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Debate over 86-43 stirs City Council again

By Staff | Oct 21, 2009

Discussion of the hotly-debated Section 86-43 of the city’s Land Development Code continued during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which triggered raised voices, finger-pointing and name-calling by both local leaders and members of the public.

“I think that this is overkill – highly overkill – to change something that affects only one-tenth of one percent,” Jack Samler told the council, noting that only four cases involving Section 86-43 have occurred over the past 20 years.

For almost two years, the city’s Planning Commission held more than a dozen public meetings – some attended by overflow crowds – discussing making changes to code. In August, 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.

During their Aug. 18 session, 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. However, the specifics of the document were not discussed.

“I think that they (Planning Commission) came up with a very good product, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some tweaking,” resident Karen Storjohann told the council on Tuesday.

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.

“There’s no question that the issue of rhythm and harmony is difficult,” said Mike Gillespie, a longtime islander. “That’s why we have you. That’s why we have the Planning Commission.”

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane, who requested a continuance of discussing the submitted document last month in order to “do my proper due diligence,” questioned what impact the revised code might have financially on the city. He also asked for further definition of how the largest home within a neighborhood would be determined.

“I can’t accept the fact that this document is a guideline,” said Ruane. “It doesn’t read like a guideline… it reads like a law.”

“I appreciate the first steps that have been taken, but I don’t think that we’re done,” he added.

Fellow councilor Jim Jennings suggested that the city establish a minimum single-family dwelling unit size – “Perhaps that’s 3,200 square feet or 3,400 square feet,” he said. -that would be universal to all neighborhoods on the island.

After a long discussion and public input, councilman Peter Pappas offered, “If I could make sense out of anything I’ve just heard, I would… but I can’t.”

He also pointed out that during the previous issue brought forth by Section 86-43 – the David Mimms property, located in the Chateaux Sur Mer subdivision – approximately 50 of the 70 residents who own homes in that neighborhood suggested that the council install more restrictive measures within the existing code.

“I will vote to pass this ordinance if my colleagues want it, but I will not lose any sleep if they don’t,” Pappas added.

Denham told Jimmy Jordan, the city’s Director of Planning, that he would like to see a “Purpose & Intent” clause added to the document before the council engages in further debate on the topic.

“I believe that we should’ve asked the Planning Commission to make this more clear,” said Denham.

When it came for his turn at the mic, councilman Marty Harrity rose from his seat, announced “I’m going to get a little dramatic here,” then slammed a large hardcover, bound edition of the City of Sanibel’s by-laws on the desk.

“This book works! And 86-43 works!” he said in raised voice. “I am heartbroken that our Planning Commission has worked on this for so many months and this still isn’t done.”

By consensus, the council requested that Jordan return at their Dec. 1 meeting with a “plain language” Purpose & Intent, the proposed plan for informing other residents within a neighborhood when a long-form application has been submitted, along with the process for determining the square footage of the largest house within all 75 of Sanibel’s identified neighborhoods.

“Can we make it better? I hope so,” said Harrity. “I’ve already heard some ideas today that may help us make this work, which is what we’re working towards.”

Later in the meeting, Storjohann suggested that the trigger point for determining long-form applications be worded “the largest house within a neighborhood, or 3,400 square feet, whichever is greater.”

Also, planner Holly Smith and realtor Robin Humphrey both asked for apologies from Pappas for his remarks during the meeting. Humphrey asked for Pappas to be censured, calling his statement on realtor ethics an attempt at “character assassination.”

“I think you took my comments to heart because you know that they’re true,” Pappas responded.