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Historic Preservation Board discusses code enforcement issues

October 11, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

The Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board has a plan to firmly dig their heels in regarding following up on code enforcement issues, according to conversation at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9.
After a member of the public stood at the end of the meeting and asked what the status of the “chairs returning” was, he was told by Board Member Becky Paterson that they will definitely be seeing what they can do in the future.
“We will do something,” Paterson told the resident, referring to the outdoor seating that used to be found at The Inn Bakery and The Pink Pony prior to a spate of complaints against downtown businesses that covered everything from too much clutter in their windows to complaining about benches and plants.
Board member Jerry Edgerton agreed.
“We’ve got to do more than talk about it,” he said. “We need to prepare a document in conjunction with the parking committee, who also have some stake in this. After all, if people can’t find a place to sit down they will park as close as possible to the business. This compounds the problem.”
Edgerton said he believes the board might have something to say about the issue, particularly when it might come down to special parking exemptions that could be made for an historic district.
“I think we might have some purview here, as we are in charge of maintaining a historically-significant area,” he said.
Paterson said after the last meeting of the Historic Preservation Board she spoke with Lee County Attorney Anthony Rodriguez, who gave her a bit of reassurance.
“Anthony said we are the only community in Lee County that is what it is,” she said. “When code enforcement got hit with those complaints, all at one time, no one really knew what to do. Anthony said the County needs to meet the needs of everyone who lives here, and that includes us. He thinks the county might be receptive to making some changes here.”
One member of the Boca Grande Parking Committee, Chairman Mary O’Bannon, was present at the meeting as well. She told the board they have a meeting coming up on October 23, and they will be discussing the matter of code enforcement.
“We have done some research on this issue and believe it is a right-of-way issue more than a parking issue,” she said. “No business here will ever have enough parking. If the Historic Preservation Board approves, we can take a look at this during our meeting, then take it to the county to see if it needs a public hearing, and if the commissioners approve. We can try to put the wheels in motion, as we have a good relationship with (Lee County Transportation Director) Randy Cerchie, Commissioner (John) Manning and others at the county. We found as long as we have had reasonable requests they are very helpful.”
The board concurred when O’Bannon said it might be a long road to change, but starting a course of action now is the best thing to do.
The Historic Preservation Board also examined a new project at the Mama Dear House, located at 342 Palm Avenue. The owners wish to put a new roof on the home, remove the current external staircase and replace it with a new stairway entrance feature, remove a shed in the back to replace it with a free-standing garage, to enclose the front porch and to construct a new swimming pool and rear deck. Some interior remodeling would also go along with this project.
Lee County Planner Peter Blackwell explained the project in detail to the board, and explained that this home was moved from near The Gasparilla Inn & Club some time around 1994, so there is no historical connection with the house and the land. He said the owner hoped to revert the house back to a single-family residence, much like it was many years ago.
The applicant, Chuck McDonald, spoke to the board and said the home has a lot of sentimental value to the family, and that it needs to be kept as a “family compound.”
“In looking at the plans I see about five bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths,” said board member Paul Eddy. “You don’t have plans to rent this out, do you? We need to keep an eye on all the VRBOs around the neighborhood.”
“I don’t think we have a right to ask that,” Paterson responded. “He told us he has 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even though I wondered why all those bedrooms were necessary I now know why. There is nothing we can do to ask them not to rent this.”
McDonald said while the intention at this time is to take the house back to being a family compound, he couldn’t vouch for what would happen in the far-distant future.
The proposal was passed unanimously by the board.
The board also approved of a remodel for the Gasparilla Island State Park sunshade structure at the very south end of the island. The sunshade will be enlarged, a concrete base will be put down and a raised concrete stage will be erected.
“Will this draw more people to our island?” board member Dana Robinette asked wryly, a statement the other board members responded to with laughter. They then approved the certificate of appropriateness unanimously.
The board’s next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 10 a.m., at the Boca Grande Community Center.