To the Editor:
I was disturbed at the gratuitous use of my name in the lengthy “Gilchrist timeline” article in the Beacon last week. I do not understand just what you were attempting to imply in the following paragraph: “Renowned architect and current president of the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board, Tim Seibert, purchased his property in Boca Grande in 1993. He did not voice any objection regarding compromising property of presumed historical significance.”
Just to be clear: Yes, I did build my house in 1993, but I do not live on or very near Gilchrist Avenue. While I have been Chairman of the BGHPB, since this past spring, I was first appointed to the board in 2011.
As you probably know, the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board (BGHPB) was not established until after the Boca Grande Community Plan was adopted by Lee County in 2005. The hearing for the Church’s Certificate of Appropriateness was held before the Lee County Historic Preservation Board in Fort Myers in 2003. Boca Grande’s only representative on that board was Misty Nichols, representing the GICIA. As I recall, the distance from Fort Myers and some of the questionable approvals that were being handed out by the Lee County Historic Preservation Board were the prime motivations for establishing a local Historic Preservation Board in the Boca Grande Community Plan.
Were there then a local board, and had I been a member at the time, I would most likely never have voted to approve the destruction of the original church, and I seriously doubt that the project would have been approved by a local board that was familiar with the Secretary of Interior’s guidelines or the local community. The original building was demolished and replaced piece by piece. Even though it was called a “restoration and preservation,” it was essentially a new and much expanded building, and our community lost one of its historical landmarks.
The Methodist Church parking variance hearing was held in late July 2003 in Ft. Myers, while most Boca Grande residents were away for the summer, which is likely why there was so little objection raised at the time. People simply did not know about it. (It is common practice in the building trades to submit controversial projects during the summer, when no one is around to object.) Like most other residents, I was unaware of the variance application, since I do not live within the limited area (500 ft. of the subject property) of required notice for the variance request. I have no recollection of seeing the notice in the Beacon, but then, I don’t always read it.
Subsequently, and because of the recent controversy over parking, I too have read the Methodist Church’s variance hearing file that you quoted in your timeline, and it should be noted that the County staff recommended denial of the variance request for 0 on-site parking spaces instead of the required 80 on-site parking spaces. One of the staff comments was, “The granting of the variance WILL BE (their emphasis) injurious to the neighborhood or otherwise detrimental to the public welfare.” Also in the hearing file is a letter from Rev. Brian Brightly dated March 25, 2003, stating that “the County also needs to take into consideration that the majority of our islanders have golf carts. Some live close enough to walk. My recent poll identified some 35 parishioners who access the church by golf cart or walking. You will also note that off-church campus parking with the restaurant, bank, health clinic and beach club provides space well beyond our requirements.” The hearing file contains letters from local businesses offering a total of 85 spaces. Attachment “I” of the variance request provided photos representing other streets within two blocks of the church that also had available parking spaces.
Most people looking at the variance request and exhibits would have assumed that the Methodist Church had made adequate arrangements to cover their parking shortage. The fact that these alternate parking arrangements are apparently not being utilized is perhaps a major cause of the problem today, which is essentially a walking problem, not a parking problem.
Edward J. Seibert, FAIA