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Developer’s plight sparks code amendment discussion

By Staff | Dec 10, 2008

When protected wildlife is discovered on a construction site, everything stops. Experts need to be contacted, data needs to be collected, recommendations need to be made, reports need to be filed, and plans need to be executed.

So it’s not surprising that the existence of bald eagles and gopher tortoises on the site of the proposed Wulfert Point Estates subdivision is causing major headaches for developer William Broeder, President of the Sanibel Bayou Development Corp.

But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“It’s the perfect storm,” said attorney Neale Montgomery, who was representing Broeder’s company at Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning Commission, which was sitting as the Land Development Code Review Committee. “The rules are changing regarding tortoises and now for the eagles, too, and we have to comply.”

In addition to the wildlife problems that have delayed the project for more than two years, Southwest Florida Water Management District regulations regarding drainage do not agree with regulations set forth by the City of Sanibel.

“We have to make a [wildlife] management plan that costs many thousands of dollars,” Broeder explained to the committee. “Then we have to re-design the subdivision to accommodate that plan. Then we have to come back here and have you approve the re-design. But the changes affect the drainage, so we have to re-submit the revised design to the Southwest Florida Water Management District…”

Some committee members nodded their heads in agreement as Broeder ticked off the stumbling blocks that he has tried to overcome in the three years since the Wulfert Point Estates development project received preliminary approval from the Planning Commission.

“We get into a ‘Groundhog Day’ situation,” said Montgomery, referencing the movie where the main character wakes up on the same day, every day, despite his best efforts to either move forward with — or end — his life.

Compounding Broeder’s problems is Sanibel’s current Land Development Code, which will effectively pull the plug on the project when the two-year extension granted last year expires in December 2009.

“It’s going to take more than two years just for the eagles,” explained Broeder, adding that regulations require that the birds be observed through two nesting seasons.

City Planning Director Bob Duffy and the Planning Department staff prepared a draft amendment to the Land Development Code for the committee’s consideration which would allow City Council to extend preliminary subdivision plat approvals beyond the two years now dictated by code.

“This is just an item for discussion at this point,” stressed Duffy. “There will be no action taken on this today.”

The ensuing discussion, which came to an abrupt end when an electrical failure forced early adjournment, centered around concerns about the potential for misuse.

“I understand that there is some resistance to changing the code,” said Commissioner Patty Sprankle. “But since this code was written, many things have changed that they could not have foreseen. There is good reason to make changes to the code based on the changes in the industry. That’s why there is a [Land Development Code Review] Committee.”

Of particular concern to committee members were the reasons for which an additional two-year extension would be granted.

“This [Wulfert Point Estates] is an unusual circumstance,” said Commissioner Tom Krekel. “What if a developer came here and said they needed the extension because the economy is bad? I think we need to refine the reasons and put that into the ordinance. The environment issue is of interest to the City as well as the developer.”

Vice Chairman Philip Marks said he believed it would be dangerous to allow a contractor up to six years to move forward with a subdivision project.

“I would be more in favor of making exception on this particular application, as opposed to changing the ordinance,” he said.

Discussion on the proposed draft amendment will be continued at a future meeting of the Land Development Code Review Committee. The Planning Commission’s next scheduled meeting on Dec. 23 has been canceled due to the proximity of the Christmas holiday.

In other business, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a Conditional Use Permit for the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Association of Realtors for the institutional use of offices at the Winds Center, located at 2353 Periwinkle Way.