Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

Resort Redevelopment - Coverage, height, setbacks

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April 23, 2010

Aging resorts face issues of height , lot coverage , setbacks - - and more By Larry Schopp , Board Member Committee of the Islands As we said in our commentary last week , improving or replacing aging resort structures - - condominiums , hotels and motels - - is often a problem . Reason : Many were built before current building codes and are nonconforming . This means they could not , in many cases , be redeveloped without violating current density limits - - or other restrictions . Last week we discussed ways in which City Council and the Planning Commission are working on plans to enable such structures to be improved without losing their current density . The City feels , and the Committee of the Islands agrees , that such efforts would incentivize improvements and keep a significant portion of our resorts in the category of short - term rentals . These rentals are considered an essential building block in Sanibel’s economy . City Council has made it clear that , other than accommodating for density , it will require that any other non - conforming aspects must be corrected before redevelopment may take place . We think this is the right approach and applaud Council’s action . Here are the other nonconformance issues that will have to be addressed : Lot Coverage , Impermeable Surfaces , and Developed Area In order to prevent the run - off of polluted storm water into surrounding surface waters - - and to maintain some native vegetation for wildlife habitat - - the City limits the extent to which a building lot may be cleared of vegetation and covered with impermeable surfaces . The term “ impermeable ” refers to surfaces such as paving , or buildings themselves , that prevent the absorption of surface water . The limits vary by environmental zone . In the resort housing district , typically only 25 % of the lot may be covered with impermeable surfaces . Any coverage that exceeding that limit is considered nonconforming . Council has directed that current limits on impermeable surfaces not be changed . We agree . The City also has a limit on total developed area , which includes not only the impermeable areas but also such permeable improvements like shell or gravel driveways . The limit on total developed area is 30 % of the entire lot . While it might be possible for a property owner to obtain a variance to increase impermeable or developed areas , such variances are not lightly granted . So , whether and to what extent this will prove to be a practical approach for owners of nonconforming structures is unclear at this time . Though it will be challenging given the strict rules governing variances , we believe the Planning Commission should seek ways to eliminate nonconformities on a case - by - case basis and consider changes in the law only as a last resort . Height Limits The Sanibel Plan sets the height limit of buildings at three stories above base flood elevation . The Land Development Code has implemented the Plan by limiting the height of multiple dwellings to 45 feet above base flood elevation - - enough to accommodate three stories . The Council’s guidance document on resort redevelopment , which it has provided to the Planning Commission , states that the Sanibel Plan height limit may not be exceeded during such redevelopment . There are a number of older structures in the Resort Housing District which have four habitable stories . Under the City’s post - disaster buildback ordinance , they may be replaced if they are destroyed in a natural disaster , like a hurricane . But in a planned redevelopment scenario - - one not related to a natural disaster - - Council has said they could be upgraded or modernized , but not redeveloped at the same height . As we pointed out in an earlier commentary , post - disaster buildback and planned redevelopment present very different public policy imperatives and should be treated differently . Planned redevelopment is a voluntary process with no urgency or sudden loss of property . It is usually motivated by the hope of economic gain or improvement . When a building is destroyed in a disaster , the alternatives are stark - - to rebuild or suffer a loss . Loss of property is never an attractive alternative . We think Council made the correct decision on height limits . Setbacks Setbacks define areas around buildings which may not be developed . In addition to the customary distances from roadways and neighboring structures , Sanibel has a setback known as the 1974 Coastal Construction Control Line ( CCCL ) . It helps reduce threats to public safety from storms and the beach environment by encroachment . The area forward of this line , which comprises the Gulf Beach Zone , is off - limits to development . Structures which were built forward of the CCCL are nonconforming . Council has said that all setbacks in the Land Development Code , including the CCCL , are to be maintained during redevelopment . That means that , unlike the case of post - disaster buildback , structures forward of the CCCL may not be redeveloped , though they could be upgraded or modernized . We think Council made the right decision here as well . Protection of human life and the fragile beach environment are good reasons that the Gulf Beach Zone remain off - limits to redevelopment . Green technologies There is an emerging field of construction , called green technology , which aims to conserve limited resources and minimize environmental degradation . Council has encouraged the use of green technologies in its guidance document . We agree but do not believe the use of those technologies should entitle developers to concessions under existing regulations such as lot coverage . We hope green technologies will be implemented because they make good sense . Conclusion We believe Council has taken the right approach , both by providing clear guidance to the Planning Commission and in its broad adherence to the principles of the Sanibel Plan in the guidance document . While it is true that redevelopment to current density goes beyond the founders ’ vision and the Plan , without that step meaningful redevelopment in the Resort Housing District could not occur , and an important element of the City’s economy might be jeopardized . As we had mentioned earlier , the issue of resort redevelopment is currently before the Planning Commission . Meeting times are announced in the press and on the City’s website . We encourage you to participate and provide your input . The Committee of the Islands also welcomes your input . You can provide it via our website at or email us at coti @ .

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