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Planning approves Cooper House fix

By Staff | May 4, 2016

The City of Sanibel Planning Commission unanimously approved the mechanism needed for a variety of improvements to the Cooper House.

Roy Gibson, senior planner for the City of Sanibel Planning Department, said the request for a Certificate of Appropriateness approved last week is a special approval required for structures, or buildings listed on the city’s historical buildings, or landmarks. The Copper House was placed on the city’s register for historic landmarks in 1991.

The application for the Certificate of Appropriateness was submitted by Property Manager Lisa Bramm, on behalf of the property owner, RLR Investments, LLC.

The Certificate of Appropriateness was sought for improvements to the Copper House, 630 Tarpon Bay Road, located within the Old Sanibel Shopping Center. The improvements include replacing windows, siding, handrails, chimney, as well as repairing the foundation and roof components of the building.

“Because these improvements do not amount to ordinary maintenance and requires a building permit, approval must be in the form of a Certificate of Appropriateness. The review of the plans must be found by the Historical Preservation Committee in conformance with the criteria for a Certificate of Appropriateness found in the land development code. The approval must be reviewed and made by the planning commission,” Gibson explained.

The April 7 meeting of the Historical Preservation Committee found that the proposed improvements are consistent with the visual compatibility standards of the Sanibel Code, standards of Certificate of Appropriateness, as well as in conformance with the secretary of the interior’s standards for rehabilitation and guidelines for rehabilitating historic buildings.

Gibson read that the committee approved a motion recommending the approval of the certificate under the condition that the applicant maintains the original appearance of the building to the most extent possible.

The planning department also supported the recommendation with 11 conditions. Gibson said the conditions are for consistent improvements with the criteria for the certificate and in conformance with the scope of work.

The plans do not impact the footprint of the building.

Phillip Marks said it appears about 10 years ago in 2006, some similar type of things were done, with approval of siding, roofing, decking and railing. He asked if those things were done.

“If so they didn’t seem to last very long. Are these other areas not restored or remodeled,” Marks asked.

The main emphasis was 10 years ago with the remodeling of the entire shopping center, Gibson said.

“The most of the work that was done to the Copper Homestead was cosmetic, not as extensive of what they needed to do to maintain the structure,” he said. “It is an old building, so the deterioration does occur fast. It is a harsh environment, so these buildings do need ongoing maintenance.”

Since work does not constitute ordinary maintenance, Gibson said they had to appear before the planning commission.

Marks said the building is more than 120 years old and has gone through most of the major hurricanes, the harsh salt and sun. He said he thinks they are fortunate to have RLR Investments with pretty deep pockets to be able to do all the restoration.

“Our forefathers said a lot of the buildings on the island supposedly are just going to fall apart and that is going to help us move forward. In this case it is historic and I am really glad they are going to fully restore it,” Marks said. “Most of our historic buildings are on the historic museum property. It’s nice to see a company that is using it for commerce. It’s great they are continuing to be used and not just sitting on a museum grounds.”

Rick Kennedy, building contractor, said it has been a really interesting project because of the chimney. He said they could not determine if they chimney was pulling away from the house, or the house was pulling away from the chimney.

“We measured out the foundation from the chimney and it went in two different directions,” Kennedy said. “He pointed out things that I didn’t even see like settlement of the piers underneath the building. It’s going to be a major undertaking to put this thing back together, but the idea is for us to put it together, so it can stay that way for 50 years, or 70 years.”

One of the ideas for the chimney is to take it down to where it widens at the base, clean the bricks and get the foundation level and put the chimney back up.

“We know that there are products out that look like old stuff. We can use it and make it,” Kennedy said. “There is no way you can hurricane proof this building because you can’t anchor it to the ground and there is no anchors holding the roof on, but it’s been there for 130 years. All we can do is keep the weather out and keep it dry. We will make the building as water tight as we can. Rot is always an issue and water intrusion is the issue, we can stop that and there is nothing wrong with the building to keep it going.”

In 1981, the Cooper Homestead was built by George Madison on 160 acres. Three tenant houses and a packing house serving as a polling place for islanders until 1910, were eventually added. Madison, who became known as Captain Cooper, put in Tarpon Bay Road to access Tarpon Bay docks. Schooners and launches, trading as far away as Mobile and Honduras, were operated by Captain Cooper.

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