The boating community of Punta Gorda has great aspirations for the future of the city’s waterfront.
Despite concerns from some of the community and council members, the Punta Gorda Boater’s Alliance’s Waterfront Development Master Plan was accepted by the City Council last week and will be handed over to Dover Kohl & Partners for the consultant firm’s upcoming Citywide Master Plan development, a document to serve as a comprehensive vision for the future of Punta Gorda.
“This is not a new plan,” said Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews and council liaison to PGBA. “Back in 2011, the City Council approved and adopted a waterfront master plan from the Boater’s Alliance. This is merely an updated and modernized plan of what was already approved. We didn’t just create this out of the sky.”
For the updated version, PGBA and Matthews met with local groups and homeowners associations regarding some of the ideas in the plan. The most controversial involves developing a mooring field for boat dwellers in Charlotte Harbor and Peace River, west of the U.S. 41 bridges.
“The Historic District homeowners association is opposed to the west mooring field because another mooring field is not needed,” said HOA representative Larry Jaeger, referring to the mooring field available on the east side of the bridges north of Laishley Municipal Marina and park. “The waterfront park property in Gilchrist Park is too valuable to give away to out-of-town boaters.”
Other concerns for the HOA included “unsavory” people coming ashore, small water craft storage at the dinghy docks next to the Bayfront Center on West Retta Esplanade, derelict/abandoned boats and illegal sewage disposal by boat dwellers in the harbor, Jaeger said.
Council Member Jaha Cummings echoed his district’s concerns, saying, “We’re acting as if those who live along the waterfront in this area here somehow don’t deserve (the) same right of safety and security that other people have. We need to understand that having random people in our neighborhood is a problem. Since the dinghy dock has been there, people feel less comfortable in their homes. This is a reality.”
Matthews said she knew there were issues when she and PGBA President John Welsh met with the Historic District HOA.
“We listened to all of their concerns and immediately had the (Punta Gorda) police and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stop by every boat and introduce themselves, checking for registrations, checking for lighting (and) to make sure nobody was discharging (sewage) into the harbor waters,” Matthews said.
Matthews said they have already removed two derelict boats in the harbor. Another is currently sitting in Charlotte Harbor between Fishermen’s Village and the Bayfront Center.
“We’re working on those problems,” Matthews said. “We knew we had to take action because nobody else was.”
Welsh said the purpose of the Waterfront Master Plan was to provide a “road map” for the city and the boating community as they move forward with the Citywide Master Plan.
“If we don’t plan our future, somebody else will,” Welsh said. “We need to be careful about how we use the limited resources that we have. There are things that need to be addressed like kayak access, a lack of marina slips, a new mooring ball field ... all of these things (and more) need to be addressed for citizens and to attract boaters to Punta Gorda.”