The Goodland Civic Association (GCA) has recently experienced 10 solid years of growth and is enjoying a popularity not known since 2000-2001. It was in those two years that the GCA achieved the pinnacle of community service and accomplishments, successfully completing three major projects which were to have a lasting effect on our quality of life.
In 1999, the GCA had established a website, was publishing a monthly newsletter (mailed to every member), issuing press releases, and organizing or participating in over 17 community events and fundraisers. According to Vicki Wood, a community activist and past board member, the GCA had a membership approaching 300 members that year. John Carter was president of the board, but most of the heavy lifting was being done by Treasurer Connie Fullmer, Secretary Pam Stoppelbein, and VP Ed Fullmer. An awful lot of money was being spent on postage to keep the members fully informed.
Fired up concerned Goodland residents began attending Collier County Board of Commissioners meetings. In the spring of 1999, when the commissioners approved an amendment to the Collier County Land Development Code, allowing for three stories over parking, the Goodland contingent requested an overlay for Goodland, limiting building heights to only two stories over parking. It took a year and a half to get it. The process uncovered a lot more that needed fixing.
In 1949, the Collier Corporation owned almost all of the land on Marco Island, including Goodland. The company wanted to develop the island, starting with Caxambas, a fishing village on a choice piece of land just east of Cape Marco. Those Caxambas residents, who were leasing their properties from the Collier Corp., were told that they would have to vacate their homes. The company had laid out small lots in Goodland and offered favorable terms to these Caxambas lessees who would agree to move there, even offering to move their houses over to Goodland at company expense. Many took advantage of the offer, and thus was the village of Goodland born, initially consisting of those quaint touristy fishing cottages from Caxambas. The problem, which in 1999 could no longer be ignored, was the small size of those lots.
Pam Stop (short for Stoppelbein), who became GCA secretary in 2000, explained the problem. “20 years ago, the zoning and development regulations were contained in a two-inch thick manual,” she said, “Due to the rapid growth of Collier County, that manual was rewritten in 1992 and has now ballooned into an eight-inch volume [which regulates every conceivable facet of development and zoning]” Practically all of Goodland’s lots as laid out by the Collier Corp. do not conform to the current regulations, she said. They are simply not large enough to accommodate required setbacks, etc. “While the rest of the County has changed, Goodland has not. Realistically the County cannot be expected to keep turning a blind eye to our infractions (mainly by ignoring set back requirements).” This will affect the issuance of future building permits, Stop concluded.
Ray Bellows, Collier County’s Principal [Development] Planner (still at his post today) was more explicit. He said that the vast majority of zoned residential lots – 251 of them – were nonconforming lots and that no capital improvements could be undertaken, until the owners had proven on a case by case basis that their lots, though nonconforming, were actually legal under the code – an expensive and time consuming process in which the outcome would likely be unfavorable to the owners.
Bellows offered to assist the GCA in developing a zoning overlay, which would confer legality on those 251 lots and overlay Goodland’s zoning map with zoning requirements (and exemptions) specific only to Goodland. In any event, the owners would still have to comply with the voluminous 1992 Development Code when improving or building on those lots. Bellows was as good as his word.
In December 1999, the GCA formed an Overlay Committee, chaired by Ed Fullmer, and began a series of town meetings at the Community Center. Bellows was present at many of them in an advisory capacity. These meetings, with or without Bellows, were occurring at least twice a month into the fall of 2000. At the outset, it became apparent that there might be substantial resistance in the community. The overlay would be still born without the support of the residents.
Heretofore, disputes in Goodland were settled over the back fence, Stop said, but a comprehensive solution was needed. People have moved here to escape the strictures of excessive government regulation; and now the residents were being asked to approve another layer of such regulation which would affect their sacred property rights – not easy to do in this neck of the woods. Many residents smelled a rat. Until 2000, there had been little intrusion by the county into Goodland’s affairs, nor was their reason for any. Now they were exploding onto the scene.
Starting on January 11, 2000 and continuing until November 29, the GCA held at least 16 public meetings, devoted solely to the Goodland Overlay. These meetings were punctuated by regularly scheduled monthly membership meetings at which the overlay was debated and discussed. Fortuitously, in October 2000, newly elected Collier County Commissioner, Donna Fiala began turning up at some of the meetings. The overlay was a major part of retaining the Goodland character, Fiala recalls, and was supportive in making that happen. “How else can you retain the feeling of Goodland if you obliterate the structure that makes up the community?”
But first, you need to get the community on board, Bellows warned. He proposed and wrote a survey composed of 40 questions which were sent out to all residents and property owners in June, 2000. Three hundred thirty-eight questionnaires were sent out. Thirteen came back “Returned to Sender,” but an astonishing 152 (45%) responded. Of those responding, 65.4% were in favor of a zoning overlay which would: a. Limit building heights in the VR Zoning District; b. Address parking problems of boats and recreational vehicles; and c. Preserve the small town character of the community. It must have been cathartic to those who responded. Someone actually cared about what they were feeling.
Armed with the survey results and the support of Commissioner Donna Fiala, who represented Goodland, Ray Bellows succeeded in getting the overlay on the county agenda. It was passed unanimously on December 13, 2000. Bellows told the commissioners that its purpose was to create guidelines which would assure “the orderly and appropriate development” of Goodland. Its most notable accomplishment was to reduce the maximum building height from thre levels to two levels of habitable space in the VR zoned (residential/mixed use) district – a provision which the GCA was able to successfully cite in its successful battle to keep the arriving commercial developers of multifamily buildings at bay (of which, more later).
But the overlay did much more than that. Residents and visitors could now legally park on (county owned) swales; recreational and commercial vehicles were allowed to park on residential property; roadside storage of crab traps was allowed; and set back requirements were relaxed somewhat, especially in the case of mobile homes. Goodland had gotten a building code it could live with. More importantly, partnership based on mutual respect was established with the county.
“It was pretty much hell getting that overlay passed,” Stop recalls, “All the ‘don’t change anything’ people did not understand that we were trying to pass the overlay so that nothing would change. Our neighbors were practically spitting at us because we were trying to change things. I lost a lot of sleep over this,” Stop said.
“There is no other place in the USA that can take the place of Goodland,” Fiala adds with, unusual hyperbole, “So we must preserve it, and that is what I was fighting for.” She has continued that fight for her 18 years as a Collier County commissioner.
Next up – The Dolphin Cove Fiasco.
Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is a former Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.