(Above) Congress Jewelers will be expanding its retail space in Periwinkle Place shopping center into a fourth unit formerly occupied by Fanta Sea for an additional 1,000 square feet of space. (Below) The status of the flashing-light “Low Flying Owl” signs on Sanibel-Captiva Road provokes considerable argument from Council and the public. The signs are currently down, temporarily, for maintenance.  SC file photos
(Above) Congress Jewelers will be expanding its retail space in Periwinkle Place shopping center into a fourth unit formerly occupied by Fanta Sea for an additional 1,000 square feet of space. (Below) The status of the flashing-light “Low Flying Owl” signs on Sanibel-Captiva Road provokes considerable argument from Council and the public. The signs are currently down, temporarily, for maintenance. SC file photos

City Council considered a means to blend crucial emerging issues into the planning commission’s 2018 goals at its meeting Jan. 15 at City Hall. The 2018 goals include redevelopment of non-conforming resort properties beyond the resort district, guided tour operations, and sign standards. The emerging issues include reviewing the Sanibel Plan’s transportation element, political signage, and short-term rental tracking and compliance.

Vice Mayor Mick Denham expressed reservations about the number of goals. “The more you add, the longer each individual goal takes to complete,” he said. “We should stick to three goals.”

Councilwoman Holly Smith recommended prioritizing the goals according to their anticipated completion dates. “Sign standards are 75 percent done. Guided tour operations will commence after the beach management plan is adopted,” she said. “At our last meeting, we discussed the need for a transportation element review. Short-term rentals are also extremely important as an emerging issue.”

Mayor Kevin Ruane called concerns about the number of priorities “splitting hairs. I don’t think there is any magical number,” he said. “All issues are important. We need to be able to pivot. I think what we have presented in front of us is fine, as is.”

Denham recommended judging goals according to potential impact. “Signs are important, but do not have a big impact. Short-term rentals have a significant impact on the island. It’s a nervous situation for the Island.”

Community Services Director Keith Williams suggested that the redevelopment goal “is less urgent than the transportation element. It could be bumped to the task list.”

Council unanimously approved moving the three emerging issues to “front-page goals.” Some items were merged and others moved to the task list. In conclusion, Ruane said, “Tasks will be for staff—and not necessarily brought to Council. When issues emerge, we need to react.”

Conditional Use Permit for Congress Jewelers

Council approved a conditional use permit application for Congress Jewelers, allowing the business to expand its storefront to 4000 sq ft of retail space in Periwinkle Place shopping center. During his presentation, Williams assured Council that any new retail store replacing Congress Jewelers in the future would be required to file another conditional use application to retain the same footprint. “I am 100 percent in favor of this application,” Williams said.

Councilwoman Smith praised owner Scott Congress for “following correct procedures. Everything was thoroughly covered. Scott never assumed favoritism, by virtue of his name in the community,” she said.

Before backing the resolution “100 percent,” Councilman Jason Maughan disclosed that his law firm represents Dahlmann Properties, which owns Periwinkle Place. The motion was passed unanimously.

Low Flying Owl’ Signage

The status of the flashing-light “Low Flying Owl” signs on Sanibel-Captiva Road provoked considerable argument from Council and the public. The signs are currently down, temporarily, for maintenance.

Pointing to “over 100 comments” that he has received in the last two years, Maughan expressed his clear opposition to the sign’s “bright flashing lights.” “No one has contacted me in favor of putting the lights back up,” he said. “The signs are nice, but dangerous. They blind you.

We may be loving nature to death,” Maughan added. “With no evidence that the screech owl population is any more endangered than any other [species], and without serious science, we are spending money on signs, violating our own dark sky ordinance and killing more [owls] than we did before. I ask that we don’t repost signs.”

A resident, speaking in favor of the lighted signs, reported that the second day after the signs were removed, she found “a dead screech owl. Signs do make a difference,” she said. “You live on Sanibel, you are in effect taking a pledge to live in concert with wildlife.”

Councilwoman Smith recommended that the signs remain in place. “There is no scientific data for or against,” she said. “There needs to be a compromise.”

Santiva resident Bill Horvath also spoke in favor. “I love the signs, although the flashing lights are disturbing. Less is more. I would be happy with dimmer lights or non-flashing lights,” he said.

Resident Larry Schopp, who identified as a “west ender,” expressed “no problem with the signs, with or without lights. Within the past month that signs have been down, I have seen two crushed owls right where you would expect to see them,” he said, adding, “The word ‘warning’ suggests to the driver an imminent danger. A better signal word would be ‘caution.’”

Island resident Claudia Burns noted that “it is very easy to speed on San-Cap Road, especially after dark when there is less traffic. I think we need those signs,” she said.

West end resident Barbara Cooley spoke in support of the signs. “I don’t think anybody has said they don’t like owls. We need signs,” she said, “but I have a problem with white flashing lights. They are a dangerous distraction. I would like to see signs, but without lights.”

A motion to repost the signs, but disengage the flashing lights, was unanimously approved. Smith proposed a “one-year lookback to see how it’s progressing.”

Planning Commission Vacancies Filled

The resignations of Dr. Phillip Marks and Dirk DeWerff created two open seats on the planning commission. From a field of eight applicants, Council appointed Paul Nichols to complete the term of Dr. Marks. Eric Pfeifer was appointed to a full term as DeWerff stepped down. Council reappointed Roger Grogman to a second full term.

City Attorney Departs from Henderson Franklin Law Firm

Mayor Ruane announced City Attorney John Agnew’s resignation from Henderson, Franklin, Starnes, and Holt, P.A. “I am happy that you have resigned. It avoids conflicts that could occur,” Ruane said. Council unanimously approved a motion to appoint Agnew’s new firm to continue with city attorney responsibilities.

MPO Shared-Use Path Project Update

City Manager Judie Zimomra updated Council on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Shared-Use Path Project, of which Sanibel is the subject. Ron Gogoi is the consultant and project manager. “We will launch a survey, using Survey Monkey, and we expect a robust response,” Zimomra said. “Two open houses and a public advisory meeting will be held at Recreation Center. We have received excellent feedback from the Bike Club about the project,” she added.