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Two boat docks, lifts approved

By Staff | Feb 3, 2020

The Sanibel Planning Commission approved the requested variances on two separate applications related to a boat dock and a boat lift at each of the homes during its recent monthly meeting.

On Jan. 28, the commissioners considered variances to the city’s Land Development Code that would allow for the construction of a new dock with a lift extending waterward further than the maximum permitted waterward extension limit and for varying from a deck planking spacing requirement for the dock for a single-family residence at 1203 Isabel Drive, owned by Christopher and Lisa Heidrick.

In addition, it considered a variance to the city’s Land Development Code that would allow for the addition of a boat lift, in conjunction with the reconstruction of an existing dock, to extend waterward farther than the maximum permitted waterward extension limit for a single-family residence at 2510 Harbour Lane, owned by Brian and Alison Murphy.

After hours of discussion about the Heidrick application, which included a report from city staff and about a dozen public comments from neighbors and others, the commission voted 4-3 to approve. Vice Chair Roger Grogman and Commissioners Karen Storjohann, Paul Nichols and Michael Hullihan voted for it, while Chair Chuck Ketteman and Commissioners Eric Pfeifer and Matthew Kirchner dissented.

Before the discussion and vote, city Planner Craig Chandler provided an overview of the proposed project and requested variances, along with staff’s findings. He reported that staff found the applicant had satisfied the seven variance standards required and recommended seven conditions if approved.

At the commission’s request, Natural Resources Deputy Director Holly Milbrandt spoke on the proposed new dock and lift’s impact to seagrass at the site. She explained that there is a “healthy bed of seagrass,” which contains three species of seagrass, and the requested variances recognize that.

“We found this proposed design minimizes the impact to the seagrass,” she said.

Milbrandt continued that the design does not eliminate all impacts, however, it contains features to help reduce the impacts like open cell deck planking for the walkway to allow more light to pass through.

Attorney Steven Hartsell, who represented the Heidricks and filed the application, spoke about the project on his client’s behalf, along with engineer Hans Wilson, of Hans Wilson & Associates.

“When we have a seagrass area as healthy as this one, the question becomes, ‘What can I do on a regulatory side to be able to achieve the navigational access but still protect the resources?'” Wilson said, adding that the conclusion was to seek a variance to extend the dock to protect the seagrass.

He added that the walkway was narrowed and the requested boat lifts was reduced to one.

“We put together the features of the design that would address the seagrass impacts and minimize the variance degree,” Wilson said. “But was achievable for the applicant to get boating access.”

Attorney Beverly Grady, who represented two couples in the neighborhood, spoke out against the proposed project, along with Paula McMichael, director of planning for the firm Hole Montes.

Grady argued the project does not meet the seven variances and touched on the seagrass.

“The fact that there are seagrass present is not a reason to build over it – it is a reason to deny,” she said. “We would encourage you to protect those seagrasses – the applicant has no right to a variance.”

Of the approximately dozen who spoke during public comment, all signaled their opposition to the project. They voiced concerns over boat navigability within the channel, obstruction of view due to the new dock and lift, negative impacts to seagrass and inconsistency with the neighborhood’s scheme.

During the commission’s following discussion, some on the dais echoed the issues raised, while most acknowledged it was a “difficult and challenging application.” Prior to the passing vote, applicant Christopher Heidrick explained that he was trying to use his home as fully as possible without impact.

“This was the best we could do,” he said of the proposed design.

Also at the meeting, the commission voted unanimously 7-0 to approve the boat lift with the reconstructed boat dock for the Murphys’ home. Prior to the vote, city Planner Josh Ooyman gave an overview of the project and explained that staff recommended nine conditions with approval.

He noted that there had been zero public comment related to the application.