PUNTA GORDA — No more dirt road maintenance.
That’s the recommendation from Charlotte County’s Department of Public Works to county commissioners. Department director John Elias presented this to the board last week as part of an update on the longstanding struggle with maintaining dirt, or shell roads in the Charlotte Ranchettes.
Several commissioners, however, agree with the most vocal residents on another approach. The county should get out of the road maintenance business in the Ranchettes.
“I’m not in agreement with staying in there,” Commissioner Bill Truex said at a later board meeting on Feb. 25. “The more I learn, the more I stand firm in that convction.”
The 2,200-acre neighborhood is located on the edge of the Babcock Wildlife Preserve, east of the Punta Gorda Airport. It has only a few hundred full-time residents and many vacant, untamed lots. But the number of people moving in is growing fast. New residents are finding the roads become impassable in the rainy season.
“When you have dirt roads, you’re throwing money into the wind,” Elias told commissioners.
The other recommendation alarmed the homeowners who attended the workshop.
That recommendation is to raise fees for the Ranchette property owners from $100 to $400 per acre per year. Lot sizes are large in the Ranchettes, at least 1¼ acre each.
That money would go to hire in-house staff, buy equipment to repair the road beds and fix drainage problems, Elias said. Eventually, the county should consider some kind of paving program, he added, but that would not happen for many years, and would cost millions.
After many meetings, neighborhood property owners still cannot agree on a strategy, according to Elias.
“We couldn’t get one direction that everybody wanted to go in,” Elias told commissioners.
There was agreement, however, among a half-dozen property owners at commissioners’ meeting. They don’t want paving, and they don’t want their property assessments to quadruple. Another dozen showed up at the later meeting. So far, no one has expressed public support for paving roads.
“I’ll never be able to pay that,” said Danna Van Antwerp. “I’m sitting there listening to this, and I’m in tears.”
“I’m getting priced right out of my house,” said Mary Hayden. “Where the hell am I going to live?”
These property owners want the county to relinquish its responsibility for the roads, and let the property owners pursue their own plans.
For example, resident David Kalin said he has found a contractor willing to maintain the roads for $280,000 a year.
It’s not that simple, said Elias. The county’s legal department has advised public works that abandoning county control could leave the county open to legal liability.
One property owner, Bill Farris, asked that the county at least stop cutting the rounded crest off the shell roads, which causes them to pool up with water.
That would violate the Americans with Disability Act, said Elias.
Commissioner Joe Tiseo said he is getting the message from many property owners that they do not want paving.
“I’m not comfortable with this whole thing. I’ve gotten so many mixed messages,” he said.
Commissioner Christopher Constance suggested the county fix drainage problems first, and then find a way to hand over the maintenance to the residents.
“If we could get everybody unanimous, and say, ‘County, go away,’ that probably would solve the problem,” he said.