Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
Sarah Strickland and her family moved to Golden Gate Estates a decade ago.
"We live out here for a reason, so people don't tell you what you can and can't do," she said.
For the Stricklands, that includes having a portable storage unit in their front yard.
The Stricklands' quest for freedom ran afoul last year when Collier County Code Enforcement cited them for the storage container. It's the same storage container that the county gave them permission for three years prior.
The confusion has paved the way for a proposed land development code amendment restricting and regulating storage containers.
But it has also led to a question of what Golden Gate Estates' identity should be.
Jim Flanagan, a resident of Golden Gate Estates for 10 years, said the debate is less about the containers themselves and more about personal choices. He said the Estates is divided. There are those who would like to see the Estates as a community where people have land and keep their property nice. The others moved to the Estates to do whatever they wanted on and with their land.
"I have ATVs, swamp buggies. All of that stuff needs to be protected. But, I as a rural guy also need to maintain my property," he said. "We have to respect each other in the process."
Therein lies the problem, said Pat Humphries, a Golden Gate Estates resident who is the secretary of the Golden Gate Homeowners' Association.
"People think there are no restrictions out here, but there are restrictions," she said. "People don't think there are and that's the problem."
The amendment to the land development code that would permit portable storage containers, like PODS and similar products, on private property in Golden Gate Estates would come with a fee of about $160.
The building department was issuing permits for the storage containers in the Estates, provided that they met the requirements, including that they were placed in the rear of the property and met required setbacks, among others.
But the zoning department said the containers could not be placed in the Estates as a permanent structure "since placement of industrial storage containers does not constitute a use 'accessory and incidental' to permitted uses in these districts," according to a 2003 memorandum.
County Code Enforcement has not issued any violations of the storage container policy until it goes through the code development process, said Diane Flagg, the county's code enforcement director.
One of those violations could potentially belong to the Stricklands. The couple rented a storage container after they were cited by code enforcement for having a 1977 Ford truck chassis in their front yard.
"My husband was working on it. The license plate was on the body, which was on the side of the house," Sarah Strickland said.
Strickland said they looked at getting a storage container and contacted the county to ensure they could do it. They were told they could, she said. Because their yard slopes a bit, Strickland said she checked with her neighbors to see if they would be fine with the couple leaving the storage container in their front yard. They had no objections, she said.
"We had it for three years. Code enforcement was called on a house up the road, they drove by and saw it and cited us," she said. "I was irate. The county told us we could have it and, in the three years, we had never had a problem."
The large, off-white storage container the Stricklands have is used to store, among other things, their lawn mower and a four-wheeler.
"It's secure," she said, gesturing to the four locks. "It's not going to go anywhere. Look at the other options. A shed is so light it would blow away. And I don't have time to run to town when I need something from storage."
Under the proposal, homeowners could add a structure of less than 400 square feet on their property. Those structures over 400 square feet could also be added with site plan approval. Some of the additions members of the public have suggested include adding screening like landscaping or fencing; prohibiting the storage of hazardous materials or flammable or combustible liquids; and requiring structures be locked.
The amendment is being brought forward to give Estates residents a low-cost alternative to constructing a storage shed on site. The proposed amendment will go before the Collier County Planning Board next month. Collier County Commissioners will vote on the issue in September.
Estates resident Doug Rankin said he is all for it. He said the alternative, currently, is for someone to drag a semitrailer or utility trailer with a current tag into their backyard for storage.
"Those are not tied down," he said. "I would much rather have a storage container that is able to withstand typhoons on the deck of a ship."
Rankin said it was an inexpensive way to store what you need compared to building a shed or other structure.
But Estates resident and local real estate agent Kim Ellis said she can't believe the topic is even open for discussion.
"Cheap and easy? There are a lot of things that are cheap and easy that are not good for us," she said.
Opponents of the plan also cited the recent discovery by Collier Sheriff deputies of a cargo container buried in the ground containing $400,000 in marijuana plants as one of the ways people might abuse the new rules.
Ellis said people looking to purchase a home won't want to buy something next to a home with a storage container.
Golden Gate Estates Civic Association President Peter Gaddy said he believes the county should have a study done to determine the long-term effects of the storage containers on property values.
Strickland said if people don't like the storage containers, don't look in the yards of the people who own them.
"It's not hurting anyone," she said.