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Planners pass adopted 86-43 along to council

By Staff | Aug 12, 2009

At long last, an amended version of the city’s Land Development Code, Section 86-43 has been passed along to the Sanibel City Council, but not without a few last minute adjustments.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 – with Tom Krekel excused and Les Forney casting the single dissenting vote – in favor of revising procedures and standards for single family and duplex dwelling units.

The most debated change in the document establishes a size threshold for both new and renovated houses. Under terms of this change, applicants whose new or renovated unit is equal to or less than the size of the largest home within a neighborhood may apply to the city’s Planning Department via a short-form application. Those who exceed the size of the largest home would require a long-form application, and would be brought before the commission.

“To establish a ‘neighborhood floor area threshold’ as a review process determinant, but not as a limit on the size of a single family or duplex dwelling unit,” the adopted policy reads, in part. “The ‘neighborhood floor area threshold’ is to be used to require all applications for single family and duplex dwelling units that exceed the total habitable square foot area of the largest home within an established neighborhood be processed and reviewed as long-form development permit applications by the Planning Commission.”

After months of discussion and debate, the policy was passed, but not until all of the planners weighed in on the issue a final time.

“Will this delay the applicant from getting a permit,” commissioner Patty Sprankle questioned City Planning Director Jimmy Jordan. “I want to make clear that it will not make the process longer.”

“I don’t think that it will add any more time (to the process),” said Jordan. “Now we have more tools to make the process more efficient.”

He also stated that since all applicants have a choice whether to exceed the size of the largest home within a neighborhood, they are making the decision whether to go short-form or long-form themselves. In addition, the threshold is not a size limitation – it is only a guideline.

“I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of applications that will be going above the threshold of the largest house in the neighborhood,” he added.

The code, which is anticipated to be added to the City Council’s Sept. 15 agenda, also establishes a neighborhood map identifying 84 individual areas – or “Established Neighborhoods” – from Del Saga to the west to Ferry Landing on the east end.

“I’m very concerned that these guidelines will become ‘the law’ instead of being just guidelines as this is intended,” commissioner Holly Smith pointed out.

The planners discussed making several changes to the policy due to inaccurate or unclear wording within the document. City Attorney Ken Cuyler explained that those changes were considered “minor” and that the policy could be adopted – if the commission desired – as it had been submitted, with alterations noted on the record.

“I’m going to vote to pass this along, but I still don’t think we should be setting a threshold,” Sprankle said just before commission chairman Michael Valiquette called for a vote, with Dr. Phillip Marks offering the second.

“I think that we’ve created a monster with this thing and we should remove the threshold,” Les Forney told his fellow planners, adding that he intended to vote against adoption. “We’re creating a standard that says ‘Big is good.'”

In other business, the commission officially approved an expansion application from the owners of Lily & Co. Jewelers, which initially required a review by the city’s Historical Preservation Committee.

Because the building, located at 520 Tarpon Bay Road, had been placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks – as the island’s School For Black Children -any alterations to the building required both a certificate of appropriateness from Sanibel’s planning department and compliance to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation.

In their application, the jewelry store owners requested to remove the existing portico – formerly used as drive-thru lanes when the structure was being operated as a bank – and enclose that space, expanding the square footage of the building by 446 square feet. New exterior walls and siding would match the existing building in appearance.

Their certificate of appropriateness was approved unanimously.