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Planners take a closer look at conditional use permits

By Staff | Nov 26, 2008

At first light, a public hearing Tuesday morning on a proposed conditional use permit by the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Association of Realtors to use office space — located at the Winds Center — for their non-profit activities seemed like a routine request.

However, a concern raised by Sanibel resident Larry Schopp at the conclusion of the Planning Department’s report and recommendation for approval sparked a lively discussion among commissioners that may result in a more thorough adherence to the “letter of the law,” dictated in the city’s Land Development Code, especially as concerns applications for special uses, variances and conditional use permits.

“Although I object to this application, I have no argument with the Association of Realtors,” said Schopp during the public hearing. “It’s the process by which conditional use permits are routinely approved by this Commission that I take issue with.”

Schopp directed the Commission’s attention to Section 126-82 of the city’s Land Development Code, particularly as concerns the last part of sub-section 1, which states, in effect, that the Planning Commission may grant approval to conditional uses in the zones where they are permitted, after public hearing, only if the proposed use “shall be inherently beneficial to the community or reasonably necessary to its convenience.”

“It says that the proposed development should be inherently useful to community,” said Schopp. “I think a showing should be made, that evidence should be introduced to you that this proposed use will be inherently beneficial to the island as a whole, or that it must be reasonably necessary to their convenience. Neither of these points were addressed. Nothing says that that condition had been addressed.”

Schopp went on to say that said he was concerned that the letter — or the “spirit” — of the law was not being adhered to, and that the Planning Commission routinely approved projects and conditional use permits based on staff recommendations, without their having presented evidence that they had met all the criteria as set forth in 126-82.

Commissioners Patty Sprankle, Paul Reynolds and Tom Krekel all expressed concern over the exercise of common sense in situations such as when the

Association of Realtors moves into new office space.

“This is not a new entity,” said Reynolds. “It’s not like a new organization moving from Fort Myers to Sanibel. I can’t think of anything on Sanibel that

benefits everyone. Who could deny that Realtors are beneficial?”

Krekel said that although he understood the points that Schopp was trying to make, he thought that the benefit of an organization such as the Association of Realtors would be evident to any reasonable person.

“To me, the other arguments are where we’re at,” said Krekel. “Making sure that the other requirements are met, like parking. Those requirements become the most important.”

Sprankle said that she believes that the requirements of Section 126-82 had been met by the applicant in the Institutional Uses section (126-33) of the Planning Department’s report.

“There’s detail there about the Realtors, their functions and their activities,” said Sprankle. “It’s apparent that there is a benefit to community. They act as agents for those trying to buy or sell property here.”

Commissioner David Berger said although he could agree with everything that everyone had said, there was a difference between using one’s common sense, and having it spelled out in a legal document.

“[Common sense] is not the question, and not what we’re talking about here,” said Berger. “What we’re talking about is how it is presented in the application. We need to make sure that sentences directly answer each specific requirement of the code. This is about the integrity of the process and not about this report or this organization. I think we need to take a better look at the process.”

City Planning Director Robert Duffy assured the Commission that the Planning Department staff routinely addressed all the conditions and criteria as set forth in the Land Development Code, adding that issues such as conformance, site design and planning were always taken into consideration when formulating departmental recommendations.

“But, since the issue has been raised, we will certainly take a better look at the process and how reports are prepared to ensure that we are doing all

that is required by code,”
said Duffy. “It is important that we have the confidence of the commission, the department and the community.”

The Planning Commission then closed the public hearing by unanimous

vote, with Commissioners Les Forney and Philip Marks excused from the


The resolution for approval of the Association of Realtors conditional use permit, to maintain office space for classes and meetings at the Winds Center, located at 2353 Periwinkle Way, will be voted at the next meeting of the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 9.