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Planners comment on lifting boat dock ban

By Staff | Jun 9, 2010

Although the scheduled public hearing to discuss allowing boat docks to be installed on properties along Sanibel’s Bay Beach Zone was delayed by two weeks, the Planning Commission did offer some commentary on the subject after it was brought up during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

Resident Claudia Burns told the five-member panel — with chairman Michael Valiquette and Chuck Ketteman absent — that she had been disturbed by the "cavalier comments" about sea grasses which surround the island, which would be negatively impacted by the presence of boat docks.

"I think that if something is destroyed by human beings, then human beings should be responsible for helping to restore it," said Burns.

During their last session, City Attorney Ken Cuyler informed the commission that the idea of lifting the city’s 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.

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.

Although they did not take any formal action on the matter, several planners offered their opinions on boat docks following public comment.

Commissioner Paul Reynolds said that when he looked at the affected area, as many as 60 boat docks could be installed along the Bay Beach Zone. He suggested that his fellow planners "find a mitigating way to restrict them."

Fellow planner Tom Krekel wondered if placing additional zoning restrictions might discourage some owners from wanting to install boat docks. However, he later cautioned that, as a commission, they could not reject any applications simply because they "don’t like them."

Dr. Phillip Marks, serving as chairman for the meeting, offered the idea of a "community dock," which he observed while living in California, which could be used by several adjacent property owners.

Cuyler, who stated that each of the affected property owners have secured boat dock permits from the State of Florida, maintains that the city only desires to "reasonably regulate docking" within the Bay Beach Zone, but that "the ultimate issue is what the law says."

"It is not impossible to prohibit them, but it would take a paramount reason … to prevent them," he added.

Reynolds also suggested that the commission could work to make it "a challenge" for property owners to meet the city’s boat dock requirements. "We can do that with the stroke of a pen," he said.

The public hearing on lifting the city’s Bay Beach Zone boat dock ban will take place on Jane 22 starting at 9:15 a.m. Dr. Rob Loflin, director of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, is expected to offer additional testimony on the impact the presence of boat docks may have on the environmentally-delicate sea grasses.

On May 25, Dr. Loflin 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."

Later in that same meeting, Cuyler said that the City Council had anticipated taking action on the proposed boat dock ordinance amendments at their July 20 session. He did not comment on Tuesday about whether the delay of the public hearing would affect that schedule.