For the past four months, the Planning Commission has engaged in some lengthy discussions regarding whether they should adjust an ordinance that would essentially end the 17-year-old ban on boat docks located in the Beach Bay Zone.
As regular readers of this newspaper may recall, Sanibel banned boat docks on properties located in the Beach Bay Zone — which extends along the waters of San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay west of the Lighthouse to the end of Woodring's Point — back in 1993 due to concerns of damaging sea grasses growing along the shoreline.
But in May, the City Council requested that the commission look into drafting new or adjusted legislation that would allow boat docks to be built within that zone under the threat of potential litigation from a group of affected property owners who claim the city illegally seized their riparian rights.
Under the riparian principle, all landowners whose property is adjoining to a body of water have the right to make reasonable use of it. This, according to the property owners' attorney, includes allowing access for boats, jetskis and other personal watercraft.
During a number of debates at MacKenzie Hall, members of the public, the city's Department of Natural Resources and several environmental entities (including two experts from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) have argued that — to at least some degree — the presence of boat docks is damaging to ecologically-sensitive sea grasses.
Only one of the property owners, as well as the attorney who has brought forth the issue, has spoken in favor of lifting the ban.
The latest Planning Commission discussion on the subject, a three-and-a-half hour marathon session held on Tuesday, ended with the seven-member panel split — 4 to 3 — on making amendments to the current ordinance, as the City Council requested. However, it was not clear whether the commission even agrees with removing the ban.
The majority of the panel voted in favor of moving the amended ordinance forward to the council, despite the indication of at least one planner — Chuck Ketteman — that he was neither for nor against removing the boat dock restriction. Only Dr. Phillip Marks, Tom Krekel and Paul Reynolds have stated on the record that they do not condone making any changes to the ban.
As has happened in the past (with the commission's work on Land Development Code Section 86-43), it appears that this local government body has passed along the latest "hot potato" on Sanibel along to "the powers that be."
Ultimately, the City Council is responsible for deciding whether or not to accept the Planning Commission's work on the ordinance (which we agree that they have fine-tuned to the best of their ability). But we also agree with Marks and Krekel and Reynolds: If you do not personally feel that lifting the boat dock restriction within the Bay Beach Zone is both right and appropriate, then why vote to pass that ordinance along?
We applaud those three men for adhering to their beliefs and letting their constituents know exactly why they are opposed to removing the restriction. But even more so, we agree that allowing boat docks within this zone is detrimental to the health and survival of sea grass beds. The city's intent to protect those beds was as clear 17 years ago is it is today, so we urge our leaders to keep this restriction in place.
We can only hope that now that the City Council has the ordinance in their hands (and which is likely to be discussed during their Nov. 2 meeting) that each and every member of that body — and the public attending that session — makes their opinion known.
— Reporter editorial