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Dark Skies draws strong response

By Staff | Dec 10, 2014

Sanibel residents once again came with strong opinions about the on-going Dark Skies ordinance discussion being held by City Council last Tuesday, Dec. 2.

The City Council voted 3-2 to frame the ordinance to send to the Planning Commission for review, with the understanding that grandfathering is a component to the ordinance and by Jan. 1, 2018, that compliance is needed for unshielded or unlighted fixtures.

With over 15 years of being in existence, the biggest feature in the current discussion of Dark Skies is the potential grandfathering in current non-conforming light fixtures residents and businesses will have after the ordinance kicks in after a three-year grace period.

The two compliance issues which will need to be compliant in three years, if the current ordinance is passed, will be unshielded lights and upward tilted lighting.

But most of the opposition is the grandfathering clause in the current version which would allow non-compliant lighting (besides the unshielded or up-lighting) go until it needs to be replaced.

“Dark Skies is a very good thing for Sanibel,” said Mike Gillespie, who is a member of the Committee of the Islands. “If we have to wait for the fixtures which are grandfathered in to be replaced, it will be a very long, long time. Grandfathering will essentially destroy the ordinance.”

But there were people who were in favor of grandfathering light fixtures which don’t comply, with cost of replacing them being a forefront reason.

“Grandfathering will bring a reasonable rate of compliance,” said Dick Weiss, who represented Mariner Point Condos on Sanibel Island. “We are satisfied with the proposal.”

Vice-Mayor Doug Congress, who has been the essential framer of the current ordinance’s language, is satisfied with the grandfathering clause and believes the island is already dark and “we can see the stars” already.

“If I had to give the island a grade, I would give it a strong B-plus or A-minus,” Congress said. “Now we can go for the ‘A’ or ‘A-plus’.”

The Planning Commission will now receive the first reading of the ordinance and review it. More discussion will be had when it is sent back to the City Council for the second reading.

The City Council also voted 5-0 for City Attorney Ken Cuyler to draft language and bring back to the council to put a measure on the 2016 ballot to grant a $1,500 a month stipend to council members.

The measure was not discussed much, after the council heard public comment during the November meeting and will be revisited when Cuyler brings back the framed language.

The City Council also voted unanimously to approve the document “The Caloosahatchee Watershed Issues White Paper”, which provides prioritized short and long-term strategic planning goals for water managers to address water storage and treatment within Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee watersheds.

“We need to get as many endorsements for (the White Paper) as humanly possible,” said Mayor Kevin Ruane. “By uniting the cities of Lee County, governmental leaders, conservation groups, business leaders and politicians behind a joint strategy we are best poised to acquire the necessary funds to increase storage at Lake Okeechobee and increase water storage at the local level.”

Creation of this document is collaborative effort between Lee County and the five municipalities within the County to develop consensus on priority projects and policy issues that will help improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water delivered to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, and the Greater Everglades ecosystem.

A motion was also passed 5-0 to allow the Historical Preservation Committee to take the next steps in restoring the Heritage Tour signage on Sanibel Island.

The current number of interpretive panels which line the trails on the island is 37, which would be reduced to 22 new panels, and would include historical references at each point.

A resolution approving to budget $20,000 for services related to eradicating green Iguanas/Nile Monitor lizards within city limits was passed. The budget amendment does not increase the 2015 budget, though.