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Council continues redevelopment discussions

By Staff | Mar 3, 2010

As expected, the bulk of the discussions that took place during Tuesday’s City Council meeting focused on resort housing redevelopment, when members of the five-member panel offered their input on the topic before it is handed off to the Planning Commission for further debate, refining and public input.

“Obviously, this is a major undertaking,” said councilman Marty Harrity. “We’re gonna have to keep and open mind.”

Jimmy Jordan, the city’s Planning Department Director, provided the council with several reports, including an overall study of redevelopment in the Resort Housing District, dada and analysis of existing conditions within the district, a report identifying all three- and four-story multi-family dwelling units on the island as well as maps identifying land use and density within the district.

“Many short-term occupancy units in the Resort Housing District are becoming either out-of-date or substandard accommodations,” Jordan stated in his memorandum to City Manager Judie Zimomra, dated Feb. 24. “It is important to the economic interest of the city to develop a framework from where this housing stock can be preserved, improved and redeveloped in a manner that is consistent with the Sanibel Plan and its Vision Statement.”

Two of the primary goals of addressing the issue of resort housing redevelopment are preserving the daily and weekly capacity of short-term rental units and to encourage property owners and investors to maintain their hotel/motel use.

One of the first issues the council addressed was density, with the panel unanimously agreeing that density should not be increased.

“The most significant area we’re going to be dealing with is that you will be able to maintain density,” said Mayor Mick Denham, although Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane noted that the language regarding build-back of properties within the district “seems a little bit cloudy.”

According to Jordan’s report, “Redevelopment of existing hotels, motels or resort condominiums, that maintain an existing number of units that exceeds that permitted by the Development Intensity Map, must do so within the existing square footage of the habitable area of that development.”

Another issue brought to the table was the relocation of the footprint of existing structures when redevelopment occurs. Councilman Jim Jennings asked City Attorney Ken Cuyler whether there would be the potential for litigation as a result of a shift in the footprint.

“I don’t want to sound wishy-washy right out of the gate, but if they’re gonna sue, they’re gonna sue,” said Cuyler.

“Let’s try to maintain a certain amount of flexibility here,” added Jennings. “This is a very complicated issue that we’re dealing with.”

The council previous stated that the current setbacks established in the Land Development Code should be maintained, redevelopment within the Gulf Beach Zone should be prohibited and the height limit of buildings should not exceed three stories above the base flood elevation.

“With the alteration of this document, you are destroying the goals, hopes and aspirations of the people who founded this island,” said resident Herb Rubin during the public comment portion of the meeting. Several people spoke out against allowing increased density within the district, which Denham and councilor Peter Pappas refuted.

“This municipality can do virtually anything that it wants, so long as it does so in its best interests,” Pappas stated. He later added, “The founding fathers did not intend to tear down The Sundial. This I know, this I believe – because I was there.”

“The dilemma that we face is ‘What do we do?’ Do we do nothing and let it go on another 20 or 30 years?” Denham asked. “I think we need to do something. What we are doing is providing a framework that we must consider to move in one direction.”

Another matter brought up by the mayor was a bartering mechanism, should any property seeking redevelopment wish to replace a former permeable surface area with impermeable surface space. He suggested a “1-for-1” credit exchange. Thus, if a property wanted to add an additional structure on top of an impermeable surface (such as concrete), it would be allowed if they would dedicate an equal amount of space comprised of a permeable surface (such as shellrock or native plantings).

“I’m trying to keep this process relatively simple,” he said.

Following the discussion, Jordan was charged with collecting the council’s opinions on resort housing redevelopment and bringing a final draft of the Planning Department’s report to their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 16.

“Once this process is completed, once redevelopment has occurred, there will be less (short-term rental) units on this island than there area today,” Pappas predicted. “I have absolute confidence that we will destroy nothing and we will not add anything brand new.”

In other business, the council took time to recognize Karen Gudella, a 25-year employee of the city’s Finance Department. Denham read a proclamation in her honor, which was followed by a warm ovation from the audience in attendance.