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Council debates 86-43 proposal, tables issue until October

By Staff | Sep 16, 2009

The much-deliberated and controversial amendments proposed to the city’s Land Development Code Section 86-43, which deals with the size and mass of structures on Sanibel, was the principal issue on Tuesday’s City Council agenda.

But unlike previous sessions dealing with the topic, the proposed document drew not just debate but a raucous session among the five-member council, which at one point appeared to get personal.

And by the end of the meeting, the issue had been tabled until their Oct. 22 gathering.

For almost two years, the Planning Commission had engaged in no less than 17 public meetings, some attended by capacity crowds, discussing making changes to Section 86-43 of the city’s Land Development Code. Last month, planners agreed to submit an ordinance proposing the establishment of a trigger point – that being the largest house within a neighborhood – to the City Council for their approval.

On Aug. 18, an abbreviated council – with Mick Denham and Peter Pappas absent – voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the altered Land Development Code, which revised 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.

“This definitely supports the Planning Commission’s desire to guide an applicant or owner through the process,” said Jimmy Jordan, the city’s Director of Planning following the second reading of the ordinance by title. “It is a reliable and workable trigger point.”

Alan Silberman, representing the Committee Of The Islands, supported the proposed ordinance by noting, “I think the revisions of the Land Development Code Section 86-43 represent a consensus, the best document that could be reached.”

Seeking the comments of his fellow commissioners, Mayor Denham asked for input. Councilman Jim Jennings was first to speak, requesting that more time be allocated for additional public input and scrutiny by the council.

Pappas, however, disagreed and added, “I wouldn’t make one grammatical change.”

“I didn’t come here today to vote on this. I will if I have to,” said Jennings. “I just want everybody who has a problem or a concern with this to be heard.”

“I know this has been delayed a long time, but I think we need a little more time,” he added.

Denham then asked several more questions of Jordan, which related to the number of meetings the Planning Commission held related to Section 86-43, how well those meetings were attended, the amount of public comment which was provided and whether the proposed changes would make processing future applications easier for both the Planning Department and applicants.

“I see it as a benefit to the staff and a benefit to the public,” Jordan responded.

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane criticized the document, saying that it “lacks a mission statement.” He suggested that the council bring the item back for discussion at their Oct. 20 meeting.

Fellow councilor Marty Harrity agreed.

“It’s ironic that this ordinance dealing with rhythm and harmony has caused more disharmony in this community,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think that this will solve our problems.”

During public comment, resident Herb Rubin spoke in support of the proposed ordinance.

“What you have before you is a reasoned document,” he said. “I don’t think that you can do better than what you have before you… To analyze this or modify this at this point is disrespectful.”

“I will tell you that the Planning Department supports this because they recognize that this gives them far greater clarification to what they can do with a property,” said Planning Commissioner Paul Reynolds, who later added, “If you can’t pass this with the clarifications being submitted, I’d say that you should vote to eliminate (Section 86-43).”

Michael Valiquette, chairman of the Planning Commission, said that he hoped the council would not send the document back to his group for further revisions.

“We’ve done all that we could… There was some compromise,” he explained. “We’ve done the homework for you. We’ve spent two years working on this.”

He later added, “We’re done with it… It’s in your court.”

Another planner, Dr. Phillip Marks, told the council that there may be parts of the document that may need to be altered.

“This issue has been around for 20 years and, in some form, it will probably be around for another 20 years,” he said.

Denham then made a motion to approve the ordinance as submitted, which was seconded by Pappas.

“We have dug ourselves quite a hole here today,” he said, “and I think we may have some trouble digging ourselves out of it.”

After a few remarks between Pappas and Ruane, which Ruane offered that he was “personally and professionally offended” by, Pappas withdrew his second of Denham’s motion for a vote.

With a raised voice, Harrity reacted to the insinuations made by his fellow councilor.

“I care about this community and I am committed to this community,” he said. “So if I ask for a little bit more time, it’s because it requires my attention.”

All of the council members settled down after agreeing to table the issue, offering apologies and exchanging their gratitude towards each other’s devotion to their volunteer positions.

In other business, resident Ed Siebert brought up the topic of the proposed fishing pier along the Sanibel Causeway, which had been brought up at a Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting. According to plans released in July, the facility will include six, 20-foot tall umbrellas.

Siebert is concerned that those structures will block the picturesque view of Sanibel’s Lighthouse and eastern end for drivers crossing Span B.

“That’s one of the best views of the curvature of the earth,” he added. “I’m adamantly against the spending of between $1.2 and $3 million on that fishing pier.”