Boca Grande has gorgeous beaches and, even though they are public, they have a wonderful way of giving beach goers a sense of privacy. As Boca Grande becomes more popular as a beach destination, the issues and perils of parking are going to have to be addressed. In light of that fact, the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association worked with Lee County to compose a group of island residents to look at parking issues.
Island volunteers on the committee include Chris Cowperthwait, Robert Johnson, Sandy Melvin, Lynne Seibert and Mark Spurgeon.
Misty Nichols, the executive director of the GICIA, said after speaking with Lee County Sheriff’s deputies and Local Fire and EMS, the GICIA realized the problem was bigger than just an inconvenience of too few spots or too few spots where people wanted to park.
In fact, according to Boca Grande Fire Chief C.W. Blosser, on some of the sandy residential streets within the historic district the haphazard parking is actually creating a safety issue by blocking access to emergency vehicles.
The GICIA researched the issue and spoke to various elected officials and county staff regarding the problem. What was discovered is that the document that legally controls parking within the Lee County portion of Boca Grande is the Gasparilla Island Parking Ordinance, which was originally adopted in 1986. There have only been two revisions, with the most recent revision adopted in 1991.
“Certainly, Boca Grande is facing much different parking issues today than it was almost 25 years ago,” Nichols said.
As a 501(c)(3), the GICIA is restricted in its efforts to influence legislation. Since any revision to the parking ordinance will become law, it limits the extent to which GICIA board members and staff can be involved in the revision process.
“However, with the ordinance – the only legal guidance for enforceable parking regulation – it was clear there was still a very important role for GICIA to play in the process, and that was to facilitate a meeting between county staff and island residents to begin the process of revising the ordinance,” Nichols said.
GICIA President, Bayne Stevenson, agreed, and said, “There is a fine balance that needs to be struck between the neighborhood needs, such as safe passage for emergency vehicles, and the inherent right of access to public beaches. Although the process may be difficult at times, GICIA is pleased with the dedicated group of volunteers who all bring a love of Boca Grande and a strong belief that their efforts will benefit the community as a whole.”
The group held its first meeting in Fort Myers last Friday, July 17. Lee County provided support in the form of staff with legal, zoning and engineering expertise.
Nichols said she wanted to make sure everyone was aware that the group is advisory in nature and will not be making changes to the ordinance. They will only study all parking issues and make recommendations to the Lee County Department of Transportation, Lee County Commissioners, and sheriff’s office and fire emergency personnel.