Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

The Year of Creeping Change

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January 09, 2014

The Year of Creeping Change By Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands A year ago , I wrote a commentary called “ When the Small Becomes Big : Incremental Change on Sanibel ” ( published December 14 , 2013 ) . In it , I described the several factors that make it unlikely for major changes to happen on Sanibel . The island is almost at “ build ? out , ” much habitat has been restored , and the People’s Choice charter amendments were passed . While these things seem to preclude much major change – and that’s a good thing – small changes are still possible . And small changes can accumulate , eventually resulting in a big change . At this one ? year point since that commentary , it’s time to check in : Have small changes started to accumulate ? The answer , unfortunately , is “ yes . ” And the changes have come in the form of zoning variances from our Land Development Code being granted with ever ? increasing frequency . Let's take a look at this trend . . . As part of its regulatory responsibilities , the Sanibel Planning Commission reviews and decides on zoning variances . By law , there are seven standards that must be met in order for the Planning Commission to legally grant a variance . This is as it excused violations of the Land should be because variances are , after all , Development Code . Lately , five of the seven planning commissioners have failed to see that these standards are met before deciding to vote to grant a variance . Committee of the Islands board members have spoken at these planning standards for commission meetings about the need to meet these legal variances . Two of the commissioners generally do apply these legal standards ; however , the other five commissioners generally do not . While these inappropriately granted variances may not be individually significant , the result over time is a weakening of the Sanibel Plan and Land Development Code because these variances have a cumulative effect . The Seven Standards Here are the seven standards ( contained in section 82 ? 140 of the Sanibel Land Development Code ) : ( 1 ) A literal enforcement of the particular regulation would result in undue and unnecessary hardship to a property owner because the particular shape , size , location or topography of a lot or parcel , or of a structure thereon , would cause practical difficulties that would deprive the owner of reasonable use and enjoyment of such lot or parcel in the same manner as other properties similarly situated . ( 2 ) That the special conditions relate to unusual conditions peculiar to the specific lot or parcel or relate to special conditions of the structure involved , and are not generally applicable to other lands or structures similarly situated . ( 3 ) That the special conditions and circumstances do not result from actions taken by the applicant or proposed by the applicant , and are not otherwise self ? imposed . applicant has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate or eliminate the ( 4 ) That the requested variance by the acquisition of adjacent lands or the relocation or redesign of the structure involved . ( 5 ) That the development or use of the subject parcel in some other manner than is not feasible . that proposed , in accordance with the applicable requirements , ( 6 ) That the requested variance will not be adverse to the developed neighborhood scheme and will not adversely affect the plan and scheme set forth in this Land Development Code , and will not cause the proposed development to be the health , safety and general inconsistent with the Sanibel Plan nor adverse to welfare of the community . ( 7 ) That the variance granted is the minimum necessary to mitigate the hardship demonstrated . Succinctly said , the variance must only be used to address a hardship that is not brought on the applicant by himself ; rather , the hardship must be one that is incumbent with the property and its peculiarities and characteristics , preventing the reasonable use or development of the property . Also , the extent of the variance should be as small as possible – just enough to address the hardship . What’s happening ? applies for a In reality , what is happening now is that pretty much everyone that variance is granted that variance – usually in a 5 to 2 vote of the Planning Commission . The granting of those variances has resulted in more variance applications being made . That trend needs to stop . We need Planning Commissioners who will grant variances only in the rare instances when they are warranted , because doing otherwise will result in an erosion of the Sanibel Plan and Land Development code . To keep Sanibel special , small changes must be controlled . Creeping , incremental change . . . it could be a problem . of the Dark Skies rule on Or it could be positive , such as with the implementation Sanibel . The outdoor lighting which is still not compliant with this rule must be changed during the next year ( prior to January 1 , 2015 ) , according to the Sanibel code . For example , lights that shine upward on a sign or façade must be changed lights that shine downward instead , to reduce light pollution at night . The to 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 . web site at To read our past commentaries on island issues , please visit our 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 .

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