The parking-challenged ghosts of Boca Grande

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – We are now in the thick of the summer, a time when the remaining humans on the island retreat indoors, when summer storms are the norm and when iguanas are doing the happy dance. There are other things that happen here in the summertime, too, and sometimes those things are a bit more nefarious in nature.

This is, after all, the time when “no one is here.” How does this newspaper get written? How do the stores that are still open continue to be manned? How do the lawns get cut? We’re all ghosts, apparently, still doing our jobs but nameless and invisible.

When “no one is here,” there are other invisible people out there, people trying to cut deals and make agreements down in Fort Myers, brandishing checkbooks and promises of support to local politicians. Now, those are the ghosts you should be frightened of.

These ghosts haunt our county commissioners regarding things like beach-access parking. They are known for being very diligent, very persistent and quite often very litigious. They quite often have a bad taste in their mouths regarding another set of ghosts who frequent our island in the summer, often referred to as “off-islanders.”

If you turn to the Lee County Ordinance 91-35, Policy VIII.B.4. of the Lee Plan states that the County “shall guarantee the availability of beach recreational areas equipped with sufficient parking facilities to insure user convenience and to avoid unnecessary disruption to adjacent neighborhoods.” This is known as the Gasparilla Island Parking Ordinance.

We all know our tiny little island is a very popular place for beaching year-round. If the out-of-state visitors aren’t here, many others come from surrounding towns to enjoy our quieter beaches. People who are toying with the idea of living on Gasparilla Island have usually spent some time here first, and they usually realize that one of the key factors in the move has to do with how they can put up with the tourists.

How Boca Grande homeowners choose to react to those visitors is the crux of this discussion. You can understand that people who live on a road where strangers are parking just a few yards away from their residence might, from time to time, get a little aggravated. The aggravation heightens if visitors park right in front of their driveway. The angst grows even more if they leave the contents of their cooler, a few dirty diapers and a broken lawn chair by their home.

But hey, if you chose to live in Omaha or Scranton, you wouldn’t have those worries, because there sure aren’t as many tourists.

All of these problems come with the beachfront territory. As I have mentioned before, I was privileged to be able to live on 12th Street for a couple of years, and I witnessed some littering and inconsiderate parkers myself. My kids and I made a daily trek to the seawall to check out the beach and to pick up garbage. It become a habit. It was a little payback for the privilege of living on the edge of the Gulf.

There are others, though, who feel there might be ways around having tourists park on their streets. When it comes to depriving the taxpayers of parking because it’s an inconvenience to five or six homeowners on a side street, you can be sure someone is out there making a list and checking it twice … usually somebody with an attorney.

As the Beacon has reported before, there is a neighborhood parking advisory group enlisted by the County that is comprised of residents, shopkeepers and emergency personnel. They aren’t there to make any laws. They’ve just been enlisted to give suggestions to the County and to represent islanders as a whole through their suggestions.

While they haven’t met in a couple of months or more, there is another group – an offset group that has emerged from the neighborhood group. Apparently there are a few people in the neighborhood group who didn’t like the logical and fair tone the discussion was taking, so they decided to do a “homeowner’s group,” if you will. Members of that subset are busy at work to figure out a way to make sure residents on the beach-access streets don’t have to move their plantings and their rocks and their garbage cans/baby strollers/hand trucks that show up mysteriously at peak parking hours.

My good friend Skip alluded to them in his letter last week.

I have a call in to the County regarding their rights as property owners, easements and all that good stuff. I will continue to look into it as I hear of action being taken by that group, trust me.

The irony is, many of those beachfront homes might not be there if it weren’t for the beach renourishment that takes place from time to time. That sand isn’t just put there for the tourists to frolic on, no sir. That sand helps to keep those beachfront houses in place because of a nutty natural process called erosion. Those parking places are required to be there because the County and state have spent millions and millions of dollars to renourish those beaches.

To be exact, taxpayers spent $11.8 million in 2007 and $7.3 million in 2013. Florida taxpayer dollars spent on Boca Grande beaches mean that Florida taxpayers get to use the beach, and use of the beach includes a reasonable number of places to park to access the beach. Insidious, isn’t it? It’s crazy talk. I don’t mean to belittle the plight of the beach- access street homeowners.

I understand that they want privacy, they want clean streets, and they want to be able to leave their house by using their driveway any time they want. The flip side of that coin is something I have preached time and time again: When you buy beachfront property in paradise, understand exactly what you’re getting into prior to your purchase.

Don’t expect the world to change just because it inconveniences you. That’s not how it works.

Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon.
She can be reached at mshortuse@bocabeacon.com.