homepage logo

City hears Causeway report

By Staff | May 9, 2013

JIM LINETTE The Sanibel Lighthouse will undergo a restoration project by Razorback LLC.

Two of Sanibel’s most recognizable landmarks were discussed by Sanibel City Council at their monthly meeting May 7. The Sanibel Lighthouse and the Sanibel Causeway are the subjects of ongoing city actions.

Council approved Razorback LLC as the low bidder authorizing the restoration of the Lighthouse. The amount of the bid was $269,563, of which $50,000 is appropriated by the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

The audit of the Sanibel Causeway reconstruction project performed by consultant Roy Hyman, at a cost to the city of $12,500, has produced an 820-page report. Council discussed a summary of that report at length, but took no action as yet.

“I want some time to read and reread 820 pages,” said Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane. “Let’s take time to digest it and bring it back at the next meeting for further discussion and our next steps.”

Vice Mayor Doug Congress, spearheading the study with Hyman and Lee County, said, “What the study brought out, I think, was the need for a partnership with Lee County because ultimately it links us to the county. Overall, it looks to be a proper accounting of everything with a lot of transactions made, which makes it harder to reconstruct all of it.

“We need to keep our finger on the pulse of the Causeway with the county as it is our lifeline. (The study) confirms that the surplus funds went to pay off the Junior Lien and were not spent on other things,” added Congress.

The study shows the Junior Lien will be paid off by the second half of 2014 and Congress said Sanibel should see some of that surplus coming back to the island.

“After next year we should get a revenue stream of about $1 million a year,” said Congress.

The city collected 21 percent of the tolls on the old bridge before reconstruction. It is that 21 percent that has been spent on the $43.5 million Junior Lien, according to the settlement agreement between the city and county executed in March 2005.

The original estimate of the three-span construction in December 2004 was $122 million, including the toll plaza. With cost overruns, including 17 change orders, the actual cost of the Causeway and toll plaza was $144 million. The toll plaza alone cost almost double the $9 million estimate at $17 million.

“When I have looked into it in the past the county was always exceeding its budget and having trouble with the continuing costs,” said councilman Mick Denham cautioned. “We need to make sure those costs do not exceed the revenue, because that dilutes the surplus which we stand to share.”

Hyman’s report includes 12 post-construction inspection reports. Cracks were discovered in the concrete pilings during those inspections and subsequent inspections have begun monitoring those cracks.

“I want to know what the state inspections say,” contributed councilman Jim Jennings. “The Peace River bridge was said to be in bad shape just a few years after construction because of cracks. Every time I cross that bridge I wonder what they did to fix that. All bridges over saltwater are affected the same way.”

“There doesn’t seem to be an overall concern about the cracks, but we must keep our eye on it,” added Congress.

One councilman even suggested council have their own inspection of the spans done.

In other council business conducted at the meeting an ordinance restating the Sanibel Plan update was approved for submission to the state.

A budget item approving the purchase of two trucks for the Public Works Department came under scrutiny by councilman Congress, who wanted to know why a Charlotte County bidder was selected over a Lee County bidder for a mere difference in bids of just $12. Congress and Ruane thought the local bidder should have been given preference for that small an amount, but policy currently dictates selection of the lowest bid.

Per council request, city attorney Ken Cuyler presented a draft legislation aimed at prohibiting the dropping off of passengers in city rights-of-way by large vehicles such as tour type buses.

“It’s a safety issue for traffic and people,” said Cuyler. “They stop in beach parking lots, causing backups, and sometimes stay there while the passengers go to the beaches.”

Cuyler pointed out that some municipalities like Sanibel control use of beaches by limiting the available parking.

Councilman Marty Harrity suggested the document consider designating parking for large buses at beach accesses.

The discussion points will be incorporated into a second draft document for later presentation to council.

Two requests from island businesses to waive city permit fees were delved into by council. Both, however, had the fees reduced instead of waived.

The first was a request by Fresh Taqueria on Periwinkle Way. Councilman Denham voiced the most objection to waiving of fees on the grounds of “unintended consequences that come from it.”

The request was over a sign variance allowing a second business sign directing patrons to parking. The property is “very unique” in that the parking area is “two lots over” from the restaurant. The second sign was allowed by the city expiring at the end of season. The business must file for a variance to make the sign permanent.

After much debate, council made a motion to reduce the filing fee from $2,000 to $1,000 and it passed by a 3-2 vote.

The second request was made by Sanibel Deli located in the Pine Ridge Center, which is nonconforming to city code regarding sufficient parking spaces. Deli owner Jeff Wiegel wants to expand into an adjoining space to add several tables for customers to use after receiving their meal order.

Since the center predates Sanibel incorporation a Conditional Use Permit is required to expand, plus an additional fee for the added square footage, plus a development permit fee, plus a parking variance fee for a total permit fee of roughly $8,400.

Wiegel pleaded that the fees are extravagant and detrimental to small businesses like his trying to expand.

The center has five vacancies with a sixth possible in the near future. Because of its age and rundown condition, it also is a primary candidate in the city’s commercial redevelopment plan.

“It’s harder to sell a center with vacancies,” said Mayor Ruane. “It’s in an area that we are trying to redevelop. It would be better in the long run for the city to promote filling the vacancies so that it would be easier for the owner to sell it down the road.”

Again, after much debate, councilman Congress made the motion that the total of the fees be reduced to $3,000 and it passed by a 4-1 vote.

Council is holding another workshop meeting on the commercial redevelopment project at 9 a.m. on May 21 with the next council monthly meeting set for June 4 in MacKenzie Hall.