As published in the Island Sun and Island Reporter , December 14 , 2012 When the Small becomes Big : Incremental Change on Sanibel by Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands What keeps Sanibel special is control of change . When Sanibel’s founding mothers and fathers created the renowned Sanibel Plan , they did so knowing that the island would change , because at that time ( the developed . How would it be developed ? High rises ? Or mid ? 1970s ) many acres of land could still be not ? Low density , without high ? rises , is what our founders decided upon . The Sanibel Plan embodies the view that development should be carried out in a way that provides maximum protection to environmentally sensitive areas like mangroves and wetlands while allowing for a greater human imprint on less sensitive areas like upland ridges . That philosophy remains at the heart of the Sanibel Plan today and is implemented by regulations in the Land Development code In the past decade , Sanibel has been approaching “ build ? out , ” the point where all developable land has been developed . The focus has shifted to redevelopment , and preservation of the environment that we have . The natural habitat has now been restored on much of the conservation land that had been acquired over the years . Brazilian Pepper is disappearing . Mosquito control ditches have been filled in , and our wetlands now more closely resemble their original , natural state . In 2005 , the voters passed the People’s Choice charter amendments , further ensuring the control of change and protection of the environment . Briefly , these amendments protect Sanibel from a weakening of its basic land ? use regulations ( building height , residential density , and ground coverage ) without prior voter approval . As Committee of the Islands board member Larry Schopp wrote in a newspaper commentary last April , “ The People’s Choice amendments were about the fundamental right of citizens , by means of referendum at the polls , to prevent or undo unwise or unpopular decisions of their elected officials . ” the People’s Choice amendments , a vote by three members of city council could result in major Prior to change for the Sanibel Plan and Land Development code . What changes now ? So what kind of change can occur now ? Big changes seem to be precluded by the fact that the island has almost reached “ build ? out , ” by the acquisition of almost all land that can be acquired for conservation , and by the People’s Choice amendments . The kind of change that can now occur is small . But the cumulative effect of many small changes is something we must be mindful of and guard against . For example , the city council recently had an opportunity to write a policy for the Sanibel Plan that would ensure that the island’s beaches continue to provide vital habitat for wildlife . At the invitation ofthe city council , the Committee of the Islands proposed the following , unambiguous policy statement : “ Development , redevelopment and commercial activities shall not diminish the usefulness of the beach as habitat for indigenous and migratory wildlife . ” Instead , by a 3 – 1 vote ( Vice Mayor Denham cast the adopted a policy that would only bar activities that “ measurably degrade ” lone “ no ” vote ) the council the use of the beach as wildlife habitat . The very serious problem with using a qualifier like “ measurable ” is that the debate over any encroachment or activity that is proposed will always focus on met , with little or no attention paid to cumulative effects . whether the qualifier has been In other words , many very small changes that individually seem insignificant could accumulate over time , diminishing the quality of the beach environment . Think about it – a hot dog stand here , then a couple of jet skis at a resort there , extra trimming of native vegetation at a condo complex , and then more at another condo complex , and so on and so on , until at last the small changes add up to a big skis , negative cumulative effect . While I am not suggesting that the city council is about to approve jet hot dog stands or excessive trimming of native vegetation on the beaches , unless activities such as those are in conflict with a policy of the Sanibel Plan , council could approve such uses . All it would take is a vote of three members of this or some future city council . Creeping , incremental change . . . it could be a problem . Or it could be positive , such as with the implementation of the Dark Skies rule on Sanibel . The outdoor lighting which is still not compliant with this rule must be changed during the next two years ( prior to January 1 , 2015 ) , according to the Sanibel code . For example , lights that shine upward on a sign or façade must be changed to lights that shine downward instead , to reduce light pollution at night . The changing of each light fixture is a small , seemingly insignificant change . But add up all these small changes , and it will be even easier to see the Milky Way at night . Sanibel is one of the few remaining places where that is possible . The power of incremental change over time is often underestimated . So we must be mindful of those small changes , and keep them positive . That’s how we can keep Sanibel special now and in the future . To read our past commentaries on island issues , please visit our web site at www.coti.org . We invite your input on this and other issues affecting our islands . You can send us an email at coti @ coti.org , or visit Committee of the Islands on Facebook .