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Village volunteers learn about history of the Sanibel Plan

By Staff | Dec 18, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED At its monthly Volunteer Updates, Sanibel Historical Museum and Village volunteers heard from guest speaker Barbara Freeman, who spoke about working for the firm that crafted the Sanibel Plan.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village volunteer Barbara Freeman recently spoke to a group of the village’s volunteers about her experiences working for the firm that crafted the Sanibel Plan.

“I was with Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd while the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan was in the works,” she said.

Freeman talked about the people behind the plan, as well as an overview of it.

“People don’t talk about the Sanibel Plan because they don’t know much about it,” she said.

The firm she worked for from 1972 to 1977 was renowned throughout the United States and consisted of urban and ecological planners, landscape architects and architects. It took an interdisciplinary approach to the Sanibel Plan, as well as to other projects, including master plans for Hilton Head and Amelia islands and The Woodlands in Texas. Freeman noted that she had never heard of Sanibel before WMRT began working on the plan.

The firm occupied three floors of a downtown Philadelphia office building, and Freeman was the assistant to the four managing partners.

“I got to spend a lot of time with some very interesting people, and I’m still grateful for that,” she said.

The firm’s mission was “to design with nature” an approach to environmentally-sound design developed by Ian McHarg, who was known as the “father of modern ecology.”

“For their initial presentation, Dave Wallace, Ian McHarg and Bill Roberts packed their briefcases full of papers and tubes full of plans – this was before the digital age – and headed to Sanibel. They met with the town fathers and gave what they called their ‘dog and pony’ show,” she said. “They must have been convincing, because they were hired.”

The firm’s experts in various disciplines examined all aspects of the island, from animal life to social culture. They created detailed descriptions and hand-colored maps and drafted the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

“It was a very intense process that seemed to go on for a long time,” Freeman said. “Everyone in the firm was involved in one way or another. It was a big deal, and they cared very deeply about it. The partners met with politicians, committees and the public, and they attended hearings. When they came back from trips, they dropped little piles of gorgeous seashells on my desk.”

When she first came to Sanibel in 1983, Freeman was struck by the contrast between Sanibel and the other parts of Florida she had visited.

“I was impressed with the restrictions on height, density and, especially, the regulations about buffer zones and native plants. People who spend time here get used to the way Sanibel is, but when you see it for the first time, it’s extraordinary,” she said. “We are so lucky to live here.”

The final Sanibel Plan was approved in 1976, and it was amended five times – 1985, 1989, 1997, 2007 and 2013. It consists of two volumes with a comprehensive table of contents. Volume One is 257 pages of mostly text; Volume Two is 126 pages and consists almost entirely of maps with the island divided into 36 segments, such as ecological, commercial, wetlands residential housing and such.

“I thought it was fitting that the first prologue to the plan is an excerpt from ‘Gift from the Sea,’ by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,” Freeman said. “That is something very special and unique to Sanibel. They knew they wanted it to be a sanctuary island.”

To view the plan, visit www.mysanibel.com and click the “Departments” tab, then choose “Planning and Code Enforcement.”

Called Volunteer Updates, the historical village routinely hosts speaker programs for its volunteers. They are held on the first Monday of each month. The following programs are planned:

– Jan. 7: Teresa Schober on the Calusa

– Feb. 4 : Ralph and Jean Woodring

– March 4: Mariel Goss on the formation of the shared-use paths

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

Free guided tours are at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., based upon docent availability.

Admission costs $10 for ages 18 and older; children and members are free.

For information, call 239-472-4648 or visit online at www.sanibelmuseum.org.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road.