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Planners considering adjustments to boat dock ban

By Staff | Aug 11, 2010

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission took back the reigns of discussing making adjustments to — as well as removing altogether — a 17-year-old Land Development Code restriction on boat docks located within the Bay Beach Zone, more than one month after the issue was passed forward to the City Council.

Last week, councilors unanimously agreed to continue looking into ending the self-imposed prohibition enacted in 1993 as a means of providing protection to the environmentally sensitive sea grasses located in the waters of San Carlos Bay.

Almost three months earlier, the Planning Commission was requested by the council to discuss and propose new legislation regarding boat docks within the Bay Beach Zone, which extends along the waters of San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay west of the Lighthouse to the end of Woodring’s Point.

According to City Attorney Ken Cuyler, who requested that the commission table their discussions on the matter so he could look deeper into possible legal implications of continuing the ban, told the commission that the council requested that they review making amendments to the current code restriction.

Commission chairman Michael Valiquette said that he understood the council’s direction in case they wanted to lift the moratorium on boat docks within the Bay Beach Zone.

"The bottom line is that we have to take a look at making code changes," he said. "We’ll be giving it back to (City Council) anyway."

"Three City Council members have sent us a clear message that this is the way we want it to be," added fellow planner Paul Reynolds, who reiterated his displeasure in removing the ban. "I for one am unwilling to give up the sea grasses in the bay."

During the meeting, the city’s Director of Planning Jimmy Jordan presented a nine-page proposed ordinance amendment containing several changes from the current boat dock restriction. They included requiring boat davits and lifts for all docks and piers, requiring all motorized boats to be kept elevated when not in use for longer than six hours, docks serving more than one dwelling units to be a maximum of 500 square feet in area and using alternative decking materials — including grated-metal, plastic or composite material — to allow for significant light penetration would be encouraged and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioner Chris Heidrick, noting Mayor Kevin Ruane’s request for additional information from the city’s Department of Natural Resources on the current status of sea grass beds along the Bay Beach Zone, said, "It’s going to be difficult to draft something without that additional information."

Valiquette made a motion to pass the planning staff’s proposed alterations to the ordinance along to City Council for their review as a means of gathering a clearer direction from them. However, he withdrew the motion because the commission already has suggested making many changes to the draft.

"My opinion is you’re going to have to wrestle with this before you pass it along to City Council," said Cuyler.

"I want to make sure what we do today doesn’t solve one problem while creating another," Valiquette added.

After some additional discussion on proposed changes suggested by Holly Smith and Chuck Ketteman, Dr. Rob Loflin of the city’s Natural Resources Department discussed why the ban had been put in place back in 1993. He stated that one of the main reasons, in addition to providing protection to the delicate sea grasses, was because City Council members at the time did not want to see boat docks dotted along the shoreline of Sanibel at the causeway entrance to the island.

"The question of whether or not the ban should be lifted is a legal one… I don’t think it’s a Natural Resources issue," said Loflin.

Responding to a question about how boat docks might negatively impact sea grass beds, he added, "It’s a non-recoverable type damage … There’s no question that under docks, sea grasses die."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, SCCF Executive Director Erick Lindblad spoke out against removing the restriction, as did residents Dean Skaugstead and Karen Storjohann.

"You have a tough job, and Rob (Loflin) and Ken (Cuyler) have a tough job deciding whether to lift this ban," said Lindblad, who suggested that the proposed ordinance appeared very strong. "On behalf of SCCF, we hope you don’t."

Storjohann, who stated that the boat dock ban put in place in 1993, was an extension of Sanibel’s mission.

"It seems to me that we’re spending time discussing an issue that was settled 17 years ago," she said. "I’m all for ‘It’s too late, baby.’ Find some other place to put your boat."

The final speaker during public comment was Steve Hartsell, the attorney representing the seven clients hoping to see the ordinance restriction lifted. He reiterated his observation from previous meetings that homeowners within the Bay Beach Zone restriction area had their property rights taken from them without due compensation, and that the ordinance itself was "unconstitutional." He told the commission that he wishes the city will create a new ordinance with "valid regulations."

Following some additional debate between commissioners, Valiquette proposed addressing the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 14, at which time the planning staff would make adjustments to their proposed ordinance based upon Tuesday’s discussions.

"I don’t want to spend the next two or three months tweaking an ordinance that may or may not go anywhere," he added.