How many of the residents of Charlotte County question the value of the shorelines of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico or even give them a thought? The harbor is almost unique on Florida’s West Coast in that the only other comparable body of water on the coast is Tampa Bay. So, how should this asset be treated, bearing in mind that a lot of the shoreline is “privately” owned?

What does “privately owned” really mean?

The shoreline existed in one shape or another for millennia, if not millions of years and will continue to exist for another long stretch of time unless we do something to change it or its creator decides that he has other plans for it.

In the longer scheme of things, we as humans, only recently have come upon the scene and decided, being who we are, to want to “own” some of it to do with as we choose and then go away.

Yes, go away. We sell it, pass it to heirs, have it confiscated, etc. Even corporations come and go, as does their property.

The point that I’m getting at is that we are caretakers of real property and possess it for a very short, finite time. This a priori reasoning leads to the conclusion that we have a serious moral responsibility to nurture and maintain this property for future “owners” ad infinitum. Ergo, we are more caretakers than owners.

Over the years, Charlotte County has dealt with numerous, controversial real estate issues involving our shoreline property and its water quality. Some of these issues are beach erosion; water polluted by septic systems and old leaking sewer pipes; a deteriorating railroad bridge, and many others.

Probably the most significant shoreline project ever is the Sunseeker Resort construction on the harbor. Since its announcement there has been much “give and take” on zoning changing, building requirements and shoreline access, the latter affecting everybody, i.e., resort property owners and other residents within and without Charlotte County.

Arguably, the city of Chicago has one of the most beautiful and accessible waterfronts of any city in the world. This did not happen by accident, rather it was planned by a forward-thinking architect named Daniel Burnham. He coined the term (and I paraphrase) “make no small plans, they fail to stir the hearts of men.” He developed a plan to eventually make most of the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago a series of parks, beaches, marinas, and numerous other publicly accessible facilities. Other cities located on the Great Lakes had the same opportunity, but none other accomplished what Chicago did. Chicago’s shoreline is the result of one man’s vision and persistence.

As I mentioned, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf shoreline is only one of two places on the West Coast of Florida with unique shores. These shores consist of both sides of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor, including the city of Punta Gorda. And these shores need our own local latter-day Daniel Burnham. We need someone who has a Burnham-type vision to step up, develop a plan and follow through with it. This cannot simply be an employee who is given an assignment, but rather someone who has a “fire in their belly.”

A few things to be considered: We’re having spats with Sunseeker on public access to the waterfront; what a no-brainer this one is. A yacht club is up for sale. There are controversies over the Peace River Wildlife Center in Ponce Park. What about beach re-nourishment and public access, versus “private” property? Other issues are mangroves, sawfish, dredging, river channels, overhead electrical lines, existing and proposed (and yet to be proposed) parks.

Where is a logical starting point?

Two considerations are the Charlotte County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Economic Development Office. Both organizations are “look-forward” groups, although the MPO seems to have a broader, going-forward outlook. It appears that the MPO is doing a large part of what is being suggested in this missive and should receive tremendous support from the county and Punta Gorda city governments, along with the people of Charlotte County. It is the people’s proverbial ox that could be gored.

The recommendation here is not to start condemning property willy-nilly, but to develop a “people’s plan” for the shorelines with a lot of “what if,” “if this,” “why not,” and “maybe” thinking. The plea here is to insure that development of property on the water happens with a broad vision and that the “caretakers” of that property and their heirs (in the broadest sense) can act responsibly.

Anthony Biell is the president of the Charlotte County Curmudgeon Club. Readers may reach him via cccurclub@embarqmail.com. The Curmudgeon Club website is www.cccurmudgeon.org.

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