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Editorial: Majority rules, but not on Nerita Street

By Staff | Aug 17, 2011

In the United States, amendments to the Constitution may be proposed by a two-thirds (66 percent) supermajority of votes in each house of Congress, or by a Constitutional Convention called by two-thirds of the states.

In the Senate, a three-fifths (60 percent) majority is required to bring out a vote of cloture, to end a filibuster.

But here on Sanibel, things aren’t that easy. At least in the case of paving Nerita Street.

Last month, Mayor Kevin Ruane explained to his fellow councilmen that he had received a request to reduce the required percentage of property owners – currently 80 percent – required to consent for the establishment of an assessment district to pave Nerita Street.

During discussions on the matter, there was some debate about lowering the approval percentage to a simple majority (51 percent), or a two-thirds supermajority.

According to Gates Castle, director of the city’s Public Works Department, residents of the shellrock road have made multiple attempts since 1999 to petition council in favor of paving their street. However, those petition drives have historically fallen short of the required 80 percent approval of the benefited property owners.

Castle suggested that should Nerita Street be paved as part of the city’s 2012 Street Resurfacing Project, the estimated cost – including construction, legal, engineering, financial and advertising costs – would be $33,000.

“The city would be responsible for $11,000 of the cost, with the remaining $22,000 being assessed to the 11 benefited property owners at $2,000 each,” Castle wrote in his staff report to council.

In previous petitions to have the roadway paved, at least nine of the 11 affected property owners were required to be in favor of the project. In each instance, the drive fell one or two votes short.

During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, the subject of paving Nerita Street was briefly touched upon, although it was suggested that the city might save a considerable amount of money by completing the project sooner than later.

Another argument surmised that after decades of traffic and shellrock replacement, that roadway is already nearing what would be defined as an impermeable surface. Thus, paving the street would have no significant environmental impact.

However, the requirement of 80 percent seems to be the highest hurdle property owners in favor of the project – who have cited health concerns, dust caused by passing motorists and neighborhood blight as the three main reasons for their petition – have not been able to clear.

When the City Council gathers on Sept. 10, they are expected to discuss the Nerita Street issue again. We are urging not only the community to attend that meeting, but that the council lower the requirement to a simple majority. A supermajority in this case seems impossible to acquire, with only 11 property owners affected. The one of two holdouts who may be against the project, for financial reasons, is holding up progress.

In our opinion, the residents of Nerita Street should be given a fair opportunity to construct a road void of potholes filled with stagnate water, to breathe cleaner air and to be proud of their neighborhood once again.

– Reporter editorial