beautiful while providing parking spaces in the actual parking lot. The 5th Street parking lot is not currently an efficient parking area; with the help of engineers from both sides, that area can be improved. It is definitely in the interest of the GNA – and all of the community – to keep the parking lot as attractive as possible.
The Gilchrist Neighborhood Association would appreciate the ongoing opportunity to participate in a factual dialogue with the Boca Beacon concerning the group’s position on the historic boulevard and the parking issue.
The Beacon is our only mass communication, and people in Boca Grande read the paper looking for facts. It is our hope that in the future, the Beacon will check any facts that pertain to a position attributed to the GNA, providing fairness to all points of view on this issue.