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Planning continues hearing for Mud Bugs Cajun Kitchen

By Staff | May 31, 2017

After more than three hours, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to continue a hearing of Mud Bugs Cajun Kitchen, LLC to their June 27 meeting, providing the applicant and Planning Department with the opportunity to reach an agreement on insufficiencies found in the application.

Senior Planner Roy Gibson said the applicant is seeking approval to convert an existing nonconforming commercial building at 1473 Periwinkle Way, which has been grandfathered in as a restaurant with 53 indoor seats. He said that existing restaurant building is nonconforming to current flood regulations, current front yard setbacks from Periwinkle Way, landscape buffer requirements, off street parking standards and stormwater drainage standards.

“These nonconformities are grandfathered in with the use and existing conditions as is. However, because the applicant is looking to expand and remodel this restaurant building, which is classified as a conditional use, they must obtain conditional use approval to do so,” Gibson said.

The applicant has identified some aspects of the code, which they will not conform with in respect to the proposed conditional use, he said.

The first requirement that the applicant will not conform with, Gibson said, is the setback from Periwinkle Way.

“Land development code requires a 100 foot setback for any new structure, or any new use. Commercial uses are subject to a 100 foot setback from the center line of Periwinkle Way. The existing commercial building lies 69 feet from Periwinkle Way. The applicant is proposing to add restaurant seats on the outside of the building, which will constitute new commercial floor area. That new commercial floor area is subject to that 100 foot setback. In this case the applicant is seeking a variance from that setback requirement,” Gibson said.

In addition, the applicant is also looking to not conform with current buffer standards, he said.

A minimum 20 foot wide front yard landscape that is required, as well as 15 foot side and rear yard landscape buffer requirements. Gibson said the applicant is seeking waivers from all yard buffer standards.

The landscape plan provided by the applicant showed a 20 foot wide front yard buffer is being dispersed beyond a 20 foot area. He said staff has indicated that the front yard buffer has to be 20 feet wide and not dispersed.

“Spreading the 20 foot landscape buffer in the front yard reduces the effectiveness of the visual screening that the buffer is intended to provide,” Gibson said.

A 10 foot wide buffer along the west end of the property has also been proposed. He said the proposed landscaping cannot be accommodated because the proposed parking spaces are 10 feet from the westside of the property line.

“Staff does not object to the west side buffer waiver that the applicant is proposing. However on the east side, the applicant is proposing to install the 15 foot wide buffer that is required, but dispersed in an area greater than 15 feet,” Gibson said.

The applicant also proposed a gap to provide access to the rear of the property that goes beyond the commercial district.

Bob Walsh, of RS Walsh Landscaping, said their plan does not include just the standard amount of vegetation required in the 20 foot wide buffer, but an additional 20 percent in the small tree and shrub category, and an additional 40 percent in the ground cover category.

Director of Natural Resources James Evans said the buffer is also a density standard. He said the calculation by Mr. Walsh was based on 155 linear feet, which is based on a 20 foot buffer. Their proposal, Evans said is based on 42 larger, medium trees, 198 small shrubs and 130 small trees or shrubs.

“What they are proposing here doesn’t meet the standard,” he said. “We agree what they are proposing is better than what is there today.”

In addition, the applicant is also seeking a development permit due to increasing the seats from 53 to 132 indoor seats, as well as 18 outdoor seats. As part of the permit, site improvement, drainage and parking would be associated.

To accommodate the increase in seats, the applicant is looking to add parking spaces. Some of the parking spaces proposed, Gibson said, are located within the interior wetlands conservation district, which overlaps an area of the commercial district.

“The commercial district and the interior wetlands conservation district lie in an area to the rear of the parking areas. There are six parking spaces that have encroached within the interior wetlands district and encroached within 200 feet of the Sanibel River. No development is permitted within 200 feet of the Sanibel River,” Gibson said.

The proposed six parking spaces are prohibited, he said, which staff identified as an issue that cannot be approved by variance, or waiver.

Steven Hartsell, who spoke on behalf of the applicant, said he is confused by the codes, but he believes staff would agree that within the interior wetlands conservation district, that 200 feet, not all development is absolutely prohibited.

“It’s permissible for development to occur in the interior wetlands district. I would submit to you that this section of the code says there is an exception for the commercial district and that we have a section of the land development code that allows us to use that commercial district,” Hartsell said. “The commercial district allows an exception for limited development consistent with the regulations.”

He said he believes the application is a whole, better, application with a 150 seated restaurant.

Planning Director James Jordan said there can be use within the wetlands district if there is a 200 foot separation from the banks of the Sanibel River.

“That is the one condition and standard that the commercial district does not supersede in terms of permitted uses,” he said.

Four compact parking spaces have also been proposed, which are designed within the proposed parking lot and do not meet the land development code parking design standards.

“It seems to me as a resident of this island, a solution that keeps cement on the ground and keeps parking in the front of these restaurants that everyone can see as they drive down the road is not a commonsense most optimal alternative,” Commissioner Chuck Ketterman said.

The site drainage proposal, the city stated met the general requirements, but the location of the dry retention of the front yard is inconsistent with the landscape buffer requirements.

The final insufficiency is the proposed driveway, which encroaches over the side property line.

Billy Kirkland, of Billy’s Rentals, said he is willing to sign off and grant an easement to the property owner. He said he also said before that the property owner has been very gracious and that they have shared parking.

“My two other properties, Billy’s Bike Shop, and Billy’s Rentals, we are happy to share parking after hours if he needs it. We will work with each other,” he said.

Jordan said they have hit an impasse of what they deemed to be issues of sufficiencies with the application, which is why the hearing went before the Planning Commission Tuesday, May 23.

“We understand these properties are not going to go away, but also we would like to see folks reinvest in these properties and make them rehabilitated and conform to the extent possible to the code, but not to make the properties any more nonconforming,” Jordan said. “This particular application does not meet the spirit of a waiver requirement. The application also creates some new nonconformities.”

Commissioner Chris Heidrick said he appreciated the long dialogue between the applicant and the City of Sanibel because he personally believes the question of what portion of the land development code applies and how they interact with each other is the most important portion of the application.

Commissioner John Talmage said he believed Tuesday’s hearing turned into a question about public policy.

“I don’t support extending nonconforming uses,” he said. “But I do think there are work arounds for many of these. If you really just limit this to only land considerations, I think the question becomes the number of seats.”

Hartsell said more than two hours into the meeting that he recognized the Planning Commission would not make a recommendation because many questions need to be answered before they can move forward with the city’s staff.

“That is why these four issues that we have identified – parking in the rear, the buffers, compact cars and the driveway easement. Once there are answers from those perspectives, from the commission perspective, that will allows us frankly in the next two to three weeks to revise the site plan and come back to you,” he said.

Sharon Tucker, a citizen of Sanibel, said she is tired of looking at the building on Periwinkle Way.

“I know the applicant has tried to do his best to meet the needs. I think they have been given some mixed signals. I think whatever you all can do to expedite this is necessary,” she said.