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Mangroves discussed in length during Planning Commission hearings

By Staff | Jun 21, 2017

The Planning Commission approved two accessory marine structures, one was for a dock to launch non-motorized vehicles, and the other for a new boat lift, last week despite concerns about the impact to mangroves.

The first hearing was the request of a variance to allow a new boat dock accessory for a single family residence to vary from the minimum water depth requirements for a dock in a natural body of water, Senior Planner Roy Gibson told the commission.

The Land Development Code, he said requires that docks be located to provide boat docking, or boat mooring where the approximate mean low water level is at least 3 feet above the bottom surface.

According to a survey and site plan provided by the applicant, the water condition and depth at the proposed site does not meet the 3 feet depth requirements.

Gibson said there are not any areas around the proposed area that does meet the depth requirements, which is why the homeowners of 5407 Osprey Court are requesting a variance from the standard.

“The site plan of the location of the proposed dock there is a cross section that is provided with water depths. These water depths are in relation to mean high water. However, the surveyor has identified a mean low water level is approximately 1.8 feet lower than the mean high water depth that are provided,” Gibson said. “So, the conditions are even shallower, or lower than what is exhibited here on this site plan survey.”

He said there is a true hardship for meeting this minimum water depth requirement for a dock in a natural body of water.

“For that reason staff is not opposed to the application for a variance that is before you today,” Gibson said.

The dock will be used for the mooring and launching of non-motorized vessels, such as kayaks and canoes, for the existing homeowner, and any future homeowner.

Although the Natural Resource Department supports the variance, they found that the applicant had not sufficiently inventoried all of the native vegetation impacts for the dock access walkway. Gibson said if the Planning Commission finds the applicant has met all the seven standards for conditions of approval, the applicant should review the impacts to the access walk to the dock with staff and provide a required mitigation plan, including the impacts on mangroves, before the issue of a development permit.

What happens with the length of this dock if the mangroves grow, Commissioner Karen Storjohann asked.

“Are we going to be back here again and how fast does that happen,” she further asked.

Gibson said if the mangroves were to grow and extend themselves out beyond the dock in a manner that would restrict the use of the dock then the applicant could do one of two things.

“They could request a mangrove trimming permit, or seek approval to extend the dock further waterward beyond the additional growth of the mangroves,” he said.

Holly Milbrandt, environmental biologist for the City of Sanibel, said they obviously do not want to put the dock in a location where it will become nonfunctional in a year or so.

“We certainly don’t believe that is the case here,” she said. “Although they will expand over time, we don’t expect that to occur rapidly.”

The second hearing was for a new boat lift located at 626 Kinzie Island Court.

Gibson said the applicant proposed to replace an existing dock and boat lift with a new, smaller dock and a new boat lift that will be repositioned on the waterward side of the dock, but in an area that extends beyond the maximum waterward distance in which marine structures are allowed.

The Land Development Code states that docks should be extended waterward no more than 30 feet, or 20 percent of the width of the waterway – whichever is less. At the proposed location the width of the canal is 118 feet.

“Twenty percent of 118 feet equals 23.6 feet. Since 23.6 feet is less than 30 feet . . . 23.6 feet is the maximum waterward extension that a dock, or boat lift can extend into the waterway,” Gibson said. “The existing dock and boat lift do not extend beyond this maximum distance, so they are conforming.”

However, he said because of the conditions of the shoreline vegetation, the existing boat lift has been limited with respects to the access and due to the mangrove growth and the shallow depths along the shoreline.

The boat lift, he said will be extended approximately 11 feet beyond the 20 percent maximum distance.

The city’s Natural Resource Department supports the variance as long as the dock is not larger than the existing one, or be positioned any closer to the shoreline as the existing dock. The applicant also is required to mitigate disturbed areas of mangroves where the existing boat lift is impacting the mangrove. The department also recommend that the applicant installs red mangroves on three foot centers with a minimum six feet in planted height.

A few neighboring property owners spoke against the variance during public comment, which did not change the commissioners mind when a unanimous vote took place.

Judy Cook, who lived across the canal from the property owners, said they will be the most impacted by the variance. She said her and her husband are against the variance because of two issues impacting the area – water level and the mangroves.

“We’ve lived here since 2000 and built our boat lift, which was properly permitted in probably 2000, 2001. Our boat lift does butt directly into the mangroves. We did have a licensed mangrove trimmer to trim it appropriately. No mangroves were removed, they were just trimmed,” Cook said.

She said they cannot get their boat out into the water during low tide, which results in planning all of their trips in advance.

“I would like to propose if they cannot trim legally, the mangroves on the lift, can’t they move the lift back a little more towards the water, so it would be out a little more from the mangroves,” Cook asked.

Roger Bunnell, who has a dock two down from the applicants, also spoke. He said when he first built the dock 15 years ago he was able to go out 20 feet with his dock structure, which points his lift towards the mangroves.

“I think what has happened over the years . . . I’m directly impacting the mangroves when I dock my boat on that lift,” he said. “I don’t have full use of the dock and the water because I can only launch the boat at high tide.”

Bunnell said he has no problem with the applicant coming up with a solution to better use his dock, while maintaining as much mangrove growth as they can and replace what gets lost.

“I guess my concern is, what about the rest of us that have similar problems,” he asked.

Gibson said there are two main reasons staff did not object the variance.

“The variance, if approved, would reduce some significant impacts the existing boat lift has,” he said. “The other is the new location of the boat lift is in a location where boats are currently moored, or could be moored. So there would be no greater impact to navigation than where a vessel could be moored adjacent to the existing dock.”

Storjohann said she was concerned about not maintaining the mangroves at a certain line. She said they are perpetuating further issues with the whole canal area and people are going to have to put their docks further out into the waterway, where eventually there will be no navigation.

“As the mangroves move forward it silts in and then you have even less water,” Storjohann said. “It strikes me that there is a mangrove trimming problem here. We have a temporary solution here and we need a more permanent solution here. Long range this isn’t going to work.”

Commissioner Chris Heidrick did not vote for either variance because the property owners were clients of his business.