Planning commission supports variance for Lighthouse Way residence
The Sanibel Planning Commission approved a variance to the land development code for a home on Lighthouse Way during its recent meeting, which began with one of the commissioners resigning.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of the variance, which allows for improvements to the single-family residence at 568 Lighthouse Way. At issue was the house’s location and where the work would occur – in the Beach Bay zone, less than 50 feet from the hard water line of San Carlos Bay.
At the start of the Jan. 23 meeting, however, the dais was informed that Commissioner John Talmage had just submitted his resignation. After missing the meeting on Jan. 9, Talmage was again absent.
“I hate doing this, but I have to resign,” Talmage wrote in an email to the city. “My responsibility downtown makes Tuesdays too difficult and, while my love is Sanibel, my job is Fort Myers.”
Commissioner and Vice Chair Dirk deWerff noted that Talmage had expressed to them that his responsibilities had increased at work and he was missing meetings as a result of his duties.
“It makes it very difficult to be an effective planning commissioner if you can’t be here,” he said.
Talmage currently serves as the chief of staff for the city manager of Fort Myers.
“I just have too many conflicts,” he said in a phone interview.
Talmage noted that he had to miss both meetings in January and would have to miss the next one.
“It’s just not fair to the city and the community,” he said.
The majority of the meeting focused on the variance for the Lighthouse Way home.
Roy Gibson, acting director of the Sanibel Planning Department, explained that the residence was constructed prior to the city’s incorporation and development of the land development code. The home encroaches upon the Bay Beach zone, which is a preservation zone and prohibits any development.
“It partially encroaches within the Bay Beach zone,” he said.
The owners of the property, Craig and Susan Scott, needed the variance in order to replace the existing roof with a higher and steeper pitched one and to enclose an existing porch in the Bay Beach zone.
Gibson noted that no change is proposed to the existing footprint of the portion in the zone.
The site plan also includes relocating the existing driveway, adding a new mechanical platform, expanding the front entry, and removing and replacing the gravel in the yard areas surrounding the home with landscaping. The landscape plan will bring the property into “full compliance” with the current vegetation standards, which calls for 75 percent native in trees, shrubs and groundcovers.
“If it were not for the encroachment the application would not be before the planning commission,” Gibson said.
City staff recommended several conditions for the site if the commission granted the variance, including that the improvements be in “substantial conformance” with the site plan, that all applicable permits must be obtained and that the improvements not constitute a “substantial improvement.”
They also suggested that the final landscape plans be reviewed and approved by the city’s Natural Resources Department and that all exotic species of plants that displace natives be removed.
Holly Milbrandt, with the Natural Resources Department, spoke before the commission. She said the department recommended the elimination of sod within the Bay Beach zone and elsewhere “to comply with our fertilizer ordinances” and the removal of a large open area of shell or gravel on the property.
“Our recommendation is that that be reduced,” Milbrandt said.
Attorney Steven Hartsell, with the Pavese Law Firm, spoke on behalf of his clients.
“What the Scotts have inherited, so to speak, is this existing condition in a home that needs to be improved, frankly, to bring it into character with the rest of the neighborhood,” he said.
Hartsell described the site plans as in sync with the neighborhood.
“The other homes in the neighborhood are all two-story homes,” he said. “This one is sort of out of character right now.”
Hartsell noted that the variance does not increase the existing non-conformity of the home.
“At the end of the day, there will be the same residential use,” he said.
Hartsell added that the Smiths’ neighbors drafted a letter in support of the variance.
Prior to the 6-0 vote, the dais asked some questions and offered its opinions.
Commissioner Karen Storjohann asked about the existing seawall.
“Seawalls are not a permitted structure in the Bay Beach zone,” Gibson said, adding that existing seawalls are exempt. “They are allowed to maintain that non-conformance, but not change it.”
Commissioner Chuck Ketteman questioned docks, or the current lack of one.
Gibson explained that only the existing docks in the zone are grandfathered in. Because the residence does not currently have a dock, the Smiths are not permitted to build a new dock on the property.
Others on the commission praised the effort of the owners.
“It’s obvious a great deal of thought has gone into this,” Commissioner Richard Johnson said, referencing the work and planning put in with city staffers to make sure everything was done right.
He explained that the “derelict” property most recently had been used for storage.
“I think this is a significant change in a positive direction,” Johnson said. “I think if ever there was an appropriate application for the variance, this is it.”
Commissioner and Chair Philip Marks agreed.
“Within a year, we’re going to have a very nice addition to that neighborhood,” he said, calling the plans for the “worn out” structure an improvement to the community.
Marks added that he hopes it encourages others to “rescue” similar old homes on the island.
“I think we’re going to see more of this because we’re running out of land,” he said.
At the meeting, Gibson also provided an update on the department’s priorities.
“This is a new updated draft, an updated working draft,” he said.
The new top priorities are: sign standards, mitigation standards/measures for base flood elevation and guided tour operations. Gibson added that an ongoing priority is upgrading the permitting software.
“Closed permits and active permits will be available,” he said. “The public will have access to these through the Internet, the web.”
The commission briefly discussed revisiting the “completed” priority of vegetation buffers.
“Some of the applications that have come before us have raised concerns that maybe we need to review that,” deWerff said.
Also at the meeting, the following planning subcommittee chairs were elected:
– Capital Improvement Review: Commissioner Chuck Ketteman as chair (incumbent)
– Below Market Rate Housing Review: Commissioner Roger Grogman as chair and Commissioner Karen Storjohann as vice chair
– Land Development Code Review: Commissioner Dirk deWerff as chair (incumbent) and Commissioner Chuck Ketteman as vice chair
– Permitting Process Review: Commissioner Karen Storjohann as chair (incumbent) and Commissioner Richard Johnson as vice chair
The next meeting of the Sanibel Planning Commission is Feb. 13.
The city is accepting applications to fill the seat left vacant by Talmage. It would be a partial term appointment, with an expiration date of Jan. 9, 2020. The deadline to apply is Feb. 14 at noon.
To apply online, visit mysanibel.granicus.com/boards/w/c13ae24878f51e92.
For more information, call the City Manager’s Office at 239-472-3700.