Market snapshot: Palm Island in Charlotte County


Late in his life, the American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, best known for his Christmas opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors," bought an estate in Scotland in the middle of nowhere. When asked why, he explained that he needed a place where there was silence, so he could hear the music in his head without distraction.

He would have loved Palm Island.

Residents invariably mention the quietness and solitude when talking about this remote slice of Charlotte County. "It's laid-back solitude, like having your own private island," said Judy Morton, who has lived there with her husband, Mort, for the past six years. "We like the quiet. It calms the nerves. The only sound you hear is the waves and the two loons visiting as they head up north."

Located south of Manasota Key and Stump Pass, and north of Boca Grande, Palm Island actually is the popular name for a collection of three isles — Knight Island, Don Pedro Island and most of Little Gasparilla Island. They are connected by humpback bridges. Some of the waterways that once separated them have been filled in, so the beach runs uninterrupted for the seven-mile length of the island.

The name was adopted by locals because of the Palm Island Resort, a vacation hideaway of 100 privately owned villas along a two-mile stretch of beach. (FOR A PHOTO GALLERY CLICK ON THIS LINK.)

Unlike Manasota Key, with its lush vegetation and old-growth oak trees, Palm Island has a sandier environment. Low scrub, sea grapes and cabbage palms abound, and invasive Australian pines have made a stand there, too.

"It's more like the Bahamas, with a Caribbean flair," said Tom Wagner, a Realtor with RE/MAX Alliance Group, who has several listings on Palm Island.

Market Snapshot: Palm IslandRay Bates, who has lived on the island for seven years, agreed.

"It reminds me of the Florida Keys, but without the hurricanes," she said.

She also loves the wildlife — osprey, eagles, herons, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, fox and armadillos, not to mention the occasional Florida panther. And that's just the shore creatures.

"We went to swim off a boat, and a manatee came up right next to us. It was like being at Sea World," she remembered.

"He wanted to be petted, just like a big dog."

Although there are some modernist homes, including two by Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, and Mediterranean-style houses, most of the architecture is distinctly Old Florida — wooden exteriors, porches, stairs and balconies. Most houses are raised on stilts for protection from storm surges.

There are no street lights, making the island an ideal place to look at the stars on cloudless nights.

Most of the island's inhabitants prefer to use golf cars to get around. One gated community, the Preserves, just north of Don Pedro Island State Park, doesn't allow cars.

The only way to get to Palm Island is by boat or a ferry that runs to Panama Boulevard on the mainland and has room for about eight cars. The fee is steep — $55 for automobiles, more for service vehicles, and $7 for bicyclists. The return trip to the mainland is free. Residents can buy an annual pass for $2,000 and come and go as often as they please, to take advantage of the restaurants, Publix and Walmart on Placida Road.

"A lot of people like the ferry because it essentially is a gate to the island," Bates explains. "The general public doesn't come here to go to the beach when they can go free to Manasota Beach."

Palm Island's beach is public, however, and some people, toting folding chairs, do park on the mainland and pay the $6 pedestrian ferry fare to go to the beach there.

Market Snapshot: Palm IslandThe sense of privacy has attracted an eclectic mix of snowbirds and year-around residents, including former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack; the man who invented the luggage conveyors used at all American airports; second-generation investors whose family made their money with Warren Buffett; retired doctors and professors; and artists and art collectors.

There is a voluntary yet active homeowners association, which organizes art festivals and provides scholarship programs for island children.

Palm Island also has its own firehouse and two water desalination plants, with a one-time hook-up charge of $5,000 and a monthly fee of about $50.

Kim Spallone, a Realtor with Gasparilla Properties, has been a full-time resident since 1998. She still remembers when baseball games pitted adults from Knight Island against those from San Pedro Island. The "Knights" usually won, she said.

She has sold some houses on the island several times, and appreciates that younger people are moving to the island now. "They're in their 40s, buying the $300,000 to $600,000 homes and fixing them up," she said. "Waterfront is affordable here."

There is some tension about development. Some of the older residents want to preserve the Old Florida feeling. They resist having some of the seashell roads paved.

When Ray Bates built her mansion, the first large structure on the island, there was some resentment until even larger homes went up.

One new modernist house has been getting a lot of attention; it has a cylindrical turret, containing the stairs and an elevator, that is coated with metallic copper paint. Spallone called it the "Duracell house," a reference to that brand's "CopperTop" battery.

According to Spallone, only 58 percent of the island is built out, so there is plenty of room for new houses. More than 60 vacant lots are for sale, ranging from $39,000 to $795,000.

In fact, there are buying opportunities for just about every price-point. Including condos and villas at Palm Island resort, more than 80 homes are on the market, ranging in price from $179,000 to $4 million.

"You get a lot more bang for your buck down there," Wagner said. "I just sold a home for $1.6 million. On Manasota Key, you'd have to pay another million more."

"It's beautiful here — a great place to live," Spallone concurred.

"The fishing is great, the people are great, and the prices are right!"


Last modified: February 9, 2013
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