Now that Gateway District’s deal to purchase the building owned by the Girl Scouts has fallen apart, district staff need to find another solution to their work space shortage.
A preliminary list of options is expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors at the December 7 district meeting.
While there is commercial space available in Gateway, and I’m sure the staff will be able to find something, none of the existing options are as good as the Girl Scouts building would have been. But when a zoning error that was made by Lee County several decades ago was discovered, the county declared that the Girl Scouts (or new buyers) would have to arrange for the building to be properly zoned for administrative use prior to the county issuing a certificate of occupancy.
For the benefit of those who didn’t follow the saga: two homeowners in the Pinecrest community objected to the Gateway District spending the public’s money on the building, so they took matters in to their own hands. The homeowners announced they would fight the zoning change, putting the GSCDD in a position where they had to decide between a year-long fight to force the zoning change or asking for their deposit back and start looking at other options.
The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to move on. The Girl Scouts have already refunded $10,000 out of the $15,000 deposit, with the remaining $5,000 set to be repaid once the district repairs some of the damage they caused when they were inspecting the building for mold. (Damage might be the wrong word. They had to cut in to walls and such in order to do a proper inspection. But the Girl Scouts want the building back the way it was prior to the GSCDD inspections, which is obviously a reasonable position for them to take.)
So now what?
It’s just a rumor at this point, but it’s believed that the GSCDD is looking to rent some available space at 11922 Fairway Lakes Drive.
But that would only be suitable if the district was looking for temporary office space for 1 or 2 years while they expanded their current facility at 13240 Griffin Drive. Right?
Because surely the plan isn’t to rent shared office space somewhere for the long term, and blow this rare opportunity to put a stamp on the Gateway community?
There’s a better idea.
I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but there’s an absolutely enormous piece of land right along Gateway Boulevard that’s already owned by the GSCDD.
The Gateway Commons area could easily accomodate a brand new, state-of-the-art facility to house the Board of Supervisors and the district’s administrative staff. The land is located front-and-center, it’s already owned by the residents of Gateway, and the only organization benefiting from it right now is Mainscape. If the board ever gets off their rear-ends and wants to build a park, would still be plenty of room for that as well.
Gateway has always been a desired place to live in Lee County, but it’s now officially becoming a destination.
We’re getting a brand new high school, and according to Lee County permit filings a major publicly traded company appears to be moving their headquarters to the area. We just got Sky Walk. The intersection of Gateway Boulevard and Griffin Drive is being developed.
The Girl Scouts building would have been fantastic option, no doubt. But maybe the hold-out residents were actually doing the GSCDD a favor and they didn’t even know it.
We now have an opportunity to build something brand new that the entire community can take pride in.
There’s already $800,000+ budgeted for a new headquarters. The money is already there. Since the land at Gateway Commons is already owned by the district there could be plenty left over to upgrade the Griffin Drive facility for the utility staff, too.
As far as short term solutions go, the district could rent some portables at their current facility. I’m sure the staff – especially knowing what was coming – would appreciate any kind of extra space and won’t be picky at this point.
Look, it’s not our job to put locations on the staff-approved list for the GSCDD board to consider. But whether or not the staff includes Gateway Commons as a possibility, the Supervisors owe it to the residents to at least explore the concept.
It’s a simple question: does the GSCDD want to settle for whatever they can find… or do they want to do something special for the next generation.
Does the Board of Supervisors want to plant a flag telling the world that Gateway is ready for the future? Or do they want to continue to hide beside a wastewater treatment plant, out of sight, up on Griffin Drive?
We already own the land.
We already have the money.
Let’s make the most of both.
It’s the right place, at the right time, and the right opportunity for the GSCDD to do its part to further establish Gateway’s status in Southwest Florida as the best possible place to work and live.