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CHOKOLOSKEE — 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.”