Officials: Commercial businesses will not be banned from operating at Caxambas Park
A ban on commercial business at Caxambas Park is not in play as officials work to come up with solutions for a lack of parking and overcrowding at the public boat ramp.
“We have precedent out there with businesses operating properly and people loving it,” Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro said. “We are going to do the heavy lifting and figure out what we can do to make things better for all. It won't be a perfect solution.”
Caxambas Park is owned by Collier County but located within the jurisdiction of the city of Marco Island. The park, located on the south side of the island, is 4 acres and allows easy access to the northern Ten Thousand Islands or the Gulf of Mexico.
Dozens of business owners who operate out of Caxambas Park attended a Collier County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting on Sept. 15. They were informed of the meeting by county staff via an email that was sent to all commercial vessel launch permit holders beforehand.
At the meeting, county staff presented potential solutions to overcrowding at all county boat ramps. Visitation at the boat ramps has increased about 149 percent from 2010 to 2020, leading to a lack of parking and overcrowding, according to county staff.
The discussion also turned to the possibility that Caxambas Park would no longer be available for commercial use by businesses due to zoning rules on Marco Island beginning next year.
City and county staff became aware of the zoning rules on Marco Island that would prevent commercial businesses from operating at the park when reviewing steps needed to allow the new community center at the park to open as it is nearing completion.
Several business owners who operate jet ski rentals, charter fishing companies, shelling tours, or other eco-tourism businesses spoke about how a closure to commercial use at the park would put them out of business.
Since then, Marco Island officials as well as LoCastro, whose district includes Marco Island, have said they will work to find other solutions to mitigate the overcrowding and parking issues at Caxambas Park.
"People left the room thinking we were closing Caxambas to business owners on January 1 and no decision-maker decided that,” LoCastro said.
A balance between commercial business operations and recreational use at Caxambas Park must be found, LoCastro said.
LoCastro said he will meet with members of the county’s parks and recreation department to come up with solutions for how to strike that balance.
One idea that is already in the works is hiring a harbormaster to oversee the boat ramp and help direct traffic to ensure it is being used efficiently, LoCastro said.
Marco Island Councilor Erik Brechnitz said the city has not set any deadline to ban commercial business at Caxambas, despite zoning regulations, but there are issues that need attention at the boat ramp.
"There is a balance that needs to be reached, in my opinion,” Brechnitz said. “There has to be a balance between recreational use of the boat ramp and the adjacent park and facilities and commercial use.”
He anticipates the county and Marco Island will work together on solutions to the problems at the park, Brechnitz said.
Marco Island Councilor Rich Blonna said he has experienced the overcrowding issue at Caxambas Park firsthand as a kayaker.
“The Caxambas Boat Ramp is dangerous,” Blonna said. “The way it runs now is dangerous for personal use for kayakers and paddle boarders. It's dangerous because of so much traffic and most of that traffic is commercial use.”
A potential solution could be for the county to only issue boat launch permits to businesses that are from Collier County, Blonna said.
“We are growing by leaps and bounds as a county,” Blonna said. “First priority should be given to county residents.”
Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni said he would not support any decision to ban commercial use at the park.
"To go out ahead and put people out of business is totally unacceptable,” Grifoni said. “At times like these when the tourism industry and small businesses are struggling, we need to be very careful about any action we take that could affect livelihoods."
There are a number of reasonable concerns related to parking availability and overcrowding at the park that the city and county will have to work to mitigate, Grifoni said.