Nothing like a good government story. So here’s one:
I received an email a few weeks back from Bill Cate. He reminded me that I had met him and his wife, Ann Bourke, several years ago when I wrote a Chronicle story about their Homosassa butterfly garden being decimated by the mosquito control fog truck.
This message was a plea for help. Bill said that the state highway department working on U.S. 19 in Homosassa was planning to take the parking lot that fronts a plaza where his wife’s business is located.
The plaza is tiny — four tenants — and fronts Howard’s Flea Market on the east side of the highway. Looks like it’s been there forever. One of those places where the parking lot and roadway melt together, with no buffer.
I visited with Ann at her store, Irish Ann, which is just as lovely and charming as you’d imagine. She explained the tenants had no idea what was going on, that someone from the highway work crew showed up recently and said the state would be working to the road right-of-way line, which is about 5 feet outside her front door.
She expected workers to show up at any minute and shut down the parking lot.
Leaving her, I thought this would end up in the scrap heap of stories about ordinary people hurt by road construction projects. I couldn’t tell you how many of those stories I’ve written over the decades, stories of businesses that couldn’t survive significant road construction.
What could I do to help someone in that predicament? Very little, it seemed.
I sent an email to FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson to find out what’s up. As part of the state’s resurfacing of that section of U.S. 19, it is building a bike path along side to the northbound lanes.
She responded a few days later saying the plaza property owner, Ram Swap LLC, which also owns Howard’s Flea Market, agreed with the state’s design. The work is related to the shared-use path and Kris’s explanation made perfect sense.
Closing the parking lot won’t shutter Irish Ann or other tenants, Kris’ email read. The property owner is offering parking spaces on the side of the building, though that’ll take some getting used to I’m sure.
But then she said something else.
“On a related note, the contractor has agreed to hold off work at that location until November 14 due to a large event and yard sale that is held every year,” she wrote.
Kris is referring to the Great Florida Yard Sale, Nov. 11-13, in the Howard’s Flea Market parking lot.
Well, at least Irish Ann and the others would have a few weeks to figure out their next move. I sent an email to Bill Cate with the update. He was happy, but added that disrupting the business during the holidays would be costly.
“Ann purposely does not vend at festivals during December so she can be in the store,” he wrote. “December generally accounts for 35 to 40 percent of our business for the year.”
So it got me thinking…if FDOT held off work a few weeks for a yard sale, maybe it would hold off another month to allow IrIsh Ann and her fellow tenants to get through the holidays. Great idea, but it’s not like I can get FDOT on the phone.
I know someone who can.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard has become the unofficial conduit between the county and FDOT. Not sure why, it just sort of happened that way. So I called Kinnard and told him of the plight of Irish Ann and the other business owners.
Kinnard said he’d talk to FDOT officials, which he did on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he relayed in a text to me what FDOT told him:
“The FDOT construction team has looked into holding off work in this area (construction that impacts the parking lot) until after Christmas. Doing so will not delay the overall completion date of the project. You can let the appropriate folks know that we won’t impact the parking lot until after Christmas.”
A win! And a big win at that.
I write about the government for a living and a lot of times the stories are not so pleasant. It’s nice to have one with a happy ending. Pats on the back all around.
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