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Planners delay decision for Sanibel Sea School

By Staff | Sep 29, 2010

With the Planning Department staff still waiting for a final report from the city’s Department of Public Works, a decision on the Sanibel Sea School’s application for a conditional use permit to relocate their operations was delayed to a date uncertain.

On Tuesday, the commission heard testimony from Dr. Bruce Neill, founder and proprietor of the Sanibel Sea School, which is currently located at 414 Lagoon Drive. Their application requests permission to move to a 1.3-acre parcel, located at 1220 Morningside Place, currently in use as a multi-unit non-resort residential rental property.

According to the staff report, planners were asked to consider granting a development permit for improvements to the existing buildings and 18-space parking facility at the site. Those improvements would include installing a new curb to improve vehicular circulation and a new fence and enclosed deck structure.

"There are remaining concerns by Public Works staff regarding adequate drainage and vehicular access for parking," the report stated. "In addition, as long as the applicant proposes to use parking on off-tract or off-site locations as stated in the application narrative, and until the question of the adequate number of parking spaces can be addressed, the Planning Department recommends that the applicant’s request be continued to a later date."

Jimmy Jordan, the city’s Director of Planning, told the commission that since there were a number of questions with the applicant’s narrative, and that the report from the Department of Public Works was still outstanding, consideration of the application should be continued to a future session.

"I think that, in many ways, the Sanibel Sea School is a partner working with the Planning Commission and the Sanibel Plan," said Neill. "Sanibel Sea School works very hard to try and be a part of this community."

After Neill explained that as part of their application, Sanibel Sea School requested permission to conduct special events and movie screenings on Friday nights, Jordan suggested that conducting outside movie screenings in a largely residential neighborhood might violate noise statutes. Neill stated that their plans were still in the conceptual phase and would work with the city on viable alternative.

"We would just like to be a gathering place for families to spend time with their children on Friday nights," added Neill.

Lucas and Dee Century, 25-year residents of Buttonwood Drive, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. They both said that they were loyal supporters of the Sanibel Sea School and the educational programs they provide, however, they noted a number of concerns. Among them were safety of young students crossing Periwinkle Way en route to the beach and guided tours which may be offered by the school.

"The Sea School is great for what they do for kids," said Dee Century, who explained that large commercial vehicles in the area could be a safety concern. "This is a neighborhood issue for me."

Morningside Place resident Paul Powers also suggested to the commission that the entrance and exit access for the Sanibel Sea School’s proposed new location go through Anhinga Lane. Jordan responded that the idea would be investigated by his staff.

Dr. Phillip Marks told Neill that he was a longtime supporter of marine and environmental educational opportunities, but suggested several alternatives to improve the school’s application. Among them were using the public beach access at Lighthouse Beach, which offered restroom facilities, and informing students, teachers and volunteers to stay clear of areas marked off for sea turtle and snowy plover nesting.

"I strongly support the Sanibel Sea School and everything they’ve done," he said. "I think they’re a real asset to this community."

Commissioners agreed to table the application and continue the public hearing at a date uncertain. Prior to the continued meeting, notification of adjacent property owners within 300 feet of the school’s proposed new facility will be conducted by city staff.