Collier hearing examiner gets case of the Celebration Park parking lot
Business was steady at Celebration Park on Sunday as hundreds of people flocked to eat and drink at the food truck venue. Naples
The fate of a parking lot that has served a popular East Naples food truck park since last fall but never got the proper approvals is now in the hands of Collier County's hearing examiner.
County hearing examiner Mark Strain on Thursday heard Bayshore Redevelopment Group LLC's request for a parking exemption for the vacant residential lot at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Becca Avenue.
The empty lot at 2831 Becca Ave. sits north of Celebration Park, the busy food truck park launched by local entrepreneur Rebecca Maddox, who also heads the limited liability company.
The property has been used for overflow parking for months despite not having the proper permits in place, and the issue has drawn concerns from some neighbors who say the makeshift parking lot has harmed their quality of life.
Within 30 days, Strain must render a decision on whether or not to approve the parking exemption. Currently, Celebration Park has 13 parking spots, which includes one space for handicap parking. The plan for the lot proposes 62 spots, which would include three handicap parking spaces.
If the use is not approved by the county’s hearing examiner, the property will have to be restored to a vacant lot, county officials have said. Decisions are final unless appealed to the board of county commissioners.
Representatives for the property owners submitted an application for a parking exemption in October 2018. The request ping-ponged between county staff and the applicant a few times, with county officials asking for corrections and the property owners resubmitting the application three times before it was accepted in July.
On Thursday, representatives for Maddox and Bayshore Redevelopment Group presented the proposal for the parking lot to Strain in front of a packed conference room at the county's Growth Management Department on North Horseshoe Drive.
"We know there have been problems with the parking lot as it exists today," said Bob Mulhere of the engineering and planning firm Hole Montes, representing the redevelopment group.
"We are looking to remedy those problems."
The proposed parking lot would have a 6-foot high wall on the north and west sides of the property to help shield neighbors from the lot. Additionally, a landscape buffer would be installed.
To help encourage visitors walking to the food truck park to use a crosswalk at the entrance of Becca Avenue, the proposal includes a 4-foot high decorative wall intended to keep pedestrians on the sidewalk in front of the parking lot.
Some neighbors have noted that food truck patrons have been jaywalking to get from the parking lot to the venue, at times texting, intoxicated or not paying attention to traffic.
"The problem's been from some of the reports," Strain said, "that people are wandering across Becca and it's a dangerous situation."
County officials have said that if the parking lot situation becomes a life-safety issue, it can be closed down while it is going through the approval process.
County code enforcement issued a notice of violation in December, noting “unpermitted construction work,” including “lot clearing and the introduction of gravel fill” on the property. So far no fines have been assessed, county officials said.
Some residents opposing the parking lot raised questions during Thursday's hearing as to why the county gave the food truck park the green light in the first place when it doesn't have enough parking.
"I find it incomprehensible to spend as much time, effort and money constructing Celebration Park with only 13 parking places and not having immediate plans for additional parking," Dennis Samblanet, a retired state-certified general contractor who lives off Becca Avenue, told Strain during public comment.
The new venture will host 8 food trucks on Bayshore Drive in East Naples . Naples Daily News
The fact that the county continues to allow Maddox to use "the illegal parking lot certainly raises some questions," Samblanet added.
He wondered how much the neighboring property lots would depreciate if the parking lot was approved. Celebration Park is an asset to the community, Samblanet said, adding that he has an issue only with the parking lot.
"It's just not right for the county to show favoritism, allowing one person to succeed illegally and everyone else plays by the rules," Samblanet said. He added that Maddox has arranged for additional parking in a large lot off Weeks Avenue and in a lot off Bayview Drive, and argued the "illegal parking lot is not needed."
Weekend plans: Top 5 things to do this weekend in Southwest Florida
For Michael and Janet Gavin, whose home sits directly behind the lot, the busy parking space has created a host of issues, including headlights shining into their bedroom, car alarms going off for several hours and strangers peering into their back yard.
"Since the lot has been illegally put into use, we have lost all privacy," said Meredith Gavin, reading a statement on behalf of the Gavins.
But the requested parking lot also had its defenders Thursday.
Greg Economos, a local real estate agent, said Celebration Park has become "a unique gathering place" for everyone. He said the proposed improvements to the parking lot would alleviate a lot of the current problems.
Property values on Bayshore Drive are increasing, Economos said to applause from the crowd.
"It's because of what's happening on Bayshore, at Celebration Park," he said.
Camille Kielty, who sits on the Bayshore Gateway Triangle Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board, said the food truck park has been "wildly successful" and the parking lot is critical to continue that success. Celebration Park, she said, has been "an excellent example" of what the CRA has been looking for.
"We are changing Bayshore," Kielty said. "We are changing it for the better."