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City council readdresses rentals, more

By Staff | May 18, 2020

The Sanibel City Council approved lifting restrictions on accommodations, extending parking restrictions through the end of the month and increasing parking fees at a recent meeting.

During an emergency meeting on May 12, the council voted 5-0 to allow its rental ban to expire effective May 16. In its place, public lodging establishments – hotels, motels and timeshare projects – can operate at up to 50 percent occupancy and cannot accept reservations from COVID-19 “hot spot” areas, like Louisiana, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

In addition, public lodging establishments are strongly encouraged to follow business reopening guidelines created and set forth by the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce.

The council also voted 5-0 to allow vacation rentals – as defined by Florida Statutes and including unlimited and limited ones – to accept reservations for stays of at least 30 days starting May 16.

“It’s time we start to open the door a little bit,” Councilmember Holly Smith said.

She suggested opening at 25 percent through Memorial Day, then revisiting the subject.

“I’m concerned about stepping in too quickly,” Smith said.

Councilmember Jason Maughan echoed agreement, pointing out that the chamber’s new business reopening guidelines should be included. He suggested going to 50 percent after the holiday.

“We need to get on plane,” Maughan said. “But we need to idle along first.”

Both Mayor Kevin Ruane and Councilmember Richard Johnson voiced opposition to a 25 percent occupancy, explaining that businesses cannot operate at that level and it would provide no help.

“I think you’re in a tough position at 25 percent,” Ruane said.

Both advocated for 50 percent, which was put forth in the approved motion.

On the topic of vacation rentals – “mom and pop” rentals – the council discussed bringing the city’s restrictions in line with the governor’s order by changing the six-month booking requirement to a one-month requirement. During discussion, most on council voiced support for it and the motion passed.

Also at the meeting, the council voted 4-1 to extend the restrictions on the city-owned, paid beach parking lots through May, letting them expire on June 1. Ruane cast the only dissenting vote.

At the start of the discussion, Ruane made a motion to open the parking. It was not seconded.

Ruane pointed out that the city is currently in the process of asking for funding from Lee County for various public beach improvements, yet the city is refusing to open beach parking for the public.

He added that the extra parking revenue would help offset the city’s shortfalls due to COVID-19.

A second motion was made to extend the restrictions a bit longer before reopening.

“I can’t think of a good reason to not go with the motion as presented,” Maughan said.

Smith voiced agreement.

“I’m just concerned with the shutdowns still on the east coast,” she said, explaining that she is also concerned with some of the beaches south of the islands that are being reclosed after reopening.

Also during the meeting, Police Chief Bill Dalton explained that people are parking illegally and accepting their fine as a “parking fee” due to the lack of beach parking and lot closures. He suggested that the council raise the city’s parking fines from $50 to $200 to deter intentional illegal parking.

The motion was approved 5-0, with the new fines going into effect on May 16.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed whether to require the wearing of protective face masks by employees of businesses. Some wanted it mandatory for retail, restaurants and accommodations.

“I think it would be in everyone’s best interest to have employees wear masks,” Smith said. “That’s a strong message that we are trying to show, that we are working hard to be a safe community.”

Others on council raised concern over how it would enforce mandatory masks.

A motion was made to “strongly encourage” the wearing of masks in establishments or when one cannot properly socially distance. It passed 4-1, with Smith casting the only dissenting vote.

On May 12, Ruane also extended the declared state of emergency until May 19.

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ORIGINAL (May 13, 2020):

The Sanibel City Council took the following actions at its emergency meeting on May 12:

– Permitted new rentals at hotels, motels and timeshares, limited to 50 percent occupancy and no reservations from “hot spots”

– Permitted 30-day minimum stays at “vacation rentals” (as defined by Florida Statute)

– City-owned paid beach parking lots to open on June 1

– Strongly encouraged the wearing of face masks by all employees of public accommodations and members of the public when they cannot properly socially distance

– Raised parking fines from $50 to $200

In addition, Mayor Kevin Ruane extended on May 12 the city’s declared state of emergency – originally declared in response to COVID-19 – until May 19, unless further extended.

A full story on the meeting with further details is forthcoming.