On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the public won in the fight to keep Mamie Street a county road. I was out of town and unable to attend in person, but I did watch the entire public hearing on Collier TV.
Out of the 21 people signed up to speak, 19 were able to stay and express their opposition to the Collier County “vacating” this road. In addition to many residents of the Everglades area, presenters included world-renowned photographer Clyde Butcher, “Seminole Tribune” writer Peter B. Gallagher and Florida songwriters Val C. Wisecracker and J. Robert Houghtaling. Lynn McMillan, grand-daughter of Ted Smallwood, said afterwards that she “was pleasantly surprised to see who did show up, and the ladies from Marco Historical Society were very nice.”
There is no doubt from listening to the speakers that Mamie Street is considered not only a county road but also a historic one. It was due to the hard-fought battle of public voices that the Collier County Board of Commissioners decided unanimously in a 5-0 vote to keep the road in its current location and accessible to everyone. This includes the public who have driven, biked or walked down Mamie Street for three quarters of a century; the residents of Parkway Village; the Smallwood Store & Museum; and the homeowner who was cut off from his property when Florida-Georgia Grove bulldozed his only access in 2011.
There was one comment during the public hearing that surprised me. County staff mentioned that they were just “following the lead of the Smallwood Store” and that the best way to save the Store was to settle. I believe staff must have been referring to just the settlement agreement since, during their individual presentations, Lynn and Gary McMillan both stated they wanted to keep Mamie Street where it is. I was present at the 2011 Board of County Commissioners’ meetings when the county first brought up the idea of a lawsuit. At the May 10 meeting, it was recorded that the Smallwood Store had not filed suit but were hoping that the “county was going to prevail and talk some sense into these folks (FGG).” Prior to the county filing suit, they tried to find a workable solution with Florida-Georgia Grove to no avail.
It was then that commissioners took the lead, directing the county attorney to file suit (not to save the Smallwood Store) but to “restore the public street that they’ve (FGG) destroyed.” In response, the county attorney said he would be “more comfortable bringing suit if the Smallwoods joined in on the suit. They are the ones who can do pecuniary damages, we’re the ones who can assert the county’s rights to the road . . . we can do the laboring war on this to keep their legal expenses down, but if we’re going to do this, you know, I want them as a partner.” (Note: seeking ‘pecuniary damages” refers to a comment made by one of the commissioners stating that the Smallwoods should seek damages.)
The Smallwood Store agreed to “partner” with the county, so the county sued with Smallwood Store as a “partner.” Since then, the Smallwood Store has incurred more than $100,000 in legal fees. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. In addition, it was the public who stood up before the BCC pleading with them not to give up the road — the same road that they said they would file suit to save.
We would like to thank all of the commissioners for their vote. It is important to us — the public — that they did listen and acted accordingly. It was the right thing to do. Decisions made by county commissioners are not agreeable to all concerned, but in 2011, commissioners were outraged that an out-of-town developer would come and just bulldoze a road (the only access road for some) without notification. The community, and many other individuals, rallied to the support of keeping Mamie Street, and the BCC listened. If you would like to help the Smallwood Store with the fees they have incurred, please visit the website www.smallwoodstore.com and contribute whatever you can.
For some interesting reading about the history of this fight to save Mamie Street and the Board of County Commissioner’s discussion, log onto www.colliergov.net and go to “I Want To… View… BCC Minutes” which will lead you through several pages. Look up the April 26, 2011, BCC Minutes, Item 9B, pages 84 through 92. Legal action on behalf of the county was discussed. Then read the BCC Minutes from May 10, 2011 (pages 132-160), when the BCC directed the County to take the lead.