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19 04, 2021

EMS: Man injured, dog dies in Punta Gorda crash

By |2021-04-19T21:18:05+00:00April 19th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

A man is in serious condition and his dog has died following a vehicle crash in Punta Gorda on Monday afternoon.

The man was driving west on Duncan Road and attempted to turn left onto an Interstate 75 ramp. He turned in front of a work truck pulling a trailer, according to Charlotte County Fire & EMS.

The man was extricated from his vehicle and taken by ambulance to Lee Memorial Hospital with serious injuries.

The Florida Highway Patrol and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office are working the scene.

19 04, 2021

Red tide hanging on in Nokomis, Sarasota

By |2021-04-19T20:20:21+00:00April 19th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

ENGLEWOOD — The toxic red tide algae appears to be hugging shorelines from Manatee County to Nokomis in Sarasota County, but Charlotte County beaches are clear.

No concentrated red tide blooms have been detected further south or north, according to reports Monday.

Florida’s official website, maintained by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission,, still shows medium concentrations of red tide algae at Siesta Key Beach, and low concentrations north to Anna Maria Island in Manatee County and south to North Jetty Beach in Nokomis. 

Red tide map

Fortunately, from the Venice Inlet south to Boca Grande — and north to the Tampa Bay area and St. Petersburg — no one has reported scratchy throats, coughing or other irritations from airborne toxins.

Mote Marine Laboratory’s Monday report at noted that people reported slight respiratory irritations on beaches in Sarasota County.

The website and its interactive map attempts to predict the effects of red tide on people at local beaches throughout the day. The forecasts for Tuesday cautioned how beachgoers could experience moderate irritations on Siesta Key and the North Jetty Beach in Nokomis after 2 p.m.

Healthy people might experience respiratory irritations on those beaches. But those with lung and respiratory ailments should avoid those beaches, the website warns.

Other Sarasota beaches — North Lido, Turtle and Nokomis beaches — are predicted to be “low” Tuesday. That means healthy people might feel slight irritations and those with respiratory ailments should leave the beach if they feel any ill effects from red tide.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County announced Friday that it intended to post precautionary signs on those beaches where people are most likely to be impacted with red tide.

The beaches to be posted first include Longboat Key, Bird Key Park (Ringling Causeway), North Lido Beach, Lido Casino, South Lido, Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach, Nokomis Beach and North Jetty Beach.

While the red tide algae, Karina brevis, is natural to the Gulf of Mexico in concentrations of fewer than 1,000 cells per liter of water, concentrations of red tide blooms exceeding 100,000 cells per liter of water can cause humans to experience scratchy throats, coughing, respiratory and other ailments triggered by the toxins. Higher concentrations can kill fish and other marine life.

To learn more about red tide, visit

19 04, 2021

Sarasota County to consider Winchester Ranch plan (copy)

By |2021-04-19T16:18:31+00:00April 19th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

WELLEN PARK — A plan that could see an eventual 9,000 new homes along River Road heads to the Sarasota County Commission on Wednesday.

County Commissioners will consider a critical area plan for Winchester Ranch, a proposed development on 3,660 acres adjacent to River Road from the boundaries of the various subdivisions along State Road 776 eastward to and surrounding the Myakka Pines golf course.

Once known as part of the Taylor Ranch, it now lies entirely within the West Villages Improvement District, and if it comes to fruition will become part of Wellen Park. The property is deemed a “critical area of concern” within the county’s comprehensive plan.

During the public hearing before the county’s planning commission Feb. 18, Marty Black, the general manager of West Villages — renamed Wellen Park — attempted to calm potential opposition saying that people shouldn’t expect to see a thousand homes going in all at once.

Passage of the critical area plan is, however, the first step in the development of that area.

Of concern to residents about the potential development is River Road.

Plans submitted to the county do indicate two parallel roads — Preto Boulevard and West Villages Parkway — running through the development to keep traffic internalized according to Black.

West Villages Parkway, which intersects with U.S. 41 in Wellen Park, which is a part of North Port, will be extended to meet the intersection of River Road and U.S. 41, giving Englewood residents an option to avoid the dangerous curve on River Road, and the flooding that often occurs on the two-lane roadway.

The public hearing on the critical area plan is the last item on the commissioners’ morning agenda, likely occurring after 10 a.m. at the meeting in Sarasota.

Because of pandemic restrictions, the county has a website that will allow residents interested in offering written testimony or comments in advance of the public hearing or to testify remotely during the hearing.

Links to do that are provided at under the 4/21/2021 Sarasota County Commission heading.

Those links will remain open until noon Tuesday, April 20, for people to send comments or sign up to testify.

County planners have already found the plan to be consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and have recommended approval.

18 04, 2021

'Day to Night' sold out – but available virtually

By |2021-04-18T20:17:58+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

SARASOTA — Virtual viewing options are still available but the Broadway on the Bay experience of “Day to Night” by The Players Centre for Performing Arts at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has been sold out.

“Experience a day in your life told through Broadway tunes, a stone’s throw from the bay,” it said in a news release.

While the performances between April 22-25 are sold out, you can watch it from your own home if you buy a virtual ticket. It will be available to view after April 26, according to the news release. A link sent via email will allow a person to watch it for up to a month, according to the news release.

The director is Dewayne Barrett while the music director is Bruce Ensinger.

The cast includes Brenna Griffith, Chip Fisher, Tanner Fults, Kelly Leissler, Eliette Rogers and Debbi White.

For more information about The Players and upcoming events, visit or call 941-365-2494.

18 04, 2021

Chadwick Cove: where boats go to die

By |2021-04-18T17:18:17+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay’s Chadwick Cove is a place where many boats go to die. But now there’s a twist.

Last year, the owner of one of the now-abandoned boats died. On Sunday, the Chris-Craft sank, leaving the county and residents in limbo.

“The boat will eventually be removed, but it has to go through due process regardless if the owner is alive or not,” said Roger De Bruler Jr., the Charlotte County Marine Resources specialist who oversees the derelict boat program. “The death was considered a homicide so it had to be investigated last year by the (Charlotte County) Sheriff’s (Office). Next of kin had to be notified.

“We waited and learned the boat owner had a relative in Texas,” he said. “We had to see if that person or other local relative would remove the boat before it’s considered abandoned. We found a relative who lives in Englewood, but he has no controlling interest in the boat. So now we wait.”

De Bruler said it’s like a having a vehicle that dies on the side of the road.

“The police give three days to remove it before it’s towed,” he said. “With a boat, the state gives more time because it’s a larger vessel.”

Legally, the county must give the owner 21 days to fix or remove a boat or face penalties. Derelict boats are an environmental hazard and safety concern, state and local officials have said.

De Bruler said the boat didn’t have an engine so the owner’s friends towed the vessel from one spot to another along Chadwick Cove. As it sank, traces of fuel could be smelled but was not deemed an environmental hazard by authorities, De Bruler said.

De Bruler said much like the newly abandoned boat, each one in Chadwick Cove has a story behind it. He’s working on removing several, including two sailboats stuck in mangroves after running aground.

“Residents from the Sandpiper Key Condominiums called me because the boats are an eyesore,” he said. “There’s five we get out of there. Three are ready for the towing contractor.”

The Chadwick Cove Curse

Resident Paul Bigness said Chadwick Cove is often used for free outdoor storage for boat owners.

“They either cannot afford proper care, maintenance and storage of a sea-going vessel, or those who refuse to pay for it,” Bigness said. “Having these non-functioning boats here is a navigation hazard for various reasons, one being the big boat is in the channel, and to my knowledge no lights on the sunken boats and even some of the others there.

“It’s also an environmental hazard when they sink with all the various fluids, human waste and toxic chemicals carried on most boats that are typically used in the operation of a boat like engine oil, transmission fluid, diesel or gasoline, sewage and battery acid,” he said.

After Hurricane Eta in November, De Bruler, saw an increase in derelict boats from Chadwick Cove to Charlotte Harbor. However, he reduced them from 24 two years ago to eight.

De Bruler said in the early months of the pandemic last year, the state gave 45 days to remove boats. A year and a half ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law, which studies the impact on the environment specifically where these boats are left behind, and adds a continuous grant to fund derelict boat removal.

De Bruler said while he hasn’t applied for a state grant, there are three pots of money available to Charlotte County for boat removal.

“We (the county) teamed with West Coast Inland Navigation District Executive Director Justin McBride to handle any case during the shutdown,” De Bruler said. “Those cases were funded by WCIND through the FWC. We also get money from the Marine Advisory Council. Tax money is collected from the state boater improvement fund for fuel, bait, tackle and fishing gear. A small portion of that fee comes back to the county. Also WCIND taxes everyone in the county a percentage.

“When they get that money, they can give out some of it to the counties directly,” he said. “If the county sees we have derelict boats, we can use some of that money to offset costs. This way no money is coming out of the county coffers to remove these derelict boats.”

18 04, 2021

Is becoming a Certified Local Government in Venice’s future?

By |2021-04-18T15:20:07+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

VENICE — Since Florida’s Certified Local Government program was established in 1986, a total of 78 cities and counties throughout the state have become members.

As such, they have access to special grants as well as an abundance of resources and networking opportunities to help preserve and manage historic resources.

And during the last 35 years, no member of the program has elected to drop out.

For more than a decade, Venice leaders have considered joining the program. While benefits seemingly outweigh drawbacks, some community leaders remain reluctant to join.

At a recent workshop of the city’s planning commission, Venice’s director of planning stated that “just because the Comprehensive Plan calls for us to pursue, that doesn’t mean we have to do it.”

Before taking over in 2016 as manager of historical resources for Sarasota County, Robert Bendus oversaw the statewide CLG program as Florida’s top preservation officer.

Where the concept of federal government is sometimes perceived as taking away community rights, the CLG actually accomplishes the opposite, he said.

“What CLG does is empower local governments to take control of their own historic preservation. The local municipality that has its ordinance in place and a historic board to oversee it, they determine what is significant and should be saved. And how to save it,” he said. “When you have a community like Venice, that has really embraced its history and has an inventory of incredible places, those two things work really well together.”

Both the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County are members of CLG.

Bendus said when Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, it contemplated a network of partnerships in every state to apply the provisions. The act was amended in 1980 to then take the NHPA provisions down to the local level in every state through the CLG program.

“What I’ve learned, after being in this business for many years, is that preservation is most impactful at the local level,” he said. “It’s at the local level where ordinances can be included in zoning and permitting. In my opinion, the CLG is really the teeth and the implementing authority for all preservation in this country.”

Harry Klinkhamer, Venice’s manager of historical resources, said the keyword when considering whether to become a CLG member is “certified.”

“It means that you are meeting certain requirements that are seen as necessary to be considered at a certain level for what you do. Whether you are a certified local accountant or a certified financial planner or a certified local government, it verifies that you meet an acceptable standard.”

He said being a part of the CLG means state and federal officials take note that a community will “take historic preservation seriously.”

“For example, there’s a tax exemption we have right now, that if a historic property owner wants to apply for the exemption for fixing up their property, they have to go to the state because we’re not considered qualified to make that judgement,” he said. “National register listings, tax exemptions, we don’t have a say in that stuff.”

By not becoming a CLG member, the city declines home rule rights, he said.

One benefit of the program is that CLG members have access to grants that do not require matching funds. Through the Historic Preservation Fund, the Department of Interior distributes money to states based on a number of factors. Bendus said Florida receives roughly $1.5 million annually, a portion of which is then distributed to CLG’s to support community projects.

West Palm Beach used its grant a few years ago to renovate the Sunset Lounge, a historic jazz club in the city’s African American neighborhood, thereby strengthening their Northwest Historic District. Fernandina Beach used its grant to create downtown design guidelines. Pass-a-Grille Beach received a $41,000 grant for a historic district survey.

Criteria need to be met to be considered for CLG membership. Municipalities have to maintain an active preservation board that meet at least quarterly. A local CLG contact, typically a city staff member, needs to be identified for submitting documents to the state CLG coordinator. An ordinance is necessary to protect historic resources. And CLG members are expected to maintain an ongoing survey of communities. A review of recent documents indicate Venice already meets most of the criteria.

“There really is no downside to CLG,” said Frederike Mittner, preservation planner for West Palm Beach. “As long as you submit your meeting agendas and make sure you have your quarterly meetings, it really is a simple program in which to participate.”

Preservationists surveyed said they spend less than five hours a year in fulfilling CLG requirements.

Mittner said one of the biggest fears among the public is that “preservationists are going to tell me what I can and cannot do with my property. That is simply a myth and is not true. Ordinances are there to provide a protection of their investment.”

West Palm Beach had a mayor about a decade ago, Mittner added, that was not a preservation fan at first, but was in favor of sustainability.

“Once she understood the positive impact preservation had on the community, she became a fan. When you realize it’s not just a historic piece, but has an economic and sustainable component, I think that’s where there is a better understanding of the role it plays.”

It has been suggested that becoming a CLG member might require an addition to the city’s budget. There is no cost to becoming a member although community leaders overseeing historic resources are expected to remain current on preservation laws and policies. The Florida Division of Historical Resources conducts regional training for CLG’s every two years and also conducts training webinars for CLG staff and board members on topics such as board member basics, how to apply historic designation criteria, and how to conduct design review.

Mittner said one of the valuable benefits to CLG is the list serve that provides networking among member municipalities.

“Networking with our colleagues is great because there is no benefit to reinventing the wheel,” Mittner said. “Whether it’s climate issues unique to Florida or building codes and architectural styles, by sharing relevant practices, you realize you are not an island unto yourself.”

The CLG might not work if a community “doesn’t understand or has not embraced its history,” Bendus said, noting there are a lot of places where historic preservation doesn’t work and CLG “would be ineffective.”

“But for those places that are wanting to save their history and save that sense of place that we all gravitate toward when we’re looking for places to live, then being a CLG becomes really important,” Bendus said.

18 04, 2021

Fran Nixon remembered, helped 18,000 find work

By |2021-04-18T16:23:32+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

The Charlotte County community will have the chance to remember Frankie “Fran” Nixon, a President’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient who helped some 18,500 find work through her son’s nonprofit.

Headquartered in Denver, Project: Return to Work’s mission is to find work for veterans, especially injured military service members and their spouses, disabled civilians and others in the community.

Nixon passed away on March 23, 2020, but due to the pandemic, her memorial service was delayed until this April 30. It will be held at 11 a.m. at First Church of Christ, Scientist in Englewood, followed by a luncheon at the Boca Royale Golf & County Club.

In 2018, Nixon was honored at Boca Royale where she received the highest level one can achieve for living a life of service for others — the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was bestowed to her during the Trump administration.

At the time of her award, Nixon was in her eighties. She continued to help others until her death. From her nursing home in Castro Valley, California, she and Fern Ballou, executive secretary to her son, Rob Ray Brazell, were helping an injured Marine in the Middle East.

They helped him secure a good job in his small hometown prior to returning home from war, Brazell said.

Brazell, who is also a recipient of the President’s award, having received it under the Obama administration, recently shared the story of his mother’s life with The Daily Sun.

“My mother was born in Saratoga, Wyoming, on Sept. 7, 1932 to a pioneer ranching family,” he said. Nixon went to school there where she met her future husband, a Marine who served during World War II.

“After getting married, they continued to live on my grandparents’ ranch for two or three years, then moved to Rawlins, Wyoming where my father became a deputy sheriff and my mother operated a cattle-town hotel to supplement the family income,” he continued.

The family then moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, “when my father joined the Wyoming Highway Patrol and my mother held another part-time job to supplement the family income while raising two rambunctious children,” Brazell said.

The family eventually moved to Sublette County, Wyoming, which Brazell called “the least populated county in the least populated state of the union, where my sister and I were raised.”

Nixon worked several jobs and was able to send her son to a private preparatory school. She had a long career with the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

“After 25 years of marriage — after I graduated from high school — my parents got a divorce and my mother moved to Colorado to further develop her career with the government,” Brazell said.

When Nixon retired, she worked for the Mother Church of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. But perhaps “retired” isn’t quite the right word. After several years, Nixon moved to Florida (Port Charlotte), where she helped land a government contract for the Return to Work charity, her son said.

“She led the effort in Florida for several years until she retired again,” Brazell continued. “Then when I was run over by a truck, she rejoined the charity and worked for several more years with General Thomas Mills and Admiral Dick Young to keep it going while I underwent extensive rehab.” 

Before Nixon passed, she told her son to use her Port Charlotte house to help veterans who are trying to get back on their feet to live a productive life.

Ironically, the first veteran to receive help through the intensive rehabilitation program lives next door to Dale Tinline, who was very close to Nixon.

The veteran is Tinline’s daughter’s boyfriend, a Marine suffering from PTSD.

“I was a Marine for 20 years, and he was a Marine for four years,” Tinline told The Daily Sun. He said his daughter and her boyfriend “were living in the woods addicted to drugs.”

Brazell arranged for them to get clean and move into the house, where they remain today.

Tinline fondly remembered Nixon, whom he called “Mom.” He said he did work around her home and tried to protect her from “scammers.” He said workmen would come to her door trying to get her to pay them for work she didn’t need, or for work Tinline would do for free.

“She baked cookies for my grandson; she was nice,” he said.

He was Nixon’s guest at the $1,000 per plate dinner when she received her Lifetime Achievement Award. He balked when she asked him to attend, saying he couldn’t afford the price, but she assured him as a guest, he wouldn’t have to pay. Tinline said he was proud of her that day.

Fern Ballou, who is 91 and worked with her friend to find work for the Marine returning home from war, also shared memories. She lauded Nixon’s service, saying she was involved with Return to Work “almost from the ground floor.”

Dixie Vyvey-Minear, who still resides in Wyoming, served as flower girl at Nixon’s wedding and her brother Ray was the ringbearer. She fondly recalled Nixon’s generosity, saying Nixon hosted the Vyveys’ 15th wedding anniversary celebration in town. Nixon also took Dixie, who is now in her 60s, to her first drive-in move. The saplings Nixon gave her are “now big trees,” Vyvey-Minear said.

How it all began

Brazell said he formed the charity with the help of his parents, sister, and lifetime mentor, Malcolm D. Crawford, “out of my victory over AIDS nearly three decades ago.”

Brazell said he was given a year to live, but prior to that he owned a consulting firm to build rockets and satellites.

After given his diagnosis, “I did a lot of soul-searching.” He said he wanted to spend “what time remains to help other disabled people like myself.”

“Everyone in my immediate family is gone now, but their memory lives on in our charity,” Brazell said.

18 04, 2021

Red Bug Slough: Urban cornucopia of dragonflies, nature

By |2021-04-18T14:17:47+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

If you must be in the city of Sarasota for some reason and need to find an escape from the traffic and the built environment, try stopping at a park named Red Bug Slough, which is on Beneva between Clark and Proctor roads.

This urban park is remarkable for the number of wild creatures you may encounter in the midst of highly manipulated habitats and many dog walkers.

The county has done well in planting many native aquatic plants and in making efforts to remove some of the more obnoxious exotics such as air potato. It illustrates how nature will persist if you just give it a chance.

I was especially impressed by a ditch that runs along the southern boundary of the park and carries runoff from the adjacent neighborhoods into the slough.

At the time I was there in early/mid April there was limited water and many dragonflies. Since among the odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) the males are “pretty boys,” the better to attract mates, I will focus here on males. The females are more drab in color.

It is interesting that among a very primitive line of insects there is such a complex and well developed social system. Males strut their stuff, patrol and defend their territories against rivals, court and mate with females and defend them while they oviposit.

In one short stretch of this watery ditch I counted nine species of odonates within an hour — quite amazing! In addition there were many wasps collecting mud, sand wasps constructing burrows, and various butterflies active on native and exotic flowers. Quite a remarkable sight for the middle of a city!

The male roseate skimmer is “pretty in pink” and very impressive as a rather large dragonfly. A smaller but very brilliant scarlet skimmer male is an exotic species from Asia that is now well established in Florida.

The usual evolutionary argument for the presence of such bright colors in males is that they are advertising their virility, strength and good genes to prospective females.

Of course they are also more obvious to predators. There are many species that are less bright such as the blue dasher with green eyes, a striped thorax and a mostly metallic blue abdomen with a dark tip. It is interesting that the much smaller blue dragonlet has a similar color pattern.

One of the most bizarre dragonflies is the pin-tailed pondhawk which has an outrageously slender abdomen. There is no obvious reason for this strange anatomy; the coloration of the male is predominantly dark with some bands on the abdomen. Another less brightly colored species is the four spotted pennant male which has a dark body, dark patches on the wings and, unique among Florida odonates, four bright white stigmata at the far corners of the wings.

Damselflies are related to dragonflies but generally smaller and fold their wings when at rest. The male of one species I noticed at Red Bug, the blue ringed dancer, was tiny but a spectacular blue color. Indeed similar species in this group are called bluets because of the amazing coloration of the males. Their small size means they are overlooked by most observers but they richly repay close attention to their tiny but fascinating lives.

Although the odonates were the stars of the wetland ditch, there were other fascinating creatures nearby in the inter-connected larger wetlands. Among the turtles I saw, this Florida softshell was the most interesting. It has a cartilaginous flat shell that allows it to move very fast and to burrow to escape predators.

There was a single spoonbill in the lower ditch with outrageously pink wings that originate in pigments obtained from its crustacean food. Wood ducks were breeding in the lake; there were the truly amazingly colored males and a female with seven newly hatched babies in tow.

Red Bug Slough shows how a little bit of nature in the city can be both amazing and inspirational.

Thanks to Sarasota County for protecting this small parcel of land and wetlands and for continuing to improve the degraded habitat for the benefit of a remarkable variety of wildlife.

18 04, 2021

New book reveals how sellers, scammers built modern Florida

By |2021-04-18T01:17:34+00:00April 18th, 2021|Punta Gorda News, punta-gorda|0 Comments

In the 1950s, low-cost lots sold by Florida developers were advertised nationally and set the course for the area’s present-day demographics.

The ads read: “$10 down — $10 a month for a choice 80’ by 125’ homesite. Sale price $895, in Port Charlotte.”

A trio of Miami brothers — Elliot, Robert and Frank Mackle, Jr. — “revolutionized the sale of homesites in Florida,” according to a new book that will be published in June by University of North Carolina Press, “The Swamp Peddlers,” by author and historian Jason Vuic.

Although Vuic’s book presents the Mackle brothers as honest builders who sold buildable homesite lots, the Mackles were soon followed by hundreds of competitors — many of whom were unscrupulous and sold unbuildable swamp land to unsuspecting buyers.

Because of their targeting middle-class retirees on fixed incomes and offering affordable homes, many areas of Florida including Port Charlotte and North Port, became meccas for those wanting to escape the cold and live in what the ads called “paradise.”

Vuic has a description of the area in the 1950s and 1960s.

“It was as if pop artist Andy Warhol had been a real estate developer, stamping out homesites instead of soup cans in a palmetto-ey boondock deep in the Florida bush,” he said.

Author Jason Vuic

Raised in Punta Gorda on Marion Avenue and Durrance Street, author Jason Vuic went on to study overseas and earn his Ph.D. As an historian, he’s written three other books, some of which became best-sellers. He now lives in Texas with his wife and their two children.

Vuic focused on Charlotte County and the Mackles’ General Development Corporation. The book, however, gives a much broader view of development in the state.

What made you decide to research and write this book?

I grew up in old Punta Gorda, and though I left the state for college and became a writer and history professor studying a completely different field, I was always interested in where I was from. In 2016 I published a book on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As part of my research I interviewed various Florida historians. To me, the most significant thing to ever happen in Charlotte County was the founding of Port Charlotte.

How does history look back at the Mackle Brothers?

I admire the Mackles. I describe them in the book as honest brokers. They were Florida community builders like the famed New York developer William J. Levitt of Levittown fame, building simple suburban-style homes for middle-class folks near Miami. Key Biscayne was one of them, but they realized that in developments like Port Charlotte, in what was then in a very remote county with few jobs, they had to attract retirees with pensions.

In chapter 7, a newspaper article described Charlotte County in 1987 as being “Silver and Old.” Back then, the county didn’t do much for younger people. Do you think the way the area was marketed, resulted in the county today lacking employment and outlets for youth?

Let’s remember, what drew retirees to Charlotte County was Port Charlotte, which was marketed to people 60 and over by a corporation using a multi-million dollar ad campaign, even in the 1950s. It wasn’t pitched to young people. Although it was never a huge development, within its first 10 years or so it grew to be three times the size of Punta Gorda. Older people were the residential tax base and they were the largest voters, so naturally their needs came first.

GDC house with carport

This home is a typical Mackle brothers house built circa late 1950s in Port Charlotte.

If today’s environmental laws were in effect when developers in the 1950s came to the area, how many environmental laws were broken?

Prior to 1970, only municipalities in Florida had the right to issue building codes. So, the city of Punta Gorda, a municipality, had rules for what you could and couldn’t do. Port Charlotte was an unincorporated community on county land, therefore General Development (a Mackle company) could do what it wanted and so could every other developer in Florida, outside of cities and towns. Florida really didn’t regulate the environment until the mid-1970s, nor did the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so land development here was a free-for-all.

What was the worst development project?

The Gulf American Corporation and the southern half of the Golden Gate Estates development near Naples. To sell lots, the company built a network of canals that just decimated the plant and animal life and the flow of the western Everglades. It’s taken years and millions of dollars to even begin to fix it. (Note: Vuic’s book also tells how many parts of Florida to this day are unbuildable, with neither lot owners nor government able to do anything with the land.)

Which part of the state suffered the most due to greedy land salespeople?

I’d say Southwest Florida. There were installment land sales communities throughout the state, but the biggest ones, with the biggest sales forces, were right here: Port Charlotte, North Port, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, Rotonda, and Golden Gate Estates.

Wasn’t there some sort of underhanded movement by the developers to expand development in the North Port section?

In the late 1950s, when GDC began developing its property in Charlotte County, part of the land was in Sarasota County. (The Mackle brothers’ firm called the area North Port Charlotte.) While GDC could build in Charlotte County unhindered, it couldn’t in Sarasota County. So the Mackles pulled a fast one. In 1959, they built 10 or so homes in North Port, which they gave to GDC employees, and these employees voted to incorporate the city of North Port Charlotte in order to take it out of Sarasota’s control.

Early General Development ad for new home in Charlotte Harbor

The Mackle brothers’ company was in the business of building homes. When the firm merged with Canadian financiers, they formed General Development Corporation. This is a Mackle Company Inc. ad for a concrete block home in which buyers would pay $250 down and $54 a month. A home like this cost $8,250. This home probably didn’t have air conditioning or a garage or car port, and was likely under 1,000 square feet.

You mention that because of the “slicing and dicing” of Florida, there are no large parcels of land for Charlotte County business development, other than at the Punta Gorda Airport. What would it take to condemn properties through eminent domain, or would that not be a possibility?

In the 1950s, Florida’s big land developers divided their properties into as many 80’ by 125’ lots as possible, because that’s where the money was — in buying by the acre and selling by the foot. Companies weren’t concerned with future land use. That’s why today, planning communities like Port Charlotte don’t have downtowns. GDC put a premium on residential lots, and for years, a thin commercial corridor on either side of U.S. 41 met its commercial needs. But now that Port Charlotte has 60,000 people, and many younger people at that, there’s nowhere for new businesses to go; there’s just no developable land — it was all platted over 60 years for single-family homes. Remember, it’s now illegal in Florida for either state or local governments to use eminent domain for private development.

Please describe urban planning versus unbridled lot-selling without planning?

Well, the simplest thing I can say is that Port Charlotte and other lot-sales communities that date from the 1950s have hundreds of thousands of lots and tens of thousands of ranch houses but no walking districts, few sidewalks and no city cores. Utilities were added retroactively and the communities themselves were planned and built when building codes and environmental rules were non-existent. Babcock Ranch is a different animal altogether. It’s a green development with renewable energy sources and a diversity of lots and home sizes. Instead of having a large residential grid with row after row of homesites, it has two villages and five hamlets flowing to a city core, which emphasize walkability. Port Charlotte, I think, is straight-jacketed and limited by planning mistakes of the past, while Babcock Ranch and other so-called “New Urbanist” communities try to correct those mistakes by being pedestrian-friendly and orienting everything towards a central core. I saw somewhere someone called Babcock Ranch the “anti-Port Charlotte,” if that makes any sense.