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Planners debate future of boat docks along bay

By Staff | Jun 23, 2010

For the third consecutive meeting, much of the discussions that took place before the Planning Commission centered on the subject of lifting the boat dock ban along the island’s Bay Beach Zone, but any decision about whether the long-standing prohibition would remain in place was continued to their next session.

During Tuesday’s debate, several members of the commission expressed their hesitation to make any changes to the current restriction, which does not allow property owners located within the Bay Beach Zone. In 1993, the City Council established a boat dock ban 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.

During their June 8 session, City Attorney Ken Cuyler informed the seven-member panel 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.

"I knew from the first day that this question came in that there would be considerable community interest," he said. "I think it’s important that the regulation is moved forward … there are some very, very complicated issues here."

Cuyler also told the planners that the council intended to take action on the issue at their next meeting, scheduled to take place on July 20.

During the three-hour meeting, a number of commissioners spoke out against making any changes to the current ban. Tom Krekel explained that, in his opinion, the prohibition should remain in place.

"I believe it’s the job of the Planning Commission to determine if this should be done, and how it should be done," Krekel said. "It’s not cut-and-dry at that we should do this. To me, to consider changing a rule that affects the environment … I just think we need to discuss whether we should do this."

Fellow planner Chuck Ketteman reminded the panel that it was their duty to make any necessary changes to the current legislation because it has been requested by the City Council, who will make the final decision on the matter.

"Whether we like this or not, we can’t let this stop us from making the best resolution possible," he said.

Commissioner Paul Reynolds, who noted that he and his fellow planners were "duty-bound" to express their opinions on the subject, added, "I’m feeling kinda restricted here. I kinda feel like my hands are tied."

Dr. Rob Loflin, the city’s Natural Resources Department manager, told the commission that he would "much prefer to remain status quo" with the Bay Beach Zone ban. He also explained that Sanibel’s diversity of marine life within those waters would be diminished through the addition of docks along the shoreline.

"I would certainly advocate for the current status," he said, adding that allowing boat docks to be constructed within the zone would put additional stress on the sea grasses.

Planners also talked about ways they could allow boat docks to be installed, by placing strict requirements on the building of those structures and using only environmentally-friendly materials.

"We’ve got to come up with some verbage that does not make this prohibitive, but certainly more restrictive," added Reynolds.

"What we’re here to do is to find a happy medium, where we are happy and all of the citizens are happy," said Michael Valiquette, chairman of the commission.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several members of the audience spoke out both in favor of keeping the ban in place and allowing boat docks to be constructed within the zone.

Brian Stokes suggested that the commission simply follow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s requirements for boat dock construction, explaining that their regulations are sufficient for protecting environmentally-sensitive marine areas.

He also noted that boat docks attract large numbers of fish, which is a benefit to local fishermen. However, he objected to Dr. Phillip Marks’ suggestion of allowing community docks to be installed, which could be shared by several boat owners.

"I think the idea of a shared community dock is a chuckle… it’s a laugh," said Stokes. "I don’t see it happening."

Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resources Policy Director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, countered Stokes’ suggestion that adding boat docks along the bay would be a benefit for area anglers.

"Oil derricks are great places to go fishing, but I don’t think that we want those around the island," she said.

A lawyer representing several of the affected property owners urged the commission to lift the boat dock ban, noting that his clients could have taken the city to court over the current restriction — which infringes upon their rights as property owners — but instead elected to "work with the city" on the issue.

The next public hearing on lifting the city’s Bay Beach Zone boat dock ban will take place on Tuesday, July 13 beginning at 9:15 a.m.