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Committee split over establishing 86-43 trigger point

By Staff | Apr 29, 2009

For nearly four hours, the Land Development Code Review Committee on Tuesday debated what trigger point – if any at all – should be established during a session to refine Section 86-43 of the Code’s Development Standards.

But by the end of the meeting, the committee did not appear to have made any significant progress, voting three times before finally reaching a majority conclusion.

During their last session, on April 14, the LDCRC agreed to use “the largest home within a neighborhood” as the threshold for determining whether a new single family, duplex or residential addition application is processed as either a short- or long-form request of the city’s Planning Department.

Because all long-form applications are brought before the Planning Commission for their review, as well as being open to public discussion during their meetings, several members of the LDCRC and audience worried that such a process might “scare off” potential home and property owners from buying on Sanibel.

Committeeman Tom Krekel began the meeting by questioning what would constitute square footage, whether it would include only “habitable living areas” or all areas, which in cases of raised houses would include ground level space (carports, garages, storage spaces, etc.). Krekel suggested that ground level spaces not be considered within the total square footage.

“Do we only count habitable square footage or do we include the footprint?” asked another committee member, Patty Sprankle.

After some further debate, Les Forney asked fellow LDCRC member Michael Valiquette, “I assume that you’re not in favor of (establishing) a trigger point?”

“No, I am not,” Valiquette responded.

“Weren’t you in favor of it two weeks ago?” asked Krekel.

“No,” said Valiquette. “I voted in favor of moving this discussion forward to today. It was 4:30 p.m. and we had talked about it enough.”

Valiquette agreed that establishing a trigger point may do more damage to the local real estate market than good for the city’s Planning Department.

“You’re going to scare off buyers and you’re going to lower property values,” he added.

Robin Humphrey, a longtime real estate agent on Sanibel, asked the LDCRC why meetings to discuss proposed changes to Section 86-43 were not done in a “Town Hall” format, either in the evening or on weekends, when more members of the public would be available to attend and offer their input.

“I think there’s a lot more to these hearings that what we’re hearing about,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s fair – I think it’s a mistake.”

Sprankle responded, “Over the past year, what we’ve been hearing is ‘What is the trigger point that we have to go by?’ and that’s what we’re trying here to determine for you.”

After a few additional comments from the small crowd in attendance,” acting City Planner Jimmy Jordan noted that over the years, very few cases related to 86-43 have been brought to the Planning Commission, and that the current trend towards building smaller homes would lessen the likelihood of commissioners hearing such cases.

“This trigger is not an absolute,” said Jordan. “The only way it’s going to be brought before the public is by the size of the home. It does give them a clear point of reference.

“I don’t see this as a floodgate that’s going to bring a lot of new applications to the commission,” he added. “If this gives more certainty to the process, I think that it’s a good thing.”

Former planner Jack Samler suggested to the LDCRC that adjusting the threshold to “110 percent of the largest home in the neighborhood” might be a “reasonable” compromise. He also offered that the Planning Department should establish a clear definition of each neighborhood on the island, to avoid any confusion among potential applicants.

“In general, I am opposed to thresholds,” said Samler. “But if you’re going to go to a threshold, make it reasonable and make it transparent.”

Sprankle agreed with Samler’s proposal of 110 percent, and made a motion to accept that figure from the previously proposed language defining Section 86-43.

“I never thought that big homes were a problem on Sanibel, even when Nola Theiss was the Mayor and said that was the wolf knocking on our door,” she added.

Before the vote was called, Forney said, “It seems to me that we’re getting dangerously close to creating a monstrosity here.”

“I think that what you’re going through, as painful as it may be, is doing a great service to this community,” said resident Herb Rubin. “What you need to do is make a decision that is fair, equitable and understandable to everyone.”

Sprankle’s motion to adopt 110 percent as the trigger point, which was seconded by Valiquette, was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with Krekel, Forney, Paul Reynolds and Dr. Phillip Marks dissenting.

Krekel then made a motion, seconded by Marks, to adopt 100 percent as the trigger point. That motion was defeated 4-3, with dissenting votes from Sprankle, Valiquette, Forney and Holly Smith.

Finally, Sprankle motioned to only adopt the previously approved “the largest home within a neighborhood” language, which passed by a 5-2 vote. Smith and Valiquette both voted against it.

At Jordan’s suggestion, the LDCRC also approved the term “lawfully habitable space,” dismissing the prior suggestion by Sprankle to use “habitable, air conditioned square footage” to determine size. They voted 6-1 in favor, with Reynolds dissenting.