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Kayak club lease decision at Lake Kennedy postponed

By Staff | Nov 6, 2013

Just when it looked like the proposed lease to an area kayak club on Lake Kennedy was going to breeze through, residents in the area put up a major road block.

The City Council, faced with dozens of angry residents on the left and kayak enthusiasts on the right, was forced to put an ordinance that would have given the Southwest Florida Kayak Club a $10-a-year lease with the hopes of building an Olympic-style training center there, on the back burner until Dec. 2 – with the hope that both sides would come to an accord to how residents and kayakers would share the waters.

Problems began to arise last week when a flier went out to residents in the Lake Kennedy area regarding the proposed kayak center, saying it could mean the loss of use of the lake to residents.

Many of those residents came to the Monday meeting, and for two hours, those on both sides of the issue made impassioned pleas.

Many people who moved to the Lake Kennedy area did because of the access to the lake, and that the kayak club was really a public business in guise of a non-profit, argued Eric Feichthaler, who represented the neighborhood.

“They charge $25 per hour for lessons, a $150 annual fee and the club has operated for a year without permits that need to be granted to run a business from the facility,” Feichthaler said, adding there were multiple code violations, such as no parking and illegal trailers and containers on the property, and that the people in the area had no time to speak up about their concerns.

Other residents worried about the possibility of 400 kayaks on Lake Kennedy at the same time and that it wound infringe on their right to use the lake and the canals and smaller lakes nearby.

There were many supporters for the proposal, many of them children, who took up kayaking over the past year. They said the sport has given them more confidence and a sense they’re good at something.

“We’ve been encouraged to make a difference and train hard,” said Madison Friscoe, 12. “They encourage us to go harder and make gains and if we train hard enough, we can go to the Olympics.”

” I didn’t seen any boats on the lake all summer and only one in the last month,” Genie Friscoe said. “If we can share the roadways with bikes, we can share the waterways with boats.”

When it came time for sponsor Kevin McGrail to make a motion, he saw there was nobody there to second it.

“I’m surprised we’ve come so far from two weeks ago. The positives that were there then are still there now,” McGrail said. “I don’t see anyone putting 400 kayaks out there at the same time.”

He called upon water patrol officer Eric Christensen to testify to what he saw in the Lake Kennedy area. He said not nearly as many as residents represented, who said they use personal watercrafts and use their motorboats out there all the time.

“I didn’t see one Jet-Skier in Lake Saratoga and part of the lake is too shallow to use for Jet-Skiiing,” Christensen said, adding that during a recent event where they created numerous lanes, only two boats were on the course, and the buoys they used were removed at the appropriate time.

There was still trepidation, even though the allure of having Olympic athletes in the Cape was still appealing.

“I’m concerned that the issue of 60 kayakers hasn’t been addressed. I want folks to be on board,” Councilmember Derrick Donnell said. “I like the idea of having Olympic athletes here, but we have things we need to work out.”

To keep the motion from dying there and then, McGrail agreed to forward the ordinance to Dec. 2, hoping both sides could reach an agreement.

The measure passed 7-1, with Chris Chulakes-Leetz dissenting, saying the lease should have been put to an RFP.

“I’m not surprised. We knew they would come out with everything they said,” said Ian Mack, business developer for the kayak club. “We still don’t think this is a detriment to the lake because there are so few boats.”

“There isn’t enough information out there and nobody knows what’s going on,” said Marzia Rivera, a real estate broker and opponent to the expanded club. “What kind of money will this bring to the area and what future income can this make to help us defer taxes?”

The city was beaming two weeks ago at the prospect of a state-of-the-art training center that included a 100-room dorm that could be used to house athletes in all sports for tournaments or future camps held there for the price of a $10 lease, which would have lasted five years.