Chokoloskee developer bulldozes only access road to historic Smallwood Store

Ted Smallwood's Store, established in 1906, serves as a time capsule of Florida pioneer history in Chokoloskee..

Photo by ERIC STRACHAN // Buy this photo

Ted Smallwood's Store, established in 1906, serves as a time capsule of Florida pioneer history in Chokoloskee..

The blacktop rubble is all that is left of Mamie Street, the entry way to the historic Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee. When the developer, Florida-Georgia Grove LLP, learned that a requested permit for an alternate entrance to the store was going to be turned down, the developer went ahead and tore up Mamie Street, which was on its property, trying to now force the Corps to accept the alternate entry way that would not be on the company's property, nor slow construction of a new marina basin.

Photo by ROGER LALONDE // Buy this photo

The blacktop rubble is all that is left of Mamie Street, the entry way to the historic Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee. When the developer, Florida-Georgia Grove LLP, learned that a requested permit for an alternate entrance to the store was going to be turned down, the developer went ahead and tore up Mamie Street, which was on its property, trying to now force the Corps to accept the alternate entry way that would not be on the company's property, nor slow construction of a new marina basin.

— A developer has cut off access to the historical Ted Smallwood’s Store by digging up a portion of Mamie Street on the developer’s property and putting up a chain-linked fence with a locked gate.

Without Mamie Street there is only a 150-foot dirt walkway, surrounded by trees, off Chokoloskee Drive to access the Smallwood Store.

The store was established in 1906 and served as the Island’s post office until 1974. Inside, The Ole Indian Trading Post has been a major tourist attraction for the area, while it also served as grocery store, bank, pharmacy and boat stop. The store was designated as a historical museum in 1989.

In digging up the road, Florida-Georgia Grove LLP has placed its cards on the table, gambling that it will force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action that will allow it to develop a marina basin in Chokoloskee.

Greg Griffin of Florida-Georgia Grove said the company’s hand was forced when it learned that the Army Corps was going to recommend denial of a permit filed by the company, on behalf of the Smallwood Store, to put in an alternate access road.

“There is an appropriate access site along lot 12 to the Smallwood Store to Calusa Drive that we are willing to pay for the entire project to solve the problem so that we can develop our property,” Griffin said. “Mamie Street winds right through our property to the Smallwood Store. Since the Army Corps plans to deny that permit, we had no other choice but to take out Mamie Street so that it could not be considered an access source.”

The company bulldozed Mamie Street without notice on Wednesday.

Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta called for a news conference on Friday afternoon at the Smallwood Store to shed light on the problem. He viewed the rubble of what had been Mamie Street, and talked with Griffin and Lynn Smallwood McMillin, Ted Smallwood’s granddaughter, about the dilemma.

Coletta represents Chokoloskee and Everglades City as part of his county district. Even though it is not a county issue, Coletta wanted to call the news conference and to go down to Chokoloskee to show that he will represent them in anyway he can.

“If there is a way I can intercede to help solve the problem I will,” he said. “I will be following the issue as it moves forward and may call a public meeting to get fresh ideas if necessary. If it becomes a legal matter it may be the side with the most money wins. I may have to help by getting lawyers through legal aide to represent the Smallwood Store.”

Prior to the company’s action, it had talked with Lynn McMillin and her husband, Gary.

“We told them that their building encroached on our property, but that we would work it out if the Corps approved the permit request,” Griffin said. “We will deed the portion of the land that encroaches to them. We also would pay to develop a (roadway) to the (Smallwood property) to Calusa Drive. We still will do that if the Corps approves the permit request.

Lynn McMillin said she was shocked to see the fence up when she came to the store on Wednesday.

“There was no warning,” she said. “We kind of made an agreement, a way of working out a way to put a road in from Calusa Drive that was mutually beneficial. Then I come here and the road is shut down.”

Griffin said, “We don’t want to interfere with the Smallwood property, or the museum. We also have offered to pay any down time at the store they experience from the new access construction. We have been working on this project with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps for 2 1/2 years.

It seems we just keep beating our heads against the wall. We don’t want to make everyone mad, but we don’t think our request is unreasonable. We decided to use the shock all approach, even though we know it wasn’t politically correct.”

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Comments » 7

ajm3s writes:

Would I be a soothsayer if I predict that the government will raise stakes with the option of "imminent domain", in this battle to quell a landowner of his rights or lack of?

OldMarcoMan writes:

It all depends on how good of friends they are with Donna. I bet for some 'help with the election' you can get whatever you want out of that Den of Thieves

lostmans writes:

For the Collier County, as well as the epa/dep and the cor. to allow this to happen to us, is not only a crime against nature,but to allow the county to build on thuis property is their way pobably to get the old mighty dollar.
Mr Griffin,to my knowledge does not own this property,but just another little contractor who sees dollars in his back pockett.
These people could care less about how we locals feel about being shut out/fenced in/and as the sigh says NO TRESSPASSING!
Eveyone in chokoloskee is up in arms about this development.
I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the county doesn't own it.
IF that is the case,I want all the tax dollars I've spent over the last 30 plus years repaid to me.
PEOPL,! developers could care less,it's all about money.
People can't get to their homes,we can't walk to smallwood store anymore.etc.
This makes me sick sick sick.
And I only hope the people involved in this matter have only bad fortune in the years to come, because you deserve it!
This is just sicking,and NO ONE IS FOR IT MR.BIG DEVELOPER.
You will not be supported in any manor or shape, if we of chokoloskee, have any say.
Stop this now befor it's too late.
The calossa Inndians are going to pound their drums,and you will be sorry you undertook this project.

themessiah writes:

Mamie Street! ;-)

Seaway writes:

I am disgusted at the way this matter was handled.
My widowed Mother has been a resident of Chokoloskee for 30 years and now they have blocked access of her driveway. Just because a developer couldn't get permission to have an alternate route to develop their property, they have to use strong arm tactics to get their way.
In the meantime, they do not care how this has affected the longtime residents. My only concern is the stress this has caused for my Mother and her health. Not to mention the depreciation of property value.
Also the fact that the Smallwood store/Oldest post office in the United States has been affected. I spent many summers in Chokoloskee and that was a favorite place to go and watch the sunset, boats coming in from a hard day's work and just feeling peaceful being there.
It seems to me that this is a Mexican standoff on who is going to bend. It saddens me that all that the only thing taken into account is that the developers get their Marina and don't care who is affected. They should be ashamed of the strong arm tactics used. And it is so true...whoever has the most money will win.
But their are no winners in this matter...only LOSERS!

ajm3s writes:

If you think the government protects private property for the benefit of its citizens, let me offer a glimpse of government relationships with developers for private use by an impending presidential candidate, Mr. Trump:

http://townhall.com/columnists/michel...

So in this local story is the private landowner who happens to be a "developer" required to offer his land for another private or is it public use?

Be wary of government that claims to work on behalf of the folks, because some day the government may knock on your door claiming eminent domain for private use under the guise of public service or access under many sorts of comprehensive community development programs. And would it matter to you if you were a homeowner or developer who was the owner of that land?

In most cases, the government is working as an agent for the developer, however, in this case the developer is staking his claim and now has raised a ruckus when the government gets in his way.

I would hope that the road can be rerouted, if possible, on existing public lands. If not, the arm twisting and leveraging will ensue with compensation to the aggrieved party.

But the developer now has gotten the County government's attention when in most cases in America, the developer always had government's support. Quite an interesting scenario.

lostmans writes:

Where is the C.of E.
No silt fence,They just ripped out all the red,black and white mangroves.
The Corp.of Eng.is supposed to help us here in the everglades,Yea right.
I've called everyone DEP/EPA/Corp.of Eng.,Scott,Coletta,the news.
Is their anyone out their that can help?
People,CALL eveyone you can thank of,we need help!

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