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In support of 'Honoring the Baileys - Protecting our Future' campaign

February 23, 2011
Guest commentary by CHARLES SOBCZAK


The original house was built by Francis Bailey’s father, Frank, in 1896 at a total cost of $530. Back then, farmland on Sanibel sold for $25 an acre and tomatoes were the principal crop, ’though watermelons and citrus were also cultivated. There were around 120 people living on Sanibel, few roads, no cars and the only way to reach the island was by ferry. How times change.



One hundred and fifteen years later, after a half a dozen hurricanes and several brush fires that could have readily destroyed it, the old Bailey Homestead house, miraculously, still stands. Rooms have been added and the floor sags in several directions, but this remnant of the past still sits on 28.3 acres on the northern end of Donax Street, anxiously awaiting news of its future. We — meaning everyone reading these words — collectively hold the key to that future.



In a bold and daring move during these tough economic times, SCCF entered into a one-year option agreement to purchase the house and the land on June 24, 2010. The price tag for the Homestead alone is $4 million. Under Sanibel’s density regulations the parcel, were it developed, has the capacity for 36 new homes. That’s $111,111 per vacant lot, a number buyers would line up around the block for were they to be sold on the open market. If plans go well, none of these 36 homes will ever be built. For anyone already owning property on Sanibel or those who love open spaces, this is welcome news.



Fewer dwelling units equate to less traffic, less water consumption and lower electricity usage. It also means Sanibel’s five-hundred remaining vacant home sites will become more valuable over time, if for no other reason than that they have just became 36 properties scarcer. Operating on the premise that only growth is good, Lee County originally wanted more than 30,000 homes and condos to be built on Sanibel, with a residential density exceeding 100,000 people. Today there are roughly 6,000 residents living on Sanibel and, during the peak tourist season, it seems crowded enough. Purchasing the parcel just to eliminate these additional dwelling units would be reason enough to write a check to SCCF today.



There are more reasons than that for saving this acreage, however.



Arguably, the most important one is land conservation. As we approach buildout, parcels of this size become increasingly rare. More than half (15.22 acres) of the homestead property is upland habitat, ideal for mammals such as bobcats, marsh rabbits and armadillos. Uplands are also the favored locales for the threatened gopher tortoise as well as migratory songbirds, yellow rat snakes and a host of other island creatures. Even more important is the wildlife corridor that will be created from the Causeway through to the vast acreage owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (a.k.a. J.N. “Ding”Darling National Wildlife Refuge) on the western side of Dixie Beach Boulevard. This corridor will allow bobcats, snakes and opossums the ability to move freely across almost the entire length of Sanibel. A proposed hiking trail connecting the homestead to the existing Pond Apple Trail will allow visitors to likewise use the same corridor, adding to the miles of trails Sanibel already offers.



Finally there is, for me, the best reason for all of us to contribute generously to this venture. That reason is personal and sincere — the Bailey family itself. Over the decades I have been on this island, both Francis and his late brother, Sam, have time and time again opened their hearts and their pocketbooks to make this island a better place. In 1949, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife leased 100 acres from Frank Bailey, completing the purchase in 1953. The Baileys sold if for a pittance. That land today is known as the Bailey Tract of J.N. ”Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In 1990, the Bailey brothers — Sam, Francis and John — donated eight acres of land to honor their father and mother, Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews, to what would eventually become the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.



There is so much more to their generosity than these two land gifts to Sanibel. For years on end (usually in a downpour!), Sam Bailey headed up the Fort Myers Miracle's Island Night. He then gave the money he raised to high school graduates from Sanibel along with a heart-felt lecture on remembering where they came from and to always appreciate Sanibel. Every year for decades on end, islanders have gathered at the annual Bailey Fest, feasting on free brats and hot dogs while tossing softballs at the dunk tank and watching the Island Cloggers work the tiny stage. The Bailey family could always be counted on for donating food for special events, helping out locals during hard times and serving on City Council (Frances) or working with the Sanibel Historical Museum (Sam). Their entire lives have been intimately intertwined with life on Sanibel and, more than any other reason, all of us, as a community, owe them the honor of preserving the old Bailey Homestead forever.



Beyond the purchase price, SCCF has added $1.3 million to renovate the house, clear the land of exotics, build a hiking trail and help fund the ongoing costs of the organization itself. For the moment, there is a matching grant being offered by the Shipley Foundation, effectively doubling your donation. Thus far, only a little more than half of the needed funds have been raised. We cannot let this opportunity of the century slip away. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is calling this fund drive "Honoring the Past - Protecting the Future," the perfect heading for this project.



With Sam’s recent passing and Francis’ well-known health issues, I would like to call it "Honoring the Baileys - Protecting our Future." Contribute for the wildlife corridor, contribute for density reduction, or contribute in memory of the late Sam Bailey... whatever reason works best for you, but most importantly, contribute! Whether it’s $2, $10 or $10,000, write a check this afternoon and send it to SCCF at 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 33957. Make sure to mention that it’s for the Bailey property. To learn more about the fund drive, go to www.sccf.org or call SCCF at 472-2329. This is the right thing to do.

 
 

 

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