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Council votes on hot topics

By Staff | Dec 9, 2019

TIFFANY REPECKI On behalf of the city and Sanibel City Council, Mayor Kevin Ruane reads a proclamation celebrating the 75th anniversary of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge at the Dec. 3 meeting.

The Sanibel City Council approved a land purchase to expand the senior center facilities, as well as voted on ordinances related to the use of electric bicycles and mopeds on the bike path and the commercial operation of gas-powered leaf blowers, at its recent meeting.

On Dec. 3, the council voted unanimously 5-0 to purchase the Sanibel Captiva Community Bank property at 2475 Library Way for $1.89 million for the purpose of expanding the Center 4 Life/Sanibel Civic Center facilities, at 2401 Library Way. Prior to the vote, the council discussed the proposal.

Councilmember Jason Maughan pointed out that the buy would be at fair market value and it would benefit the tax-paying residents. He added that having a senior center is what makes a community.

“I, for one, approve this purchase,” Maughan said.

Vice Mayor Mick Denham agreed.

“I plan to support this. It’s an important first step – on a journey to provide our citizens with a senior center,” he said, explaining that the aim to upgrade the current facilities has been on the city’s radar for years. “I thought this was an impossible dream. I am so thankful and so proud to be part of the team.”

Councilmember Holly Smith noted the timing of it all.

“We have the right opportunity at the right time. We’re in a very good position to do this at this time. I look forward to seeing this come to fruition,” she said. “And, it’s not an increased tax cost to our citizens which is important to know. It’s a win-win.”

Councilmember Richard Johnson reported he was part of a project years ago to look for options.

“I think they deserve much better than what they own and operate today. I think there is nothing but good that comes out of this,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a long road, but I also think it’s the right direction.”

During the discussion, Mayor Kevin Ruane offered an opinion on how to address the old and new property if the council approved the purchase. He suggested renovating the bank property and adding a second floor to house the facilities, then demolishing the old building to provide adequate parking.

The others on council echoed support for the suggestion.

E-BIKES, MOPEDS ON BIKE PATH

Also at the meeting, the council considered an ordinance that would prohibit the use of motor vehicles, micromobility devices, motorized scooters and mopeds on the bike paths, sidewalks and shared use path. People who are disabled and require a motorized wheelchair, or similar device, would be exempt.

Class I electric-assisted bicycles would be permitted for use by ages 18 and older with a city issued permit, which would require an application and a $20 non-refundable fee. Also, micromobility devices, motorized scooters and e-bikes could not be rented or offered for rent for use on the SUP-sidewalks.

Prior to the council’s discussion, several in attendance spoke during public comment. While a few voiced opposition to allowing e-bikes on the bike path at all, most voiced support for the ordinance in general, only raising issue with establishing a permit program for e-bikes and not allowing rentals.

The council shared its thoughts after hearing from the public.

“I’m not for any type of registration. It doesn’t work,” Ruane said, pointing to the city’s dog license program and adding that rentals also seem to be an issue for the public. “I think the legislation tried to come up with more of addressing motorized scooters. I’m not going to support the ordinance as is.”

Maughan explained that his only issue from the start was he wanted Class I e-bikes permitted and based on the proposed language they are. However, he suggested grandfathering in island businesses like Billy’s Rentals on the rental prohibition to allow them to rent devices without being impacted.

Johnson also voiced support for the ordinance, but not the rental prohibition.

Smith pointed to non-island rental businesses as the concern.

“My main concern is rentals during our season. They do not take the time to adequately understand what the rules of our roads are. I have a real concern for rentals getting out of hand,” she said, adding that it is not island entities. “It’s about all of the other rentals companies coming in from off island.”

Upon hearing from the dais, Denham explained that he and city staff drafted the ordinance at the request of council and the city to tackle an issue and that the ordinance is not personal for him.

“There are certain things I have concerns over, some of them have been mentioned here,” he said.

Denham added that considering the time and effort put into the subject, he did not want to see the ordinance voted down. He suggested amending the ordinance to remove the establishment of a permit process for e-bikes and rental prohibition and proceeding with a vote on the new amended version.

The council voted 5-0 in favor of the amended ordinance.

GAS-POWERED LEAF BLOWERS

Also during the meeting, the council looked at an ordinance that would restrict the commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers to between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, excluding holidays.

“The purpose of this is simply to limit commercial activity within socially reasonable hours,” Maughan, who presented the proposed ordinance, said.

Some of the others on council offered their input.

“I am in support,” Smith said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Johnson agreed.

“I support this legislation today,” he said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Prior to the council’s vote, some in the audience spoke during public comment.

One landscaper suggested reconsidering the start time and allowing the use of blowers on more holidays. He recommended 8 a.m. as a start time and removing Labor Day and Veterans Day.

“Only banks and government employees have those holidays off,” he said. “The rest of us work. This is going to put a burden on us. This is going to take another bite into our profit margin.”

Others felt the proposed ordinance did not go far enough.

“This is a pollution issue, noise and air pollution,” one man said.

Member Maryann Bell spoke on behalf of the Committee of the Islands.

“We were hoping council would consider further restrictions,” she said. “We encourage you to reconsider this issue.”

The council voted 5-0 for the ordinance.

COYOTE POPULATION CULLING

Also at the meeting, Maughan opened the discussion about possibly culling the coyote population on Sanibel and what the next steps might be. He explained that there is a growing number of citizens who are terrified to walk their dogs at night and that the coyotes have become more brazen toward people.

“The current ones’ lack of fear has become disturbing. It’s not natural their attitude toward humans,” Maughan said. “We need to re-instill a fear in them to stay away from human habitation.”

Recently, a dog was reportedly snatched from its yard by a coyote while its owner was present.

“Safety is the first and foremost responsibility that we have,” Ruane said. “I think we need to know what options are available.”

He added that the number of citizen calls in the last 30 days has him concerned.

Some in the audience got up to speak, including the couple whose dog was taken from their yard, voicing concerns about the coyotes and their support for culling. Others, like a representative from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, pointed out that indiscriminate culling does not work.

After further back-and-forth discussion, the council directed staff to speed up the completion of the draft coyote management plan, which was approved earlier this year, for presentation in January. In the meantime, the city will work on distributing educational materials and tips on coyotes to the public.

IN OTHER NEWS

– The council voted 5-0 for an ordinance amending recreation user fees.

– The city rendered a proclamation celebrating the 75th anniversary of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

– The council voted 5-0 to continue the terms of Matthew Kirchner, Chuck Ketteman and Karen Storjohann on the Sanibel Planning Commission.

– The council voted 5-0 to participate in the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee that is being formed by Lee County as a countywide group, rather than create its own separate committee.