Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

A Look at the Town Center

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November 17, 2011

A Fresh Look at a Sanibel “ Town Center ” By Larry Schopp , Board Member , Committee of the Islands Published in the Island Sun and Island Reporter , November 17 , 2011 “ If at first you don’t succeed try and try again . ” City Council is putting the old adage to new use by taking a fresh look at the idea of a Town Center on Sanibel - a place for community activity , special events and public assembly . As many will recall , the last effort at developing plans for a Town Center a few years back was a failure . Why did it fail ? It focused primarily on residential and commercial development on the former Nave property ( where the Bean is located ) instead of better integration of existing institutional properties and creation of a suitable venue for public activity . At Councilman Marty Harrity’s suggestion , City Council recently decided to revisit the issue and has asked Mr . Harrity to lead the effort . Item number one on his agenda appears to be to listen to what people on Sanibel think about the issue - before plans are developed . One problem with the last effort was that plans were developed first and a “ full court press ” then put on by an outside consulting firm to sell them to a skeptical public . It didn’t work . Barbara Cooley , president of Committee of the Islands , and I were recently invited by Mr . Harrity to meet with him and the City Manager to talk about our organization’s vision for a Town Center . We liked the approach and accepted the invitation . Any discussions about development on Sanibel should start by consulting the Sanibel Plan , so that’s where we started . As it turns out , there hasn’t been a clear mandate in the Plan to establish a Town Center as a place for public assembly or community activity . It had been identified historically as something to “ consider . ” In fact , as the Plan has evolved during recent years , the term Town Center has been dropped and the focus has shifted somewhat . What does the Sanibel Plan tell us ? The sections of the 1997 version of the Plan that dealt with Recreation and Open Space Goals and Other Human Support Systems , said simply “ Consider development of a Town Center / Town Square in the area of City Hall to serve as a focal point for community activity , special events and informal assembly . ” That language was changed in the Plan amendments of 2007 . The references to Town Center and City Hall were dropped . The operative provision currently reads “ Consider development of an area to serve as a focal point for community activity , special events and informal assembly . ” The reason for the change was the creation of Community Park . The following statement appears as part of background discussion : “ Another focal point for community activity , special events and informal assembly is being provided by the development of the Sanibel Community Park in the area adjacent to the Sanibel Community Association . ” Community Park as an alternative focal point Given the Plan’s shift to Community Park as a focal point for special events and public assembly , we think the City should consider ways to make Community Park a better venue for those activities . Anyone who has been to events like Taste of the Islands in Community Park knows that there is just not enough shade in the park . For that reason the usefulness of the park as a gathering place is diminished . One way to improve shade cover would be to plant 10 to 12 mature shade trees like live oaks , strangler figs or other similar native species . In little time the park would become a better gathering place , much like Gulfside Park was before the Australian pines were removed after hurricane Charlie . Other enhancements could be considered as well to complete the transformation . The surrounding institutional properties The institutional properties in the Town Center area like BIG ARTS , the Community Association , the Sanibel Library and St . Michaels and All Angels Church probably all have plans to improve or expand to increase their appeal to their members and the public . Whether we call it the Town Center or something else , those properties , together with an improved Community Park , would constitute the de facto civic or cultural center of the City . The recently expanded shared use paths , which now connect institutional properties on Dunlop and Wooster with Periwinkle Way , make that much more of a practical reality . Appropriate night time lighting on those paths would make them more useable so that evening event goers could park at a greater distances from an event and walk securely to their cars afterwards . We believe the City should work cooperatively with institutional and private property owners to insure that their plans are consistent with the City’s broad goals . Unlike the last go around , we believe that can and should be accomplished without the expenditure of additional public funds . Commercial and residential development The Sanibel Plan does not link the Town Center concept to a need for additional commercial or residential development in the greater Town Center area - the area which includes Palm Ridge Road , the northern part of Tarpon Bay Road and the former Nave property . Moreover , given current economic conditions , one could certainly question the need for additional retail space on Sanibel . Nevertheless , there are parcels in this area which are suitable for development or redevelopment , some as of right , others ( those that are non - conforming ) possibly not without variances . Marketplace factors will ultimately determine what becomes of those properties . However , our goal should still be that any development or redevelopment be undertaken in conformity with the Sanibel Plan and Land Development Code . Where do we go from here ? We think the process has gotten off on the right track , but it’s too early to judge how it will turn out . As Mr . Harrity observed during our meeting , it could all lead to nothing or something very beneficial for Sanibel . We hope it’s the latter and wish him and City Council success . What advice do we offer ? ( 1 ) Let’s learn from our past mistakes . ( 2 ) Let’s be guided by the Sanibel Plan and Vision Statement in whatever we do . ( 3 ) Let’s keep it simple and accomplish those things that are within our grasp , even if they are not all we had hoped for . It’s the successes that will be remembered . Committee of the Islands invites your input and ideas on this important subject . Please email your comments to coti @ coti.org . You can read commentaries on other island issues on our website at coti.org and / or visit us on Facebook .

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