Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

Resort Redevelopment - Density

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April 23, 2010

What density should be allowed in resort redevelopment ? By Larry Schopp , Board Member Committee of the Islands Last week we reported that the City was addressing the problem of aging resort structures - - condominiums , hotels , and motels that would require major upgrading or replacement , without which they would face issues of safety , functionality , or gradual deterioration . We had pointed out that the problem with redeveloping or replacing these structures is that many of them are non - conforming . They were legally built and entitled to continue until they are eventually removed , but may not be redeveloped at their current density . So owners may be reluctant to redevelop them if they face reduced density . To address this problem , City Council recently sent a guidance document to the Planning Commission . This document sets the parameters for the Commission''s deliberations on redevelopment in the Resort Housing District , the only district on Sanibel where short - term rentals ( 28 days or fewer ) are permitted . We think this approach makes sense . It should help ensure that Council and the Commission are “ on the same page ” and will increase the likelihood that Council will find the Commission''s eventual proposals acceptable . Council''s guidance document covers six elements ; o Density o Lot coverage and impermeable surfaces o Setbacks o Height limits o Green technologies o Relocation of the footprints of existing structures in redevelopment . Determining density Our comments today will focus on the element of density , which , in this context , means the number of dwelling units that may be built on a given parcel of land . Under the Sanibel Plan , that is determined on a parcel - by - parcel basis , based on the ecological zone in which the parcel is located ( with more density being permitted in zones that are less ecologically sensitive ) . Many of the structures in the Resort Housing District were built before the adoption of the Sanibel Plan and contain more units than would now be permitted for new construction . Thus they are classified as non - conforming . City Council has determined that it is in the interest of residents and businesses to : - - Maintain a block of daily and weekly short - term rental units on Sanibel - - Encourage property owners / investors to maintain their hotel / motel use . Sanibel''s economy is tourist driven , and short - term rentals are a vital contributor to that economy . As much as we might like to see fewer cars on the road and fewer beachfront structures , we believe it is reasonable today to focus on limiting further density increases , rather than attempting to turn back the clock by reducing density . This is especially the case when to do so would come at the price of substantially burdening the economic health of our community . Council has devised an approach , which we think has merit , regarding the redevelopment of hotels , motels and resort condominiums that exceed today''s density limits . It would permit these structures to be redeveloped at their current density with the following restrictions : - - Redevelopment could not exceed existing square - footage of habitable area , so that a small motel , for example , could not be replaced by a much larger one . - - Short - term occupancy ( rentals for 28 days or less ) would have to be maintained . Conversion to other forms of occupancy , such as residential , while permissible , would have to be at today''s density limits . Short - term rentals incentivized This approach incentivizes the owners of such structures to keep their short - term rental status by allowing them to redevelop without losing their present density ; they would lose that density protection if they converted the structures to residences that permitted only long - term rentals , or no rentals at all . Even given such incentives , it''s difficult to predict how many short - term rental units would be retained if this plan were adopted . But we think Council made the right choice . No one would benefit if Sanibel''s resort structures became substandard . And the outright prohibition of conversion to traditional residential use would not appear to be a realistic option . Actually , if the City attempted to prevent conversion to residential use , resort owners might then have legal claims against the city under the Bert Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act . That''s the state law which subjects local governments to claims for damages for “ inordinately ” burdening an existing use of real property . “ Existing use ” is defined to include “ reasonably foreseeable ” as well current uses . Since owners of properties in the Resort Housing District are not now restricted from converting to residential use , imposing such a restriction might be considered grounds for damages in a lawsuit . Referendum not required There is one final point . Some hold that the City Charter would require a referendum to permit non - conforming structures to be replaced at their current density . But a referendum is not required for reasons of density alone . Council is specifically granted that authority under City Charter Section 3.10.2 .

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