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Amended boat dock ordinance passed along to City Council

By Staff | Sep 15, 2010

During a lengthy discussion on Tuesday, the Planning Commission made several new alterations to an amendment to the 17-year-old Land Development Code restriction on boat docks located within the Bay Beach Zone.

However, commissioners were decidedly split — 4 to 3 — over whether making any changes to the ordinance was appropriate.

Planned had been 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.

Three members of the seven-member panel — Dr. Phillip Marks, Tom Krekel and Paul Reynolds — stated during Tuesday’s meeting, as well as in the past, that they do not condone making any changes to the ban. Therefore, all three men voted against the amended document.

Among the latest changes to the ordinance, enacted in 1993 by local leaders, was removing some language included in two portions of LDC Section 126-96, increasing the amount of time motorized boats may be kept in the water up to 24 hours (from the previously suggested limit of six hours), and reducing the minimum space between mooring pilings to 15 feet (from the previously suggested 30 feet).

Planners also debated whether the maximum length boat docks could be extended to a limit of 150 feet from the mean high water line, and whether the space between deck planks should be less than the proposed one inch requirement

"We are still concerned about the sea grasses, so I don’t think we would want (boat docks) that far out there," said Director of Planning Jimmy Jordan, in response to the suggestion of allowing dock structures to extend up to 500 feet out to the water.

Commission Holly Smith said that the proposed 150 foot limit was "possibly a prohibitive condition," to which Jordan suggested that his staff report indicated the city would "rather stay on the conservative side."

"You have to set the bar somewhere," he added.

During the three-and-a-half hour session, Dr. Rob Loflin, Director of the city’s Natural Resources Department, reiterated his opinion that allowing boat docks within the Bay Beach Zone would be damaging to existing sea grass beds. He also suggested some additional language be inserted into the proposed ordinance before it was given to City Council for approval.

Erick Lindblad, Executive Director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, offered that "nothing has changed in the last 17 years that indicates this (ordinance) is not valid."

"I think you’ve had some good, healthy discussions," he added.

Resident Karen Storjohann noted that the low shadow zones are vital to the delicate sea grass environment and that "allowing dockage is a mistake."

After some additional public comment, the commissioners spoke openly both for and against the alterations made to the document, and whether it should be passed along at all.

"I don’t support the lifting of the ban and I’m going to vote accordingly," said Reynolds.

"This discussion isn’t going to end with this body, it’s going to end with City Council," said fellow commissioner Chris Heidrick. "If we debate it longer than we ought to, then we’re holding up the process."

Steve Hartsell, attorney for several homeowners who own property in the affected area, told the planners that the issue comes down to the riparian rights of his clients. He further suggested that they should not restrict the length of boat docks to 150 feet, which he stated was "artificially restrictive."

In addition, Hartsell offered that the minimum square footage of boat docks should be increased to 2,000 square feet, boat pilings be allowed to be installed 10 feet apart, and deck planks to be spaced one-quarter of an inch apart.

Reynolds stated that he intended to "protect the dynamic circumstance of that bay," which he called an "intricate part of the puzzle that defines our community."

While Reynolds and Krekel stated that their "no" votes indicated their opposition to making any changes to the current restriction, chairman Michael Valiquette called for a vote on the amended ordinance. Valiquette, Smith, Heidrick and Chuck Ketteman voted in favor of the changes to the document, which will now be passed along to City Council for their approval.

The council is expected to discuss the matter at their Oct. 5 meeting.