Efforts to come up with a long term solution to resolve ongoing parking issues near two popular lakefront venues have derailed.
Developer Gary Prewitt, who owns two venues on Bittersweet Road, proposed a solution to the problems. The proposal was intended to ease the frustration and ongoing complaints of property owners living near Shady Gators, Lazy Gators and Camden on the Lake who are tired of dealing with the congestion. All three venues draw large crowds during the summer season.
Earlier this spring, Prewitt made a move to purchase property for a new parking lot. Prewitt said his proposal was aimed at alleviating the parking problems.
The property, 32 acres near Shady Gators, is currently not zoned. The property was somehow overlooked by the county during the zoning process. After consulting with Camden County officials, Prewitt attempted to have the property zoned and planned to construct a parking lot for Shady Gators patrons use.
Over the course of three meetings with Camden County commissioners and Planning and Zoning administrator Don Hathaway, the changing county position has made the construction of the parking lot impossible at this point.
Hathaway and Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken declined to discuss the parking lot proposal. Franken said since the county was involved in ongoing litigation with Glacier Park/Gary Prewitt on a zoning issue at Lazy Gators, any discussions that "we have had were done so in closed session because of the litigation and we are not able to discuss them outside of that venue."
The litigation Franken referred to involves Lazy Gators. The venue opened in 2009 on Sweet William Road next door to Shady Gators. Prewitt's parent company Glacier Park Investments, LLC owns the Gator properties. Since its opening, Lazy Gators has operated using Shady Gators' catering license. The county and Prewitt have been involved in a prolonged legal battle over the zoning of the property. The pool, tiki bars, and cabanas are on property still zoned for residential use. Legally speaking, Lazy Gators patrons are considered guests at private parties. The lawsuit did not involve the parking issues.
Initially, Prewitt said he was told that an ‘at-risk permit’ could be quickly issued, allowing him to construct the parking lot while zoning was completed. That would have allowed the project to be completed by Memorial Day.
Prewitt said in subsequent meetings, that offer was withdrawn and requirements for a historic-artifact study and other work on the property were then included in the county plan. After Prewitt had spent thousands of dollars on engineering for the project, the county changed the terms of the ‘at-risk permit’ proposal and essentially blocked progress on the parking lot.
While the 32 acres slated for the parking lot is not zoned, Prewitt had agreed to leave almost half of the property in its current state, creating a green space between his property and neighboring properties. That portion of the property would have been zoned residential under the negotiated terms.
Page 2 of 2 - In the final meeting with county officials concerning construction of the parking lot, Prewitt was told by Franken and Hathaway that he could build the parking lot but not use it.
“The county has said all along that parking was the big issue. I have tried to find a solution to the parking problem and all they have done is change the rules every time we meet,” Prewitt said.
In the meantime, Prewitt/Shady Gators has leased four houses and a 120-space parking lot adjacent to Camden on the Lake in an effort to address the parking situation.
“It is good that the county and the road district have moved to prevent parking on the streets around Camden and Shady Gator as we had suggested all along. That is a help to the homeowners and keeps congestion to a minimum,” Prewitt said. “However, the real solution lies with a realistic stance on zoning by the county and the completion of new parking areas.”
Several years ago, the county instituted a no parking policy on Bittersweet Road near H. Toad's and Shady Gators to put a stop to cars lining the roadway in the residential area. After passing the ordinance, the county installed 'no parking' signs. The problem now is the signs are disappearing making it impossible to enforce the ordinance.
Although there is a shuttle bus that serves Shady Gators and a parking lot at H. Toad's, the parking problem persists.
According to the Camden County Sheriff's Department, during the summer season, deputies responded to numerous calls in areas that had been previously designated as no parking zones. That was when they discovered many of the posted signs had been pulled from the ground. Some of the signs were lying in the nearby wooded areas and others were missing completely. Since the area wasn’t properly posted, per county ordinance, no enforcement could be taken. Efforts were made to move cars but as soon as deputies would clear the area, other cars would show up and park in the same areas.
The missing sign problem has been solved. The Horseshoe Bend Road District has painted no parking designations on the roadway and installed new signs. That allows the county to enforce the no parking rule.
Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, the sheriff's department reported one incident that resulted in a vehicle being towed.