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Some parting reflections on COTI

By Staff | Mar 11, 2009

To the editor,

After more than five years on the COTI Board, I will step down this month – a victim of term limits. That’s not such a bad thing though, because it gives me an opportunity to look back and reflect on what COTI stands for and what it has accomplished.

In 1974, the same determined people who fought to make Sanibel a city realized that even with limited home rule, the causeway would make over development and over commercialization ongoing threats to Sanibel in the future. They formed Committee of the Islands (COTI) to confront those threats and to promote a continuity of good local government. That’s what it has been doing ever since.

Over the past 35 years, COTI has provided a consistent voice in support of its core values which might not otherwise have been heard. There are valued organizations on Sanibel which care deeply about the same issues that COTI does but do not speak out publicly because to do so might put at risk funding for their programs. That’s understandable. However, COTI can speak out forcefully because it is dependent for funding on no one but the many members who share its values.

Without encouragement from COTI, few independent candidates would likely run for public office on Sanibel. For example, where would Mayor Mick Denham be today were it not for COTI? In 2005, he requested and received COTI’s support in his first bid for a Council seat. He was an unknown novice opposed by the same individuals and groups who, ironically, embraced him as their own in this year’s election. But for COTI, he would have had little chance of being elected in 2005. With COTI’s support and encouragement, he was elected.

There have always been attempts by some to marginalize COTI, particularly during election years. This year was no different. There was the refusal of the Chamber of Commerce and the three incumbents to support a candidates’ night (to have been managed and moderated by the Island Reporter) because COTI was a sponsor. Then there was that ad that caused all the fuss and neatly orchestrated over-reaction a couple of weeks ago. Sure, the wording could have been better, but as has become clear, the concerns it identified about the City’s finances were valid, a point that was unfortunately lost in the sanctimonious posturing that followed.

Reflecting on specific COTI accomplishments over the past five years, I can think of many, but here are a few that stand out in my mind:

COTI members – myself among them – in 2005 wrote and sponsored the “Peoples’ Choice” charter amendments which protect Sanibel from weakening of its basic land use regulations (building height, residential density and ground coverage) without voter approval. Labeled then by some in the business community as a threat to the City’s very future, they now enjoy widespread approval, even among politicians who opposed them at the time.

COTI was instrumental in Council’s passage of the City’s first comprehensive post-disaster build-back ordinance. Now, even owners of non-conforming properties will have the right to build-back following a natural disaster.

COTI opposed plans for a large mixed use development on the Nave property in the town center because those plans would have come at the expense of two long standing land use policies: (1) The allocation of residential density on a parcel by parcel basis based on ecological zones, which is at the heart of the Sanibel Plan, and (2) The prohibition of full commercial and full residential development of any single parcel.

COTI continues to support proposals by Planning Director Duffy for overdue improvements to Sec. 86-43 of the Land Development Code, improvements now opposed by the leadership of the Sanibel-Captiva Association of Realtors.

Competition for elective office is the very lifeblood of a democratic society because it stirs public debate. This year, COTI supported two well qualified first time candidates for City Council. Had it not done so, the three incumbents would have been unopposed and there would have been no public airing of the issues facing the City.

Looking to the future, I think COTI will continue to play a major role in public discourse on Sanibel. Its critics will come and go as they have in the past but to the people who really care about preserving this very unique place, COTI is and will remain an enduring part of Sanibel’s landscape.

Larry Schopp