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Mimms hopes experience is valuable lesson to city

By Staff | Dec 10, 2008

If you want to know what a real mansion looks like, Sanibel property owner David Mimms suggests a trip to Atlanta so he can show you.

“Mansion!” exclaimed Mimms with a laugh while reading a description of the home he planned to build on his waterfront lot in the Chateaux Sur Mer neighborhood. “Since when is 5,000 square feet a mansion? Maybe they want to see a Michigan-style house on a $3 million piece of property, but it doesn’t make good investment sense.”

Mimms shocked local Realtors last week when he put his waterfront property up for sale, despite emerging victorious in October from a nearly year-long battle with the Planning Commission and neighbors about his planned home’s size, style, roof, stairs, pool, landscape and other odds.

“The problem is, frankly, that we wanted to come to Sanibel to retire, relax and enjoy the island atmosphere,” explained Mimms of his decision to sell. What he found instead, he said, was bitterness, hardship and neighbors who would think nothing of suing one another, or publishing private correspondence to the public. “Imagine what that would be like, living there.”

Mimms explained that he and his family have been annual visitors to Sanibel

since he was a child.

“My grandfather retired to Fort Myers at the age of 54, and I would come every summer and go fishing, visiting Sanibel,” recalled Mimms, whose brother, Robert, also owns a home in the Chateaux Sur Mer neighborhood. “Sanibel is part of our heritage, and we have wonderful memories of my grandfather golfing in Fort Myers, and fishing and just being on the island. We have celebrated every Christmas in Sanibel since the day I was married 30 years ago.”

Mimms said that although he did his very best to satisfy the wishes of his future neighbors, there would always be someone who is unhappy, no matter what compromises are offered.

“And it’s always the boisterous opposition that gets heard,” he said, adding that it was only a few of the neighbors who objected so vehemently to his plans. “There were maybe 10 to 15 homeowners who never said a word about it,” said Mimms. “Funny thing is, if we hadn’t requested an elevated pool, to make it more accessible for my wife, none of this would have happened and there would be a house sitting on that lot today.” Mimms’ wife, Nora, who often appeared at Planning Commission meetings in a cast, suffers from painful foot problems that require ongoing surgeries.

“This has been a terrible dream-buster for my wife,” said Mimms, his voice softening. “Not only was she suffering physically through this whole process, with the foot surgeries, but then there was the torment from the neighbors… we just wanted to be left alone.”

While reading an Island Reporter story from October recounting the Planning Commission’s actual approval of the heavily redesigned plans for the home, Mimms struck upon a quote from a neighbor who was delighted with the eventual outcome, calling the process a “Democratic” one that could be sometimes slow and cumbersome.

“Democratic?” exclaimed Mimms with surprise. “Is that what they’re calling it? I don’t know the right word to use here,” he said weighing the propriety of a number of different terms, “but it’s certainly not Democratic!”

As an engineer and president of Mimms Enterprises based in Roswell, Ga., Mimms said he has had plenty of experience with commercial planning and zoning in different regions of the country. “But residential is a totally different animal,” he noted.

When asked what his suggestion would be for changes in Sanibel’s processes and procedures for approval of residential single-family homes in established neighborhoods, Mimms recalled the number of communities where he has owned homes in the past 30 years or so.

“First, they need to do away with the undefined, totally ridiculous, nebulous 86-43,” said Mimms, referring to the section of the Land Development Code that deals with rhythm and harmony when building in an established neighborhood. “Every neighborhood, whether established or in the planning stages, needs to have a protective covenant, that way, the allowed and not-allowed are clearly defined and spelled out; like every house must have a brick facade, you can only paint with certain colors, your home must be set back a certain number of feet from the curb, awnings on the windows, even curtains, that kind of thing. Then, everyone’s on the same page.”

Mimms blames the ambiguous language of 86-43 for his troubles with future neighbors as well as Planning Commissioners. “There was no definition of what rhythm and harmony are supposed to be, so it became whatever was in the eye of the beholder,” he said.

Mimms, who said he prides himself on being an “upstanding man of great integrity,” said he followed through with gaining final approval on a home design, even though he had already made the decision to sell.

“The next guy’s not going to be as nice as David Mimms,” he warned, expressing concern that the City will one day face a lawsuit concerning their lack of clearly defined building codes. “I continued [with the approval process] because I wanted to shed light on the absurdity of 86-43. Do you have any idea how much money I spent, and how much money the City spent fighting over this? It’s ridiculous.”

In addition to his concerns for Sanibel’s eventual legal troubles, Mimms said he gained approval of a home design so that he could sell the designs with the property, and perhaps spare the next owner the trouble he experienced.

“I know the buyer will probably want to make changes to the design, and will end up back in front of the Planning Commission,” he said. “But at least they have a starting-off point that actually was able to gain approval, and perhaps they’ll be spared the troubles that we went through.”

Robert Mimms has also listed his Chateaux Sur Mer property for sale, but said it was simply a matter of timing, not his brother’s troubles with the neighbors, which had led to his decision to sell at this time.

“Our decision to sell is based upon the amount of time that we realistically expect to spend on the island over the next 10 years,” explained Robert. “We have a second and sixth grader and are locked into the school schedule. Financially, it makes more sense to rent than own until we are able to spend perhaps 50 percent of our time or more on Sanibel.”

Robert echoed his brother’s feelings on the island of Sanibel, and referred to his grandparents and parents’ love of the island that was passed down to them.

“My wife and I are extremely fond of Sanibel Island. It is truly a unique place. The combination of warm weather, sunny days, miles of shell-filled beaches with incredible sunsets, the wildlife and unique restaurants and shops make this place one-of-a-kind,” he added.

Because Robert Mimms and his wife, Suzanne, purchased an existing home in Chateaux Sur Mer, he did not have to go through the city’s approval process like his brother did.

“We fully expect to return for a purchase when our children get out of school,” he said. That property, located at 4717 Rue Belle Mer, is listed with Sanibel Realtor David Shuldenfrei at $3.6 million.

David Mimms’ property, located at 4725 Rue Belle Mer, is listed at $3.4 million.