City ponders lifting ban on bayside boat docks
Following nearly two decades of banning the presence of boat docks within the island’s Bay Beach Zone, the Planning Commission held a public hearing regarding the possibility of removing that restriction.
Back in 1993, city leaders put the ban in place within that zone, which extends along the waters of San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay west of the Lighthouse to the end of Woodring’s Point, as a means of protecting and preserving environmentally-sensitive sea grasses growing in those waters.
According to Planning Director Jimmy Jordan, the City Council had asked his staff to prepare a draft ordinance that would permit accessory docks to be constructed anywhere within the Bay Beach Zone. The current code only permits docks to the west of Dixie Beach Boulevard.
According to the City Attorney, Ken Cuyler, the idea of lifting the ban has come about due to the potential for litigation. He explained that owners of property with an access to navigable waterways have a legal right to access those waters, with a boat or other personal watercraft.
Jordan presented a copy of the proposed ordinance amendment, which differs only slightly from the current code. The two major additions include:
• All docks, including their walkways, boat davits and boat lifts, shall be constructed to allow sunlight to penetrate the waters adjacent to and below these accessory uses.
• With the exception of round conical piling caps, all docks are prohibited from installing anti-roosting devices, such as monofilament line, nails or other similar objects, that are injurious to birds.
Other alterations to the code the provision for limestone rip-rap under the dock platform, locating docks as far as possible from oyster shell beds or sea grass beds and six feet of vertical clearance between the beach and the lowest horizontal member of the dock.
During discussions amongst the commissioners, Tom Krekel questioned whether or not the city knew of any studies between the presence of boat docks and the health of sea grass beds, and whether or not the installation of docks might impact sea turtles which nest in that area of the island.
Dr. Phillip Marks also asked about the number of boats allowed at each dock, presently two, included other watercraft such as jetskis, canoes or kayaks while Paul Reynolds suggested that the width limit of four feet might be too restrictive.
"I think four feet is too narrow," he said, noting that people who use accessory docks might be carrying heavy or bulky items or have balance issues.
Dr. Rob Loflin, director of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, stated that installing boat docks in the Beach Bay Zone would disturb sea grasses present within those waters. However, through certain considerations added to the amended ordinance, they hoped to "minimize the environmental footprint of the (boat) docks."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Jack Samler suggested raising the height of the access walkways and docks located above sea grass beds to allow for more sunlight to penetrate the water. Dr. Marks followed by asking about handrails for safety purposes, which are already a provision of raised structures on the island.
Cuyler stated that the City Council is anticipating taking action on the boat dock ordinance amendments at their July 20 session. Jordan stated that he and his staff would make further changes to the proposed legislation and bring it back at the next Planning Commission meeting, scheduled for June 8.