■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
The Boca Grande Historic Preservation monthly meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13 was met with a goodly crowd in the Boca Grande Community Auditorium, with the Lighthouse Methodist Church of Boca Grande and an ongoing code enforcement discussion on the agenda.
The board unanimously approved a church renovation plan that had been changed to accommodate previous. At the board’s August meeting they rejected the church’s plan based on the grounds it could negatively impact the property’s historical status. The earlier plan included moving the parsonage – the small church house that has been home to dozens of pastors since it was built – a few feet over, and to include the parsonage under a covered walkway that would connect all of the buildings.
The new plan is more scaled down, and does not include moving the parsonage or including it under the covered walkway, leaving it to be its own entity. Currently the main church building is not considered historic, as it was completely remodeled years ago. The parsonage, however, was.
Architect Tim Krebs, the creator of the renovation plan, said when all was said and done there would only be an addition of nine square feet to the footprint of the buildings.
Pastor Matthew Williams spoke, and said he was even happier with the new plan than he was with the old one.
“We want to restore and preserve the past, honoring our historic community, while living into the present and the future,” he said. “We want this building to be around for generations to come, offering the same charm and character that has stood for over a generation. As guests to our community walk past our historic marker, we want them to see a glimpse of Boca Grande’s past being cared for and cherished.
“Our congregation has come together and worked diligently over long hours to continue tweaking a design that will both honor our historic district, church, and community at large. We value the input of the Historic Preservation Board, as you work diligently to oversee our historic district. We thank you for coming along side of us all as we seek to do what is best.”
After very little discussion the board approved the plan.
At the end of the meeting board member Becky Paterson gave an update on what she had been working on regarding the spate of code enforcement violations that popped up over the summer, particularly those in the downtown district.
Conversation began with Paterson asking Lee County Principal Planner Anthony Rodriguez to tell everyone what he had learned. Rodriguez said the county was looking at a code overhaul that would be done in phases, and that Boca Grande code was scheduled for scrutiny in 2021. In the mean time, it is possible that a special temporary exemption could be filed to allow local businesses to put tables and chairs back out.
“That would be the most appropriate time to address parking issues, outdoor seating, and other elements of Boca Grande that are different from other unincorporated areas of Lee County. Please be patient, continue to think about your concerns …”
“Come on, Anthony, you know I’m not patient,” Paterson said. “I’m getting calls all the time – and I know the paper is, too – and the overwhelming consensus in our community is that the code restricts trade in downtown Boca Grande. The fact that a bakery can’t have a couple of tables on the sidewalk, when the building goes from lot line to lot line, and that they would have to meet parking requirements by tearing down a contributing building … they cannot meet the code requirements … ever. Why should we have to wait two years to get exemption from something that isn’t even possible to comply with? What is the process of getting relief from that right now? I think it’s vitally important. Why can’t the Pink Pony have only a few tables on the side and none out front? I want to know what we can do about it.”
Paterson said the fact a business would have to provide parking is ridiculous. Everyone knows we don’t have enough parking, that’s why people ride bikes and drive golf carts. It’s an issue we live with, and I don’t think Lee County should be the ones to tell us how to deal with it.”
Paterson said, the fact that the current unincorporated bylaws of Lee County treat all areas across the board the same way – including Boca Grande.
Boca Grande Parking Panel member Mary O’Bannon addressed the board, and said she and the other panel members agreed unanimously to look at this as a right-of-way issue, not a parking issue.
“We are hoping to have that done before 2021,” O’Bannon said. “Per your request, we are working on it; it just takes some time. We will need a public hearing, a meeting with the county attorney to see if we can ask for exception.”
Paterson said it seemed as though they were going in the right direction, but that she thought it was more urgent than following the rules.
“The code is a group of things, and the county is enforcing it, but I cannot believe there is no way on an individual basis to get exception with the support of the community. There’s got to be more than one way to fry an egg.”
O’Bannon said, “We are going to fry the egg the way we know we won last time, and we hope to be back in front of you next month with a language proposal for an exception.”
Paterson reluctantly acquiesced, but mentioned the new look for some of the downtown businesses plagued her.
“The week that all these things came down and everyone took everything off the sidewalk, I turned the corner and it looked like a strip mall,” she said. “I’m sorry, that’s not who we are. And that’s who we will be if we comply with this. Code enforcement always let it go before this. I think those tables should be back in front of the bakery.
“So what can we do right now? I don’t want to mess up this season. I want to look like we’re supposed to look, and I want people to be able to meet each other in front of the bakery.”
After a round of applause regarding Paterson’s comment, former Lee County Principal Planner Gloria Sajgo made some remarks. She was at the meeting for an entirely different purpose, but she is intimately aware of Boca Grande’s code enforcement history.
“Code enforcement is complaint driven. There were tables on the sidewalks, there were flowerpots and there were benches. Then there was a complaint. Not a violation, a complaint. Because they are public, though, everyone knew that someone had complained. That’s what triggered the inspectors to come out. In instances where people were not complaint it was called to their attention and they complied. So now the process is how do we get to the point where people are allowed to have flowerpots and tables on the sidewalks? I think what Mary is doing is the most efficient way to do it. As a board you regulate up to the property line, and the sidewalk is a public right of way. It’s a different set of regulations we are talking about.”
Paterson asked what would happen if the bakery put their tables and chairs back out.
“If you want me to guess, I would say probably nothing until someone filed a complaint,” Sajgo said.
“None of us can say it’s OK if the stores can put their stuff back out there,” Paterson said. “But if you know who made the complaints, tell them to be quiet.”
After the laughter died down it was asked if a special exemption could be made until 2021, and Paterson said that is exactly what they were asking for.
There is a possibility there will be more conversation at the December historic board meeting on the 11th, so we will keep you updated.