National Register nomination in front of county again on April 6: What will commissioners decide after local board doles out another nay?

April 2, 2021
By Susan Erwin

BY SUSAN HANAFEE – After being defeated twice by local historic officials, the issue of whether a portion of Boca Grande will become part of the National Register of Historic Places will surface once again at Lee County’s Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 6.
Lee County Attorney Amanda Swindle confirmed to the Boca Beacon that the item is on the commissioners’ agenda. The hearing will be held starting at 9:30 a.m. in the commission chambers at the Old Lee County Courthouse, 2120 Main Street, downtown Fort Myers. She said there will be opportunity for public comment.
The proposal, offered by Sarasota consultant Mikki Hartig, includes 129 nominated resources and is roughly bounded by 5th Street West, Lee Avenue, 1st Street West and the Gulf of Mexico. The Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board voted down the issue at its November and March meetings; both times by a vote of 4-2.
At the March meeting, historic preservation board chairman Jerry Edgerton introduced emails sent by 165 people to the local body opposing the plan. One email from two people supported the plan, as did several residents who live on Gilchrist Avenue who spoke at the March gathering. Swindle said the emails and testimony will be a part of the record available to commissioners when they are considering the matter.
Edgerton said he plans to attend the meeting next week and will ask the county commissioners to “respect the wishes of the local board and the community” in making their decision.
If the county commissioners join the Boca Grande board in its opposition to the listing, the state will take no further action on the nomination unless an appeal is filed.
If the commissioners support the listing, the nomination will proceed to the May 6 hearing scheduled before the Florida National Register Review Board. The state contact for the nomination is Ruben Acosta.
Even if the state votes to support the proposal, there is an opportunity for affected residents to fight the issue. But it won’t be easy, some have pointed out.
Swindle says the state would have to receive certified opposition letters representing 50 percent plus one of the affected properties to squelch the entire nomination to the National Register.
“If the state does not receive the requisite number of opposition letters and the district nomination proceeds, I do not believe there is a mechanism for individual owners to opt out,” she added.
“However, state and federal guidelines allow the State Historic Preservation Officer to edit or revise the nomination before forwarding to the National Register, so it may be possible for owners to request to be excluded from the district on the state level.”
Opponents to the measure have said they don’t want outsiders telling them what to do with their property, and they see little benefit to a listing on the National Register. They have also complained that such a listing could bring additional visitors to the island, putting further strains on parking and public facilities.
Supporters have claimed that residents have been misled by the media and hidden agendas and that being included in the National Register is an honor that brings with it no additional governmental regulation.