Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

The Story of Sanibel and the Committee of the Islands: Inextricably Linked

The Committee of the Islands was founded in 1975 by those inspired individuals who helped incorporate Sanibel as an independent, self- governing city within Lee County. Here is the history of that founding....

sanibel island osprey The Committee of the Islands -- COTI -- is as old as the City of Sanibel. It emerged from the effort to incorporate Sanibel as an independent city to protect it against overdevelopment by the county. In fact, the two groups that were strongly advocating incorporation actually merged to form the Committee of the Islands after their incorporation efforts succeeded.

Before incorporation, there was a Sanibel Planning Board whose members were concerned about Lee County plans to allow for ten times more housing units on Sanibel than the number that currently exists. Under these plans, the total population of the island was projected to be 90,000, and high-rise, high-density development would have been permitted. There were even plans for a four-lane highway down the middle of the island.

Residents were moved to action. After all, Sanibel had been designated as a “sanctuary island,” and the county’s plans were not consistent with that designation.

At that time (1974), a group called Sanibel Tomorrow had formed to work actively for Sanibel’s incorporation. It was led by a woman named Zelda “Zee” Butler. The group succeeded on November 5, 1974, when 84 percent of Sanibel’s electorate went to the polls and 63.6 percent of them voted for Sanibel to incorporate. The next week, on November 1, Zee resigned from Sanibel Tomorrow so that she could run for the first Sanibel City Council.

First City Council is Endorsed

mangrove The new chair of Sanibel Tomorrow, Bill Kimball, appointed Arthur Hunter as Sanibel Tomorrow's Special Campaign Chairman, and the group endorsed five candidates for Council. By the end of the year, the Sanibel Planning Board dissolved and pledged $5000 of its funds to Sanibel Tomorrow to assist with the campaign.

By July 21, 1975, Sanibel Tomorrow and the Sanibel Planning Board no longer existed; instead, the active participants of both groups incorporated as the Committee of the Islands. It functioned as both an advocate for island preservation and a political committee, right from the start.

As founding Committee of the Islands board member Milena Eskew says, “The businesses had a group, the Chamber of Commerce, to represent their interests. The realtors had an organization to represent their interests. We needed a group to represent the interests of the residents of the islands, and that is what the Committee of the Islands became.”

On December 3, 1974, Porter Goss, Vernon MacKenzie, Zee Butler, Charles LeBuff, and Francis Bailey were elected to the first Sanibel City Council.

A Plan is born

One of the first acts of the new City Council was to lay out a land plan and development code appropriate to the environmental requirements of this unique barrier island. The result was the innovative Sanibel Plan which embodied the view that by virtue of Sanibel’s remarkable natural bounty, development should be far less intense than county commissioners had contemplated and 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.

Residents contribute $300,000

Many permits previously issued by Lee County did not meet Sanibel’s new code, resulting in numerous lawsuits.

In its first year, due to lawsuits and actions of the Lee County Commission, the city of Sanibel was not able to collect taxes and nearly went bankrupt. But 124 people, many of them members of the Committee of the Islands, gave over $300,000 to the new city to keep it afloat.

The new city was swamped with applications for building permits, mostly for single-family houses. By April 1976, over three hundred permits were issued. The new City of Sanibel was feeling overwhelmed.

On April 21, 1976, Col. Edwin Reed, the chair of the Committee of the Islands, wrote to Porter Goss to say that the Committee was willing to help the city “make the islands a better place to live.” Col. Reed added, “As you may know, the object, function and scope of this organization is to promote a continuity of good local government and to give aid to all public officials charged with the direction of projects or improvements. We are ready and willing. Please call on us.”

To deal with the initial swamp of requests for building permits, the Committee of the Islands developed and promoted the Rate of Growth Ordinance in 1978. In 1979, Porter Goss addressed the board members of the Committee of the Islands to urge them to play a strong role in the November 1980 election. The Committee did so; in fact, at that time it went so far as to place an advertisement in the Island Reporter to endorse candidates for Lee County Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, County Commissioners, School Board, and Hospital Board.

How the Committee has helped protect our island

Over the ensuing years, COTI has committed itself to assist the City in defending the Sanibel Plan and Land Development Code designed to preserve and protect our island. Here are some examples:

A consistent voice for Sanibel values

Since its founding in 1975, the Committee of the Islands has provided a consistent voice in support of Sanibel's core values - its small town character, environmental preservation, and wildlife conservation as expressed in the Sanibel Vision Statement, Plan, and Land Development Code.

There are many fine organizations on Sanibel which care deeply about the same issues as COTI. We have over the years worked with them and City Council – and with our members and friends and all those who share our values – in fulfillment of the COTI Mission: To help ensure the continuity of good local government, to protect the environment, and to preserve the sanctuary character of our barrier island community.

The Committee of the Islands meets regularly and encourages Sanibel residents to join and become active in its committees, which focus on land use, the environment, and various aspects of City government. For more information, see www.coti.org or visit Committee of the Islands on Facebook.

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