The finger pointing between the owner of Shady Gators on Horseshoe Bend and the Camden County Commission continues.
This time it involves parking congestion in the area of Shady Gators and Camden on the Lake near the 7-Mile Cove. Shady Gators is located on Sweet William Road just off of Bittersweet, and Camden on the Lake is on Bittersweet.
Gary Prewitt, owner of Shady Gators, and Camden County have been at odds for several years over Gator Point adjacent to Shady Gators. The county says Prewitt is in violation of zoning laws, but Prewitt disagrees and the legal battle is unresolved.
Parking complaints in the area of both businesses by residents have increased this summer as the popularity of Camden on the Lake and Shady has grown, and attempts to resolve the issue have been unsuccessful.
Enforcement of county parking regulations has been spotty or non-existent, Prewitt said.
“We are aware that county commissioners and others get a lot of complaints from homeowners along nearby roads on busy weekends,” Prewitt said. “The problem is that the county commission is not enforcing its own parking regulations or, to my knowledge, looking into the operation of the taxing district.”
But again, the county sees it differently.
Enforcement of the parking ordinance has been virtually impossible this year because people have been pulling the no parking signs out of the ground and breaking them off at ground level, according to Camden County Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken.
“We cannot enforce the ordinance if it is not posted,” Franken said. “And someone out there knows that and has been destroying the signs. We have been enforcing the ordinance in the areas where it has remained posted.”
Prewitt says the congestion and parking problems are the result of inaction by county officials and fees being charged by Camden on the Lake for parking in a tax-supported lot.
In the past, parking had been free in satellite lots controlled by Camden on the Lake and used by patrons of 7-mile cove facilities. This had minimized the problem of illegal parking along the area’s streets. This year, Camden on the Lake instituted a $20 exchange voucher for parking and complaints from neighbors about cars lining the streets and in some cases parking on private property skyrocketed when motorists declined to pay the fee.
Michael Capps, general manager of Camden on the Lake, said the voucher system helps ensure that the lots are used by patrons of H. Toads. The vouchers can be used in exchange for food and drink at H. Toads, Capps said.
“We don’t make revenue, we don’t collect the money. It’s not like cash,” he explained. “We’re just trying to ensure that the parking is used by our customers as stated in the lease with Mr. Vandervort.”
Merlyn Vandervort, former owner of the H. Toad and Camden on the Lake facility, still owns the parking lots which are leased to Toad Cove Complex TDD and Toad Cove Resort TDD.
“We don’t like the parking situation either, and it’s difficult for our customers to understand. With Shady Gators having very little parking of their own, their customers have no place else to go. At a certain point, we just can’t pay for their parking.”
He said he is aware that vandals have been destroying public property by breaking off or removing the no parking signs. He said the county may be considering placing the signs in a concrete base.
The satellite parking facility was originally built by Merlyn Vandervort, then-owner of the property now occupied by Camden on the Lake. The TDD which leases the parking lot was authorized by the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Circuit Court. Camden County’s only involvement, according Franken, was to either support or not support the TDD application, though the commission voted its support.
“Without the support of the county, the district would not have progressed,” he explained. “The county is not involved in maintenance or operation, and has no authority to impact the current situation with people being charged to park in the satellite parking lot.”
Since the hotel, marina and other facilities connected to Vandervort’s Toad Cove operation were taken over by Valley View Bank things have changed dramatically, Prewitt said. The bank has been less willing to work with other business owners and then began charging for parking, Prewitt said, leading to the current problems.
“We had a good working relationship with Merlyn,” Prewitt said. “We paid significant money into the taxing district. We also agreed to run shuttles to all the establishments involved and partner to resolve parking issues.”
The county has a different take on Prewitt’s involvement with the TDD.
The TDD is funded by a tax that is assessed only on the sale of goods at Camden on the Lake facility. No other entity, business, or residence, including Gator Point, contributes to the district, Franken noted. Modification of the district’s operation must be handled through the district and the Commission has no say in the matter, Franken said.
He said Prewitt had an opportunity to include Gator Point in the original TDD when it was formed and declined to do so.
“Had he been part of this solution and included Gator Point in the original TDD as requested at the beginning of the process, we would not be where we are today,” Franken said.
“When parking was free, the problem was solved,” Prewitt said. He questions the legality of charging fees for use of a parking lot subsidized with tax dollars.
“I’m looking into whether that is even legal given the circumstances,” Prewitt said.
Some neighbors agree that the current problem of illegal parking started when Camden on the Lake established its voucher system in the satellite lot.
Dan Vanderveld, who owns property near Shady Gators, says parking problems have increased dramatically. He has been allowing Shady Gator employees to park on his property, freeing spaces in the Gator lot for customers.
Mike Riley lives just up the street from Shady Gator and agrees that the parking problem was made far worse when the $20 voucher system was established. He said that when parking in the satellite lot was free there was an occasional car parked illegally but he really didn’t have a problem.
Capps reiterated Camden on the Lake’s reluctance to provide free parking for customers of Shady Gators.
Prewitt has offered to join the Transportation Development District association or buy the satellite lot outright, and has been in negotiations to acquire land for additional parking. Thus far none of those efforts have come to fruition.
“I’m doing what I can to work this out,” Prewitt said, “But we need cooperation from the Camden County Commission to resolve the problem. I think the TDD issue needs to be addressed by the commission as well as the illegal parking.”