Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners.
I am writing to express my concern about the proposal to abandon ownership of Butler Bay Road. I request the BOCC not approve that proposal and keep it open to the public. Butler Bay Road provides waterfront access to Gulf County residents, and planning opportunities will be lost if the road is abandoned. In my opinion, abandonment would give the developer a windfall with no discernable benefit to Gulf County.
Butler Bay Road has a long history of providing waterfront access to St. Joseph Bay that the public should not lose. This road serves a critical recreational need for fishing, kayaking, wading, and enjoying the beautiful sunset from this unique location. The proposed four parking spaces with no turnaround provisions are an inadequate and unsafe attempt at maintaining public access. However well-intentioned, this developer is requesting the entire length of the Road be made private, opening opportunities in the future for changes that could cut off public access.
Butler Bay Road provides a unique opportunity to create a forward-looking plan that links Highland View with the WindMark beachfront common lands. The county astutely conceived this waterfront connection concept as part of the initial planning for WindMark Beach (see Gulf County DRI 2004-06, page 33, Section C). That opportunity will be lost forever if Butler Bay Road is discontinued. Keeping the entire length of Butler Bay Road under control of the county keeps alive the potential to ultimately create a pathway from the Highland View to St. Joe Beach as initially conceived back in 2004.
A review of materials submitted to the city indicates that the wetlands' extent severely restricts the Lagoon Manor Development proposal. Turning over Butler Bay Road would provide a windfall of an additional 1.5 acres of uplands that could then be creatively used to increase development yield. While that may not be the intent, once the land becomes private, the County has no control over its future use.
I encourage you to retain control of Butler Bay Road's full length for these reasons and others. Lagoon Manor has stated they have designed and are ready to construct a bridge that fully complies with the County's standards at a previous BOCC meeting. If that makes sense for them to do as a private road, it should make sense for them to do it as a public road.
Suppose they are unwilling to build the bridge as a public road. In that case, the county should at least thoroughly investigate the potential for grants or other funding opportunities for infrastructure improvements or public beach access that may be available in the future to reconstruct the bridge. That investigation may take some time, but the potential needs to be fully assessed before voting to lose Butler Bay Road for future waterfront access and other forward-looking planning opportunities.
Port St. Joe
This article originally appeared on The Star: Letter: Butler Bay Road abandonment a bad idea