Sanibel And The Grand Canyon By Mike Gillespie , Vice President Committee of the Islands When Teddy Roosevelt first gazed upon the Grand Canyon , an aide reportedly said to him , “ What shall we do with it , Mr . President ? TR’s reply : “ Nothing . It can’t be improved upon . ” The ultimate Rough Rider may not have started the conservation movement , but he certainly moved it up a few notches on the national agenda . And his Grand Canyon comment - - apocryphal or not - - might be viewed today as a sort of baseline against which the ongoing tension between conservation and development can be measured . In a pristine world , Teddy’s comment might once have been uttered about Sanibel . But unlike the canyon , people don’t come here just to gaze . They tend to stay and live here - - a good thing , we think , else we would not be residing on this island that we have all grown to love . When it comes to much of our island , however , it can’t really be improved upon , which is why the Sanibel ethos reflects a determination to preserve that which remains pristine and undeveloped . The Greater Challenge The greater challenge , perhaps , is allowing for the kind of development that we judge as either necessary or desirable , without unduly encroaching upon the unique beauty , harmony , and environmental quality of the natural world that envelops us here . This is a difficult balancing act that we on Sanibel have been engaged in for decades . And , although not every decision made along the way in this effort has met with instant and universal approval , it is hard to argue with the results to date . These can perhaps best be summed up by observing the degree to which we have succeeded in abiding by these words from the Sanibel Vision Statement : “ The City of Sanibel chooses to remain unique through a development pattern which reflects the predominance of natural conditions and characteristics over human intrusions . All forms of development and redevelopment will preserve the community''s unique small town identity . ”And how well have we measured up to this standard ? The evidence , I think , is clear and abundant . Consider that the predominance of those “ natural conditions and characteristics ” meets and delights the senses and nourishes the spirit of all who visit and live on this incomparable island - - just as we daily experience the fruits of having accommodated those “ human intrusions ” in a way that preserves the small town character of our community . None of this has happened by accident . And none of it will survive by indifference . The 1974 incorporation and early development of Sanibel as an independently governed city within Lee County led to the Sanibel Plan , a model of environmentally sensitive development that has gained international acclaim . And over the years , all those who are dedicated to that plan , and to the vision statement , have built upon each others ’ efforts to protect this island while meeting the challenges of a growing and prosperous community . Milestones Along The Way Is there specific evidence of this success “ on the ground ? ” We need only look at the significant milestones along the way . Here are just a few of the more recent ones : - - The bridge . It was literally decades ago that Lee County first proposed replacing the Sanibel drawbridge and causeway islands with an enormous , single span bridge that would have leapt from the mainland to Sanibel in one great arc . After years of vigorous debate , fierce opposition , a lawsuit , and endless attempts at resolution , the drawbridge was replaced , but we have retained most of the low profile bridge and the islands forming the causeway that brings us so gently onto Sanibel . - - Pond Apple Park . Developers had planned to install a huge commercial and resort complex at the intersection of Periwinkle Way and Bailey Road . Most islanders were appalled at the prospect of such a high - density development set literally at the entrance to our island ; we were looking for ways to ease traffic congestion , not multiply it exponentially . Again , individuals , groups , and key members of the City government rose to oppose the development . The plan was eventually abandoned , as the City purchased the commercially zoned parcel of the site and preserved the undeveloped land as Pond Apple Park . - - The Charter Amendments . In 2004 , a group of residents , including members of the Committee of the Islands , met to draft what have come to be known as the Charter Amendments . Their plan was to enshrine in the City Charter - - which cannot be changed without voter approval - - some of the basic land use regulations that make Sanibel unique . These included not only limitations on building height and residential developmentintensity , but also provisions to increase the independence of the Planning Commission . These amendments were approved by the voters in the March 2005 election . Protecting Against Encroachments As we mentioned above , none of this happens by accident ; none of it survives by indifference . The Committee of the Islands has long fought to preserve Sanibel against such encroachments . Not only , for example , was it instrumental in drafting the Charter Amendments , but it also appropriately dubbed them “ The Peoples Choice Amendments ” and pursued the campaign — funded by our members ’ donations - - that put them on the ballot and led to their approval by the voters . As we draw our attention back to the vision statement , we see that it further describes Sanibel as … “ … a barrier island sanctuary , one on which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island''s wildlife and natural habitats . The Sanibel community must be vigilant in the protection and enhancement of its sanctuary characteristics . ” Can Sanibel be improved upon ? Maybe . But maybe , too , the best way to do that is to “ be vigilant ” … . and to keep improving upon our own efforts to protect this island’s uniqueness . Teddy Roosevelt would approve . Note : Committee of the Islands invites you to email your comments to us at coti @ coti.org . You can find other commentaries on island issues at our website : coti.org .