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Council says goodbye to members and votes on permits, signs

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Mar 9, 2021

The Sanibel City Council bid farewell to three council members at its recent meeting, as well as considered special events permits and a change to temporary outdoor signage for businesses.

On March 2, Mayor Mick Denham marked his final meeting serving on the council, along with Councilmembers Chauncey Goss and Jerry Muench. Denham did not seek re-election in March, and Goss and Muench were appointed late last year on an interim basis to fill the seats of former Mayor Kevin Ruane and Councilmember Jason Maughan as they ran for office in November’s election.

At the start of the meeting, Vice Mayor Holly Smith, Councilmember Richard Johnson, Goss and Muench each took a few moments to thank Denham for his service to the city and its residents. They spoke of his accomplishments while in office and the words of advice and guidance that he shared.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Sanibel,” Denham said.

He talked about his 16 years of service and explained that his intention for serving was to help build a community where people enjoyed visiting, a place where they would want to stay and buy a home.

“I’ve had some successes and made a few mistakes,” Denham said. “I’ve had a few highs and I’ve had a few lows, but all-in-all I think it’s been a very enjoyable time that I’ve had here.”

He noted that serving on council is not an individual effort, that it is a team effort.

“I have been fortunate that I’ve had great teams to work with — I’ve met some great people, and I’ve worked up here along some great people,” Denham said. “And I thank you for your kind words.”

Afterward, Goss and Muench were recognized for stepping up to serve until the March election.

“It’s been an absolute privilege to serve these last couple of months,” Goss said.

He offered some words of advice for the new incoming council members, including to remember the city’s charter and what the founders aimed for and that they were elected to serve the whole island.

“It was my pleasure to serve,” Muench said. “I am just so pleased to be a part of it.”

He also offered guidance to the election winners — utilize the city’s staffers.

“To understand this job, you’ve got to have a dedicated staff,” Muench said. “We have the most dedicated staff that I’ve ever seen.”

SPECIAL EVENT PERMITS

Also at the meeting, the council considered three special event permits: one from the Children’s Education Center of the Islands to hold a beach clean-up fundraiser on March 27, and two from the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa for an outdoor music event fundraiser on March 23 and March 30.

CECI Board President Nita Stewart explained for the council that the clean-up would serve as a replacement fundraiser for the annual Spring Festival, which cannot take place due to the pandemic. She reported supplies would be picked up at the pre-school, then people would go to the Algiers and Lighthouse beaches to pick up trash with masks and gloves on, while keeping socially distanced.

Stewart continued that organizers are looking at an 8 a.m. start time, with it concluding by noon. Children would exchange trash for a bag of Easter eggs, and there may be an online prize giveaway.

“We have about 30 families at the school,” she said. “We’re desperately in need of fundraising.”

Stewart noted that the big comment they hear is there is no fundraiser to help support the CECI.

“We need a fundraiser for people to support us,” she said of providing an opportunity.

During discussion, council voiced concerns about parking and public beach access because of the holiday and questioned how the event would work as a fundraiser. Stewart said the CECI could use an earlier start time, and she explained that the children would collect pledges like for a walk-a-thon.

After further debate, the council voted 5-0 to approve the permit on the grounds that the fundraiser would be held from 7 to 10 a.m., would not limit parking and safety issues would be addressed.

Also during the meeting, the council reviewed two permit requests from the Sundial. It would be serving as the host for the Sanibel Music Festival’s reimagined annual event for two concerts.

Prior to discussion, City Manager Judie Zimomra reported that staff would recommend capping attendance if approved and pointed out the noise and possible food and drinks. She also suggested that it be noted this is a one-time accommodation by the city, not a new precedent for beach concerts.

During discussion, a Sundial representative reported that the festival organizers had asked for 100 attendees. Council raised concerns about the “almost” beachfront location and environmental impacts, about “opening up” the beaches during a pandemic and about the precedent approving it could set.

It was also noted that other groups have found ways to reimage their annual fundraisers due to the pandemic and that the Sundial has an indoor venue that could be used with safety protocols in place.

The Sundial representative confirmed that its indoor venue is available on the two days.

Before holding a vote, council asked Natural Resources Director Holly Milbrandt to provide input.

She explained that she only had a brief opportunity to review the proposed plans because they were recently submitted, but that she also had some initial concerns — some of which the council cited.

“We do have some concerns about the potential precedent that could be set,” Milbrandt said.

She continued that the Sundial is a lawfully-existing, non-conforming resort property, which means it has a usable area seaward of the Coastal Construction Line, and events have been approved before.

“But this seems to go above and beyond what we have approved there in the past,” Milbrandt said.

She added that the event falls outside of sea turtle nesting season, but inside shorebird season.

After some further discussion, the council voted 5-0 to deny both permits.

TEMPORARY OUTDOOR SIGNAGE

Also at the meeting, Muench raised the topic of sunsetting the city’s temporary permission for emergency ancillary commercial signage, which was approved to help businesses during COVID.

“I just don’t personally think we need to clutter our island anymore with these signs,” he said, referring to the “we’re open” signs set up. “Everybody knows we’re open and I think it looks bad. It’s trashy.”

“Maybe it was fine when it was started. No doubt about it,” Muench continued, noting that the public did not know which businesses were open and which were closed. “But now everybody’s open.”

“Let’s get rid of these signs,” he added. “Let’s show a little normalcy on the island.”

Several on council voiced their agreement.

“I think it was a different time when we relaxed those sign regulations,” Johnson said. “I think, in large part, we are very much beyond that.”

Smith reported that she did not agree at first, but then thought about it.

“I think we are open,” she said.

“And it’s not just the signs. It’s also the distraction,” Smith added. “I think this is also a safety issue. When you’re a distracted driver, accidents can happen.”

During discussion, Zimomra explained that when the city permitted outdoor dining due to the pandemic to allow for additional social distancing, some restaurants installed outdoor lighting as a safety measure to provide for illumination for those customers using the outdoor dining areas.

She offered staff’s recommendation on lighting type and set up to make it uniform.

After some discussion, the council voted 5-0 that all temporary signage be removed by March 8 and that the installation of small clear lights in areas approved for outdoor dining would be allowed.