How to preserve paradise: buy it!

May 3, 2015 -- The Bailey Tract on Tarpon Bay Road is a wonderland owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who generously allows the public to visit it.  It is part of the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge properties on Sanibel Island.  People are fortunate that FWS allows them to park and visit, because wildlife refuges usually are just that:  refuges for wildlife – a place for wildlife to be able to avoid humans.

In a fact sheet available on the FWS web site, the fact that this Bailey Tract was once owned by the Bailey family is stated right up front, at the beginning.  The tract’s 100 acres is just a small portion of what the Bailey family once owned on Sanibel, but they still do own plenty – including the shopping center at Tarpon Bay Road and Periwinkle Way – smack in the middle of Sanibel’s “downtown.”
They also owned a commercially zoned parcel across Tarpon Bay Road from the shopping center.  That piece was sold to Tarpon Bay Road LLC at the end of 2011 for $1.5 million.  The reason for that price?  It is commercial property.

To the south and west of this commercial parcel is preserve land owned by the City of Sanibel and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF).  That preserve is called Sanibel Gardens.  When combined with the Bailey Tract, and conservation land owned by the City and SCCF to the south and east of the Bailey shopping center, what we have is a huge amount of conservation land right in the middle of the island, right up against commercial property.

That’s a wonderful state of affairs.  From the Bailey Tract fact sheet, we learn that we can see a plethora of wildlife species on these lands:

What can I see?
Birds: Wading birds like White Ibis, egrets and herons are common in the Bailey Tract, and Osprey are frequent, but the freshwater environment offers a habitat for different birds that avoid the salty mangrove habitat. Species of ducks, bitterns, rails, Common Moorhen, Common Snipe, American Kestrel and others are sometimes found here. Songbirds like warblers and sparrows are more likely to be found in the Bailey Tract, especially during migration seasons when the freshwater habitat provides an important stopover site. 
Reptiles: Alligators like all reptiles are ectotherms (“cold-blooded ) and are frequently seen basking on a sunny bank, frequently accompanied by turtles.  Snakes, lizards, and frogs can also be found but are less likely to be seen. 
Mammals: River otters, bobcats and armadillos are present in the Bailey Tract, but are rarely seen. Raccoons, marsh rabbits, Sanibel Rice-rats, house mice, and opossum are other mammals of this habitat. Finding a spot to sit and watch quietly is often the best way to get a look at these shy creatures.

Imagine, all these creatures, living right near commercial development!
Orchid growing in a tree over our driveway.

Another commercial center sits just to the north of the parcel purchased by Tarpon Bay Road LLC in 2011.  Just to the west of it are two homes.  The owners of those two homes are naturally upset that Tarpon Bay Road LLC is now going to develop its commercial land.  Those homeowners would much rather have that parcel remain undeveloped, so it would remain more like the preserve land around it.  I would, too.

Tarpon Bay Road LLC is Marty and Brenda Harrity, the principal owners of Doc Ford’s Restaurant.  The original Doc Ford’s is in a rented space at Rabbit Road and Sanibel-Captiva Road.  The lease there is coming up, and the Harrity’s would rather be in their own space.  Thus, their desire to develop their commercial property.

To do this, they had to apply for a conditional use permit.  So they did.  The city is requiring that lots of conditions be met in order for that permit to be granted.  But there’s no doubt about it; that land won’t be like conservation land anymore.
Orchid & bromeliad greet at the front door.

But it wasn’t conservation land.  Over and over again, we’ve done this on Sanibel, we know this on Sanibel; we’ve protected land from development by buying it.  By “we” I mean the taxpayers (in the case of City of Sanibel, State of Florida, and FWS conservation land) and donors (to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation).   If we don’t buy it, we lose it (for conservation purposes), sooner or later.

Tom and I sold our 3.5 acres of land (residential, 1 unit only), which we had called Cooley Hammock, on Tuesday – the same day that Tarpon Bay Road LLC/Harrity’s was having a hearing about their permit application.  A big crowd packed city hall.  The hearing went on for over 6 hours.  Some people supported the application, and many did not.

We, at the same time, were selling our land to one of the main financial partners in Doc Ford’s Restaurants – the author Randy Wayne White and his wife Wendy Webb (the sale is a matter of public record now).  So some of that Doc Ford’s money was flowing into our bank account as that hearing was happening.  I had no idea that these events would be simultaneous; it is a bit surreal to me.

Of course, I love to see land preserved as much as possible in its natural state.  That’s how we were developing Cooley Hammock.  But the time to assure that the commercial land across from the Bailey Shopping Center would not be developed was years ago, when perhaps the land could have been purchased from the Baileys.  That time has passed.  Own it, or lose it.

(And don’t worry about us selling our land.  We’re finally found the house we love.  More about that later.)


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