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Planners deny variances on build-back application

By Staff | Jul 28, 2010

Throughout the nearly four-hour Planning Commission meeting, it was fairly evident that the commission had reached a consensus to deny an applicant’s request for four variances on a Seagrape Lane property that had been damaged by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

However, by the end of the session, the six-member panel (with Chuck Ketteman excused) could not agree upon whether it should allow the owners any additional time to prepare a build-back plan that would meet all of the city’s Land Development Code requirements.

On Tuesday, commissioners conducted a public hearing for the consideration of granting variances for a property which used to contain a 2,319-square-foot duplex. That structure was severely damaged as a result of hurricanes Charley and Wilma. It was demolished in June 2007.

According to the Planning Department’s staff report, the owners — G. Wesley and Renee Nedblake, who did not attend the hearing —submitted a build-back application for another duplex structure. However, the new plan for the former non-conforming duplex is still non-conforming.

Acting Director of Planning Roy Gibson, filling in for the vacationing Jimmy Jordan, told the commission that the owner’s current home design fails to comply with the city’s Land Development Code build-back requirements in four areas. The submitted duplex plan is:

• Outside its pre-disaster three-dimensional outline

• Beyond its pre-disaster habitable area

• Greater than its pre-disaster gross square footage

• Above the angle-of-light height limitation

Gibson, who stated that the Planning Department recommended denying the request for variances, also explained that since the Nedblake’s build-back application has already been extended twice since 2007, no additional extensions would be allowed.

"This is their last opportunity to build-back," he said.

However, the staff report did recommend granting a six-month extension to the owners, which would allow some adjustments to be done to their application. The Nedblake’s architect, Bud Lawrence, suggested that the structure could be rotated in order to meet city code requirements. However, doing so would require another variance.

"This is going to cost Wes and his wife a good amount of money to build something that looks good in that neighborhood," he said.

Lawrence noting that in 2009, the Nedblake’s had proposed a single-family home for the site, but changed their minds. They now intend to construct a duplex structure, which could yield rental units on one or both sides.

"I think it’s kind of an economic decision to go back to a duplex," he added.

The couple submitted plans for a 2,540 square foot duplex, which exceed the original structure by more than 220 square feet of habitable living space. City code for build-backs stipulate that the new structure must be within the pre-disaster three-dimensional outline of the original unit.

"We’re not here to redesign projects," chairman Michael Valiquette noted. "We’re here to look at what’s before us."

After some additional debate, the commission agreed with the staff report’s conclusion, unanimously voting to reject the application due to its continued non-conforming status.

However, the panel was divided over whether the Planning Department should grant the owner more time to make adjustments to his home designs.

Commissioners Paul Reynolds, who made a motion to deny an extension to the Nedblakes, said, "This application and this issue has gone on long enough."

Dr. Philip Marks seconded Reynolds’ motion. He pointed out that the staff report stated that, in 2009, the owners not only filed a proposal for a single-family residence on the lot, but also had "an understanding that there would be no further extensions of the permit." That extension expired on June 12, 2010.

The Nedblakes submitted their most recent application to the Planning Department on June 24.

Dr. Marks also explained that the rules of city government are very clear and well defined. He added that the owners have demonstrated a "complete disregard for the Land Development Code and the Sanibel Plan."

The staff report also stated Sanibel Code Section 126-212, which stipulates that "applications to build-back a non-conforming structure that was destroyed or substantially damaged by accidental fire or other natural and disastrous force must be filed within 24 months of the date of the destruction or substantial damage to the building that is to be built back."

Gibson confirmed that if an extension would not be allowed, the build-back application would expire and that Seagrape Lane parcel will never be allowed to be built upon again, rendering it virtually worthless.

"It might be better just to take a loss," said Lawrence. "(The Nedblakes) wouldn’t want to take a double loss and build-back something they couldn’t use."

Planner Tom Krekel made an amendment to Reynolds’ motion, which was seconded by Holly Smith, which suggested that the panel deny the variances but allow a six-month extension for the application. Jordan, who holds the ultimate authority in the matter, returns from vacation in time for the next Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 10.

Planners voted 4-2 in favor of granting an extension, with Reynolds and Marks dissenting.