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Applications for Mud Bugs Cajun Kitchen approved

By Staff | Jul 5, 2017

A landscaping plan for the old Sanibel Steakhouse, which went before the Planning Commission last week for the proposed 150 seat restaurant, Mud Bugs Cajun Kitchen, received a great deal of dialogue before a vote was taken.

Commissioner Chuck Ketterman made a motion to accept the application with the waivers and variances, as well as the Plan B vegetation plan.

The motion carried 4-3 with Commissioners John Talmage, Holly Smith and Karen Storjohann opposing.

Planning Director James Jordan addressed the difference between the landscaping Plan A, and Plan B, which came down to the Sanibel Plan and the importance of having a vegetation buffer along the roadways.

“One, it’s inconsistent with the plan, and two it’s inconsistent with the code in terms of the requirements,” he said of the Plan A. “And I think it’s inconsistent with the wavier conditions, or criteria. The reason you have a waiver is to waiver from issues that you cannot control.”

Jordan said staff is going with Plan B because it meets code requirements.

Attorney Steven Hartsell, on behalf of the applicant, said they feel strongly about Plan A because it is the best alternative that meets the code requirements.

“Plan A, we believe provides a better looking plan from Periwinkle. It also provides more landscaping from Plan B,” he said. “If the Planning Commission believes that Plan B is the plan that you want to see, well that is certainly less landscaping for the applicant to provide, so the applicant is happy to live with Plan B if that is what the Planning Commission determines.”

Robert Walsh, of R.S. Walsh Landscaping, said he thinks everyone is in agreement that they want a good buffer in front of the property, including the applicant due to the outside dining.

“What we believe, and what I believe, is that by spacing this buffer out we can provide an even better buffer for that building than doing it like we’ve had to do it. Currently we need the wavier because we are in nonconformance. We are having to push the buffer closer to Periwinkle Way because there is no room to put it in that 50 to 70 (foot) because of the overhead power lines,” Walsh said. “If I’m going south on Periwinkle it opens up the entire corner of that building to visibility. If I scatter those trees out a bit then I will get a lot more buffering when I look into that driveway.”

In Plan A, he said they are asking for more small trees than are required in that area. Walsh said they are offering a lot more room for the trees to grow.

With Plan B, Walsh said more of the building, and the upper space will show while traveling down Periwinkle Way.

In both of the plans, Walsh said they have incorporated a site line to make it easier turning in and out of the property, as well as watching for traffic on the shared use path.

“Your ground cover would be along the bike path and then your secondary plants would maybe be 10 feet off of that,” he said. “Your trees would be sort of in that back half, so that the lower section of that buffer is not the building side, but on the pathway side. (Plan) A works even better because not every small tree has to be in that front 20 feet. Not every shrub has to be in that front 20 feet. It’s scattered over that whole area. As it grows in it will look like George & Wendy’s and Bennett’s.”

The original hearing came before the Planning Commission on May 23 of this year. After a lengthy discussion, the commission approved a motion to continue the hearing to allow the applicant and city to work out some of the insufficiencies and issues identified.

Senior Planner Roy Gibson began the meeting by explaining the four applications that was before the Planning Commission Tuesday, June 27.

Gibson said staff supports the conditional use, development permit and the variance applications only if the landscaping alternative Plan B is the option. In addition, except for landscaping, no development, or site improvements including storage, parking, or any other accessory uses are permitted within 200 feet of the Sanibel River.

The first application was for a variance from the front yard setback to allow the existing restaurant building to be expanded in its use. In other words, Gibson said the variance would allow the restaurant and the outdoor area proposed to extend into that 100 foot setback.

The second, a conditional use application, is to request the existing restaurant to expand to 132 indoor seats, 18 outside bonus seating, with 4,550 square feet of commercial floor area.

A development permit was also requested for site improvements and implementation for changes of the use of the restaurant.

The fourth application was for waivers from specific commercial district standards.

Among the insufficiencies that were highlighted in May dealt with development proposed within 200 feet of the Sanibel River. Gibson said because the property is within the Interior Wetlands Conservation, development is prohibited in that area.

The applicant revised the initial proposal with another plan to remove the area of parking and draining that would have been located within 200 feet of the Sanibel River.

Commissioner Storjohann asked about the landscaping near the Sanibel River because people of Sanibel become incredibly creative when it comes to parking.

“If they see an open spot, they are going to park in it. What, if anything, is being planned to make it clear to people not to park beyond the parking spots to protect the space down to the river,” she asked.

Holly Milbrandt, who is with the city’s Natural Resource Department, said they made a specific recommendation because the applicant revised the application to move four parking spaces out of the Interior Wetlands District.

“We too were concerned that the area might seem open and have a tendency to become an overflow sort of parking area when things were really busy,” she said, adding that they are recommending those areas be planted sufficiently so it would not be confused as parking. “I think the majority of the impact to the Sanibel River will be eliminated with the rear buffer.”

Storjohann proposed that additional measures be taken – possibly stakes with a rope to further state no parking in the area.

Chairman Phillip Marks said they should put fencing and rope in that area for the first couple of years while the new growth of the vegetation becomes well established.