A History of Gulf Pines

In 1972, before Sanibel was incorporated as a city, Robert M. Taylor and his Mariner Corporation completed the purchase and plotting of what is now Gulf Pines I and II. The parcel to be developed had frontage on the Gulf of Mexico on the south, untouched wetlands on the northern and eastern border and Tahiti Shores (now Gulf Shores) to the west.  Although officially described as consisting of "Beach, Beach Ridge, and Wetlands," a glance at the aerial photograph promoting its development might well have evoked the comment that "the accent should be put on the last word." Even under the rather casual attitude toward the conservation of pristine low-lying land held at that time by the officials of Lee County, remarks were heard such as "who would build in that swamp?" However, people did build there and the fact that such a successful residential community emerged in this place is the Gulf Pines story. That this project did not become an ecological disaster is due, in large part, to the happy combination of two factors – forethought on the part of the developers and cooperative concern on the part of those who decided to make this place their home.

Sales began in 1972. That year, Keith and Betty Funston started construction on their newly acquired beach lot on the western border next door to Tahiti Shores (now Gulf Shores). Crawford and Jean Cate followed shortly on the adjacent lot. 

Both families faced one major problem: access to electric power. Although not yet completely finished, the Gulf Pines roads were sufficiently advanced to allow transportation of construction material.  Also, water service was on hand, but no connection was, as yet, available to the Lee County Electric lines.  Fortunately, through the kindness of the Funston's neighbors to the west, Derrol and Peg Johnson, permission was given to hook into the Tahiti Shores electrical supply across the Johnson property.

Meanwhile, Mariner pushed toward completion of the interior shell roads, tying them on the northern end of the subdivision into the entrance road which had been built earlier by Lindgren for Tahiti Shores.  Thereafter business started picking up.  Among those who purchased lots and built their houses were Bob and Kateen Morris, Bill and Barbara Rusch and Priscilla Murphy, whose "stilt house" on lot 51 reflected the new "off-the-ground" construction standards put in force after the City of Sanibel incorporated in 1974.  Lots moved quickly – some, of course, for speculation, but many as permanent residences or as winter homes.  Gulf Pines II was opened in 1973.

Taylor and his Mariner Corporation envisioned a development in which neighbors would be encouraged, through the use of facilities shared in common, to maintain a concern for one another and the joint betterment of the community.  Toward that end, the developers’ plans included swimming pools (one each for Gulf Pines I and II), tennis courts, a greenway connecting various parts of the property, two watch towers for the observation of wildlife looking over conservation lands to the east and located in the conservation land on easements adjoining lots 14 and 87.  Most importantly, Mariner built a clubhouse facility, initially used as a sales office, where residents could gather for social events and the discussion of community affairs. The decision to bury all utilities underground saved Gulf Pines from unsightly poles and overhead wires. The construction of a wastewater facility at the northeast corner of Gulf Pines, at the end of Birdwatch Way, eliminated the use of individual septic systems. The construction of picturesque foot bridges added a natural touch.  All of this, of course, was intended to attract a certain type of buyer who cared about community and the natural charm of the island.

A rapidly growing number of residents responded to these incentives. By 1977, a board was established with members of the community elected for 2-year terms.  Subcommittees were established to oversee the operations and maintenance of amenities held in common such as the clubhouse, sewer system, roads, etc. The Board created a set of rules pertaining to the use and maintenance of property within the subdivision as well as regulations applicable to the renting and building of houses.  In addition many projects have been carried out.  Examples are the creation early on of a traffic island where Gulf Pines Road meets Sanibel-Captiva road, and, in the mid-1980s, the successful blockage of a proposed extension of the power line system on West Gulf Drive to form a westerly power loop on the island.  In the power line proposal no mention was made of an extension of West Gulf Drive itself.  Nevertheless it was felt that "this might allow the camel to get his nose under the tent.” The request came to naught. 

Another example of a successful Gulf Pines community effort was the purchase through individual donations of the Robert's property, a 7.25 acre tract running along San-Cap Road from the entrance road eastward the “S” curve. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) already owned a strip between this acreage and the northern property line of Gulf Pines.  When SCCF discovered that this land was for sale for $60,000, the Foundation asked if residents of Gulf Pines and Gulf Shores could match the Foundation's $30,000 to buy the land with SCCF and then to turn it over to the Foundation for safe keeping. The project was oversubscribed.  The purchase was made and Gulf Pines was assured that its northern property line would be protected all the way to San-Cap Road.

Excellent cooperation with our neighbors in Gulf Shores has continued through the years.  Important milestones were the sharing of expenses in 1980 to pave the entry road from San-Cap Road to the “V”, and more recently the joint effort to coordinate signs and road markings on our access road.

Beginning in 1989, the beaches of Gulf Pines and the western end of West Gulf Drive began to experience significant erosion.  Over the next six years, beach residents, increasingly worried and upset watching their properties disappear into the sea, approached the City of Sanibel for help. Despite a sympathetic and respectful reception, nothing was done to rectify the situation.  By 1995 conditions had become so critical that two Gulf Pines homes were condemned by the city. At last, facing lawsuits and the realization that something had to be done and done quickly, the city agreed to help by obtaining the necessary permits for beach re-nourishment, securing the proper engineering expertise and assuming an 18% share of the total cost of the 2.2 million dollar project (although a portion of this 18% share was paid by county funds). Thirty-two property owners along the eroded beaches, those most directly affected by the beach loss, were required to pay the remaining 82%. The eight Gulf Pines beachfront owners suffered the worst losses and together were required to pay $450,000.  They were helped by the then 52 Gulf Pines non­beachfront owners, who as a group contributed $130,000 to the project.  As a result two milestones were passed.  The first was the reestablishment of Gulf Pines as one of Sanibel's prime residential locations.  The second was the city's recognition of its present and future responsibility in maintaining Sanibel's beaches for the welfare of its citizens and for the general use by off-island visitors.

During the early months of 1996, the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. was at work re-nourishing Captiva's beaches. It planned to finish that project and leave the area sometime in the early spring.  Fortunately Sanibel’s city manager and staff could arrange for the Dredge & Dock Co. to stay in the area and continue its work on our beach project. The work was intense and beautifully handled and in two weeks' time we had a fine new beach, broader and flatter than the old one but more than welcome to us all.  Within a decade the beach had largely stabilized and has held up well.  It has developed a pleasing profile and contour and sea turtles have returned to nest here.

On August 13, 2004 Hurricane Charlie hit Sanibel.  The center of this strong category 4 hurricane passed very near to Gulf Pines.  Fortunately, due to our strenuous building codes and the fact that there was little storm surge associated with this storm, damage to homes was limited, although many roofs had to be replaced. The most obvious damage was to the vegetation in the neighborhood. The U.S. Forest Service assisted J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge staff in clearing the many felled trees on the entrance road to Gulf Pines.  The City of Sanibel sent heavy equipment into the neighborhood to clear the roads.  The clean-up of Gulf Pines’ Common Property was a huge task.  The hurricane damage was exacerbated by large tree limbs pushed onto these areas by the heavy equipment used in road clearance.  Our landscape contractor Ray Antweiler organized the clean-up for the Association.  It was essential that tree limbs be cut and stacked appropriately at city pickup locations to meet collection schedules.  This effort over more than one year saved the Gulf Pines Property Owners Association and Ray’s private GP clients the major expense of outside contractors for this task.  One year after the storm Gulf Pines was largely restored, albeit with much less shade from larger trees.

In 2004 the City of Sanibel took over sewage treatment responsibility for Gulf Pines.   The city installed a pumping station and bought Gulf Pines’ gravity sewer pipe network to move our wastewater into the island’s collection system.  The project, begun prior to Hurricane Charlie, lasted two years.  Leaky sewer pipes further damaged by the heavy equipment used in hurricane cleanup had to be repaired.  Jim Eriksson and Dick Sette oversaw the transition to shift wastewater treatment to the city.  Ownership of Gulf Pines’ collection network became a Sanibel responsibility on November 8, 2004, when Gulf Pines was connected to the city’s sewers.  

The decommissioning of the Gulf Pines plant’s septic tanks and aeration pond had to meet strict city, state and federal requirements.  GPPOA hired TKW Engineering to oversee this effort.  The project required extensive fill material that a local contractor, Soon Come, Inc., was able to supply from building projects on Sanibel and Captiva, thereby avoiding major costs to bring the material over the load restricted causeway.  The work, delayed for a year by a very wet season, started in 2006 and was completed in 2008 with the restoration of the berms bounding the east end of the site.  The Gulf Pines Board subsequently renamed the area the Bird Watch Lot.  It is now used by residents for various activities including dog walking, games, and viewing of wildlife. 

A pair of bald eagles began nesting in some of the few remaining trees on the conservation land to the west of the Gulf Pines entrance road in the 2006­2007 season. Two young eagles fledged that year, and in the years since the eagles have returned each season and bred successfully.

In 2006, SCCF decided to name its land between Gulf Pines/Gulf Shores and San-Cap Road the West Sanibel River Preserve.  Subsequently SCCF implemented plans to restore the preserve's habitat.  This restoration was completed in the summer of 2007.  Workers cleared 130 acres of invasive, non-native vegetation and filled over six miles of ditches.  In addition, it dug four ponds on the property and enhanced several areas of existing ditches to create a better environment for wildlife.  Soon after the Gulf Pines Property Owners Association began the process of planning for new, native landscaping to enhance the entrance road from Hurricane Charlie’s residual impacts.

Starting in 2006 and spread out over 4 years under Board presidents Sette, Humphries and Bird, a capital assessment of GPPOA members was approved and implements.  Projects included replacement of the three road bridges on Gulf Pines Drive, repair of sewers and decommissioning of the old wastewater treatment plant.  In contrast, a major recent improvement in the tennis courts was financed through a loan negotiated by Todd Marcum and George Heisler, repayment of which is covered out of ongoing dues. 

Earlier replacement of the tennis courts surface were confounded by a sinking surface on the south side of the courts.  Before a switch to a new design surface easier on knees and hips could proceed, test borings revealed that decaying organic matter left by contractors involved in the initial GP construction activities was the cause.  To fix this problem a six foot deep hole 15 by 15 feet in area was excavated and filled with aggregate and sand and capped with concrete to stabilize the surface.  The subsequently installed NOVA-Pro Court XP surface consists of 25 tons of white sand on a synthetic-grass surface held in place by the weight of the materials.  The benefits have been uniformly applauded by our tennis players who cheerfully groom the surface after each use.

In 2018 the existing decking of the Pool were replaced with composite wood surface called Tandeck.  At this time,  the decking foot print was updated to expand the deck area under the cover of clubhouse roof and to include a wheel-chair accessible ramp.

On September 28, 2022, the eyewall of Hurricane Ian moved slowly along the coast of Sanibel, pushing 150+ mph winds and up to seven feet of storm surge over Gulf Pines for most of the day. The island was inaccessible by road for almost a month. Returning residents discovered that most of the neighborhood vegetation was ravaged and virtually none of the infrastructure was spared. Under the leadership of association president Ellen Smiley, a Hurricane Recovery Team was formed that met weekly to assess damage, arrange for emergency repairs, and plan more than $500,000 of rebuilding efforts for almost all association property. A special assessment of $2,500 per owner was approved at the March 2023 annual meeting to speed recovery efforts.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following who have contributed their labor and memories to earlier and present updates of this story: John Purdy, Betty Finley, Barbara Cooley, Betty Funston, Kateen Morris, Sherwood Finley, Dave Schoenly, Erhard Joeres, Dick Sette, Henry and Inge Glissman, Jack Thomas, Ray Antweiler, Jean Gestewitz, Cynthia Rice, Jim Eriksson and Kayi Hummel.