For an hour and 20 minutes, to be exact. And the frustration was palpable.
Board Member Tim Seibert felt that the importance of an outcome on Gilchrist couldn't be overstated.
"If this is done wrong, it will be the beginning of the end of Boca Grande," he said.
He said his time in Sarasota (where his architectural firm is located) made clear the problems caused by what he called bad government. Board Member Becky Paterson said she left Sarasota for the same reason, decisions that destroyed the charm of Sarasota.
Seibert suggested that the problem might be an island-wide parking problem and not just a "Gilchrist parking problem."
Gilchrist resident Bob Fletcher said he felt the board should be aiming for the public's best interests, not a consensus.
"A public hearing is not going to get a consensus," he said.
Initially, Beverly Grady, an attorney representing Gilchrist residents Edward Cruz and Corina Davis Hammond, initiated discussion about the designation of Gilchrist as a historic site. She pointed to McGregor Boulevard in Fort Meyers, which has been designated a historic and scenic route and from which the removal of palm trees or living trees, among other things, is prohibited.
She also suggested Lee County's plan, policy adopted in 2005, to investigate whether or not to designate Banyan Street as a historic resource, might be taken as a template to see if the same could be done with Gilchrist Avenue.
"We recognize that the board received recently a response to its question – I believe it asked in May regarding the designation of Gilchrist Avenue. When we looked at the memo we think it was pretty narrowly focused."
Grady urged the board to re-examine the designation of Gilchrist as a historic site in light of the historic and scenic nature of the entire avenue including the median,** and the use of the road shoulders.
She also pointed to the Lee County plan, saying it provided "a basis for proceeding forward" and said that in a similar manner Gilchrist merits review for its historic and scenic importance.
Grady said that placing a curb around the median, which is what some residents have requested, would preserve its historic significance while allowing for public safety health and welfare.
She reminded the board that in light of the new bridge and increasing population, the efforts to protect the character of the community would require the hard work of the preservation board.
"We wanted to respectfully submit to the board that the character of the Gilchrist Avenue residential community has been changing over the last few years and there's been increased intensity of use of the median as a parking lot," Grady said. "And we're not aware of any action by the historic board of participating in how the character of the Gilchrist Avenue area will be protected and respectfully respect that the board take a look at the Lee County ordinance where Lee County has protected McGregor Boulevard and it provides a template for you to use as a basis to continue to make a recommendation and proceed forward to provide this community protection before the changes are ultimately made beyond the ability to reverse the course."
She offered that the safest way to ensure the scenic and historic value of Gilchrist and to protect the public from "back out parking" into traffic at speeds allowed on Gilchrist would be to install a curb around the median.
Bill Caldwell replied that Lee County has, "rightfully so or not," claimed ownership of the area in question and that the board hears applications for certificates from property owners.
"They own it," he said. "They've got to bring it."
Gloria Sajgo, principal planner for Lee County Planning Division, said Commissioner Manning has met with the DOT about the issue and has more or less delegated its resolution to them, and that they are working on it.
"The county attorney has said that the (historic) board doesn't have the authority to regulate it," she said.
She emphasized repeatedly that Lee County and the DOT would prefer that the community achieve a consensus on what to do, because of the contentious nature of the issue.
No decisions have been made, she said, and they're still considering various proposals. Sajgo said she would ask the DOT to provide proposals they're considering for consideration by the board.
Caldwell concurred and added that he believes Manning should participate more vigorously in the resolution of the issue.
"Since we're one of the major donor areas in Lee County, (Manning) should lead this charge," Caldwell said. "He should come forward and get the DOT to come up with a public hearing where people can look at the different proposals, take questions, come up with something that they're ready as the 'owners' of the property and present it to our board. Then we can open it up to the public and we can make our recommendations as to what we think ought to happen."
He and other members of the board seemed to be frustrated with the amount of time that had passed since action on Gilchrist was initiated.
"I don't understand why the county commissioner can't take this thing by the horns and lead this charge," Caldwell said. "What do we ask out of Lee County? We're pretty self sufficient out here. ... "
Seibert said he felt the decision had to come through the historic board in some capacity.
"Roof issues, window mullions, doorknobs are not going to be the issues that save Boca Grande," Seibert said. "This is."
The meeting ended with a motion by the board to suggest that Manning instruct the DOT to bring design concepts to the public, including existing and new plans, over the course of two or three public meetings. Then the county should make an application to the BGHPB. Seibert added in an amendment that the county should consider parking in the entirety of the historic district and have it analyzed by professionals.
Three new signs were approved, all for the Gasparilla Inn & Club. One will notify the public that areas around the dormitories are for employees only to reduce unwanted traffic there. Another sign will identify the Gasparilla Inn Marina to the public. The other will identify the Inn's tennis club to the public.
There was a lone dissenter to the signs. Beverly Grady, the attorney who was present representing Corinna Hammond in the Gilchrist issue, urged the board to deny the certificate and instead have the sign placed on a gable to preserve the historic character of the area.
Jack Damioli, the petitioner, said, "The last thing I want is to have signs everywhere."
He said that because of the proximity to public parking, the sign was vital. Sajgo added that it had been determined that placing the sign as proposed would keep it lower and less obtrusive than on a gable.
Seibert abstained because of what he saw as a lack of standards regulating signs.
"What I like or don't like," he said, "doesn't matter. So I'm going to abstain."
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