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Lee Commissioners add last minute discussion of parking changes onto agenda

June 7, 2024
By Garland Pollard

The news that parking in Boca Grande would be an agenda item at the Tuesday, June 4 Lee County Board of County Commissioners meeting was a surprise to many in Boca Grande, including those opposed any changes to parking rules on Gilchrist Avenue.

On Tuesday, May 28, the Rev. Daphne Johnson of Lighthouse United Methodist Church sent an email to church members regarding the possibility of new parking restrictions, particularly on Gilchrist Avenue. The church asked respondents to write to commissioners and county administration no later than June 10, as the church knew that there were issues afoot.

The email included sample letters. One letter, intending to be addressed from county residents, stated:

“I am deeply disturbed by the time and money being wasted on the ongoing issue of parking in the median strip of Gilchrist Avenue. I was under the impression that the issue had been resolved several years ago, following the planting of trees and new grass to beautify the median. What has changed? The need for parking on the median dates back many decades, long before any current residents of Gilchrist purchased their properties. Buying a house on Gilchrist does not give them the right to defy a long-standing tradition and the rule of law and dictate what should be done with county property, particularly since island parking is and will continue to be a premium.”

In response to our inquiry about the meeting agenda, the Boca Beacon received an email with the following response on May 30, indicating that the item was not on the agenda for Tuesday, and thanking respondents. This email was sent to all of those who wrote in opposition to any changes in Gilchrist parking rules. It read:

“Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on Gilchrist Avenue. We understand there may be some confusion in the community. Lee County Administration and the Lee County Attorney’s Office have received your comments related to parking on Gilchrist Avenue on Boca Grande. Any changes to parking policies related to Gilchrist Avenue would be initiated and approved by the Board of County Commissioners, not by Lee County Administration or the Lee County Attorney’s Office. 

“There is no scheduled agenda item related to this issue for the next meeting, which is Tuesday, June 4. In fact, currently there are no agenda items on this issue for any Board of County Commissioners meeting.”

There was no mention of on the Friday version. The agenda item was added at 4:40 p.m. on Monday, June 3. The original agenda, which did not include Boca Grande parking, was distributed at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, May 31.

The church, and opponents to the parking plans, were then unaware that it would be the subject of a vote on Tuesday, while several who were in favor of changes were there to register their support.

The move is technically legal, as no ordinances were passed, but it had the effect of creating a sense of distrust regarding the issue, and reframed public comment before the vote.

In addition, the original agenda went out by email to the Lee County email list, but the updated agenda required a document search.

Larry Hannah, who is a member of Lighthouse United Methodist Church, was one of many who received the email advising it was not on the agenda, and was caught by surprise.

“If you are trying to do something like this you have to be transparent as you can,” said Hannah, in a phone call to the Beacon.

In the wake of the incident, he is hoping all parties can work together. Hannah helped bring the community together after Hurricane Ian, supporting local businesses and churches with cash donations through a generous Disaster Fund.

“Let’s come up with a recommendation, because everybody’s got their own solution,” said Hannah, who decried the “not on my turf” attitude. He hopes that all parties, including The Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, Gilchrist residents and other island residents and groups can find some agreement by sitting down, talking it out, and airing “whatever little grievance” there is.

“We need to work together,” Hannah said.