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City council takes action on rentals, more

By Staff | Jun 9, 2020

At its recent monthly meeting, the Sanibel City Council voted on several measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including rentals, city parking and the Sanibel Recreation Center.

On June 2, the council voted 4-0 to adopt Lee County’s updated vacation rental standards for both vacation rentals and accommodations, like hotels, motels and timeshares. In addition, it approved the amended guidelines with additional restrictions on “high-risk guests,” including that reservations made prior to an area being designated as high-risk as identified by the governor must be for periods longer than the quarantine period established and that those guests must adhere to quarantine restrictions.

It also voted 4-0 to remove the occupancy restrictions for hotels, motels and timeshares.

“That puts consistency on our island,” Councilmember Holly Smith said during discussion on the subject, explaining that it will apply the same rules and standards to both categories of rentals.

Also during the meeting, the council voted 4-0 to lift the COVID-19 related restrictions at city owned and operated parking lots. In particular, the action opens parking to non-A parking sticker holders.

The council also tackled the subject of reopening the Sanibel Recreation Center. Prior to discussion, City Manager Judie Zimomra reported that the city was approved as a CARES Act provider for federal funds for childcare service. She also presented a two-phase plan from staff for reopening the center.

“This would be a reduced program,” Zimomra said of the proposal.

During discussion, the council debated whether to reopen it sooner or later, with the main point of contention being how the city would cover the costs of reopening it in June rather than July as previously planned. Mayor Kevin Ruane offered to work with staff to find the needed funds to open sooner.

“I’d be willing to find the $40K,” he said of examining the city budget to accommodate a mid-June date. “We need to do everything we can to facilitate this reopening in the least costly manner.”

After further discussion, the council voted 4-0 to approve the phase one plan for reopening the recreation center on June 15, with an amendment to also approve the sale of beach parking permits. On-site registration for Sanibel families interested in the youth summer program began June 8.

Under the two-phase plan, some amenities at the center will also reopen to the public on June 15, including the pool for laps, tennis courts and weight room. There will be no workout classes or personal training, no “open swim” at the pool, and the slide, locker rooms and such will be closed.

The center will also not be open on the weekends.

“This plan does not open us up the way we were (before),” Zimomra said.

Also at the meeting, the council voted 4-0 to temporarily prohibit the possession and consumption of alcohol from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at city operated beaches and associated parks and picnic areas with paid public parking, including Bowman’s Beach, Blind Pass, Gulfside City Park (Algiers), Lighthouse Beach and Fishing Pier, and Trost Parking Lot, through Labor Day. As part of the motion, it included the beach area at the northern terminus of Bailey Beach Road and the picnic areas at the boat ramp.

The council also set the fine at $500 for those found in violation.

The prohibition does not apply when there is a special events permit issued.

Prior to the discussion, Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton spoke before council, requesting the change in light of COVID-19 and recent events. Several on the council voiced support for the proposed ban for the interim, pointing to the current heightened environment and concern for police safety.

“It’s the wrong ingredients for what is going on,” Ruane said of continuing to allow alcohol.

Councilmember Richard Johnson noted that the prohibition could serve as a pilot program for the city to see what works and what does not work if the council considers permanent changes in the future.

“I can support and get behind this,” he said.

Also during the meeting, the council voted 4-0 to temporarily permit the outdoor display of retail merchandise through Labor Day. It also voted 4-0 to lift the temporary restrictions on issuing special event permits for weddings.

IN OTHER NEWS

– The council voted 4-0 on two resolutions proposed in response to COVID-19. One budget amendment reduced the budget by about $3.55 million in anticipation of negative effects to revenue sources, and the second adjusted the FY2020 budgeted fund balances to agree with FY2019.

“This is kind of our first initial pass to reacting to the financial situation and the economics behind it,” Financial Director Steve Chaipel explained to the council prior to its discussion and vote.

– The city council voted 4-0 to approve the issuance of a not-to-exceed $15.1 million capital improvement revenue note with Sterling National Bank for financing the construction and acquisition of projects, specifically the Donax facility improvements and the new senior center property.