Planning commission gives green light to BIG ARTS
The Sanibel Planning Commission supported a proposal to redevelop the BIG ARTS complex.
At its Feb. 26 meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously 7-0 to approve a conditional use permit, development permit and certificate of appropriateness for the Barrier Island Groups for the Arts to demolish its existing buildings on the leased property and construct a new 30,865-square-foot building that will include a 410-seat assembly and performance hall, galleries, classrooms, meeting rooms and administrative offices, along with new landscape, patios, decks and walks, and reconfigured parking.
Ahmad R. Kareh submitted the applications for the complex, at 900 Dunlop Road.
In its report, city staff recommended 14 conditions if the commission moved for approval.
“Approval of the proposal will allow BIG ARTS to continue its mission to provide the community with cultural and educational opportunities and provide an improved and functionally updated building and campus site that will continue to serve and host a myriad of cultural and educational events, performances, art shows and displays, educational programs in the arts and public meetings for residents and visitors, along with the necessary administrative, storage and ancillary facilities associated with those uses,” staff wrote.
Roy Gibson, with the Community Services Department, explained that BIG ARTS is not proposing a change of use nor change in intensity of use. The project came before the commission because the existing buildings approved for use are being removed and replaced. The footprint will stay the same.
Gibson reported that construction is expected to begin in April and run to January.
Prior to voting, some commissioners raised questions about parking during construction. Another concern was birds flying into the large windows of the new one- and two-story mixed complex.
“We are being very careful in our planning for next year,” BIG ARTS Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder said of next season’s events and ensuring that parking during construction is not an issue.
Architect Amy Nowacki explained that she is familiar with reports and studies on birds and glass buildings. She said the windows are slightly tinted and vegetation that serves as a food source for birds will not be planted close to the building. Nowacki added that there are further options, like decals.
“It seems like a huge improvement on what’s looking a little tired now,” Commissioner Paul Nichols said of the proposed plans.
Don Rice and Susan Heisler, co-chairs of the BIG ARTS Board of Directors, commented on the unanimous approval by the commissioners following the meeting.
“We are thrilled to have the enthusiastic support of the planning commission members and, most importantly, we are grateful to the diligent city staff who worked hand and glove with our BIG ARTS team to dot every T and cross every I,” they said. “The new BIG ARTS, built on the same sacred footprint, will continue to be a place that is familiar, warm and welcoming and honors the original founders’ dream – a dream now 40 years old and going strong. The board of directors is passionately committed to making sure BIG ARTS is here for the Sanibel-Captiva community for the next 40 years.”
Also at its meeting, the commission voted 7-0 to approve a development permit to construct a new single-family home at 1639 Serenity Lane with a screen-enclosed swimming pool and screen-enclosed tennis court on an existing vacant parcel of land in the Gumbo Limbo subdivision. The application was submitted by GH3 Holdings on behalf of the property owner, Ryan Martinson.
Gibson reported that staff found the home blended into the rhythm, harmony and character of the neighborhood and recommended 13 conditions if the commission moved for an approval.
He noted that it would be the first residential tennis court in Gumbo Limbo.
“There are also other neighborhoods that have private tennis courts,” Gibson continued. “This would not be the first nor is it something that is contrary to the zoning.”
During public comment, neighbors expressed both support and opposition to the project.
William Goodman, president of the homeowners association, explained that the installation of a tennis court would be no more of a nuisance than residents having swimming pools in their backyards.
“There’s noise. It’s life, life happens,” he said, noting that the HOA board unanimously approved the plan and felt it complied with its bylaws. “We believe Mr. Martinson will make a good neighbor.”
“Gumbo Limbo is a neighborhood with much diversity,” Goodman added.
Commissioner Eric Pfeifer pointed out that the dais is voting on two things if the tennis court is a permitted accessory use and if the plan complies with the city’s Code which staffers found both did.
“Those are the two items we need to focus on here,” he said.
The project will come back before the commission for a last hearing.